Connecting With Honest, Personal Communication

Self-Disclosure - Connecting With Honest, Personal Communication

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Start a cycle of self-discloure for a closer relationship with your team.

Anna is meeting with her team to talk about possible cutbacks. When she looks around, she can see that her team members are anxious and angry, and that they are scared they might lose their jobs.

Anna plans to preserve every job on her team, so she shares a personal story to help calm her team members' fears: several years earlier, she was a victim of a layoff. She tells them how upset she felt, and about the promise she made to herself – to do everything she could to make sure that no team member of hers ever felt this way.

Anna could have given her team members reassurances that they wouldn't lose their jobs. But when she opened up and shared this personal story, she convinced her people that she would do her very best for them.

If we do it right, self-disclosure can change minds, strengthen relationships, and build trust. But, if we make unwise, inappropriate, or untimely disclosures, it can have the opposite effect.

In this article, we'll look at the advantages of self-disclosure, and we'll offer strategies that you can use to share personal information in an appropriate, measured way.

What Is Self-Disclosure?

Researchers Kathryn Greene, Valerian Derlega, and Alicia Mathews define self-disclosure as "an interaction between at least two individuals, where one intends to deliberately divulge something personal to another."

Self-disclosure can involve superficial information, such as your favorite food or television show, through to deeply personal information, such as your history or religious beliefs. All types of disclosure are important when you want to develop relationships and move them to a more intimate level.

Self-disclosure can be verbal and nonverbal. For instance, people verbally self-disclose when they tell another person about their thoughts, emotions, intentions, fears, dreams, goals, failures, successes, likes, and dislikes. People disclose nonverbally with things like tattoos, jewelry, and clothes, which often reveal personal or hidden information.

Advantages of Self-Disclosure

You can use self-disclosure to build trust and rapport with people, to encourage others to get to know you on a deeper level, and to develop relationships when you're part of a virtual team. You can also use it to strengthen connections with clients and customers, and to gain the support of others in your organization.

Researchers also found that judicious self-disclosure can increase your likability at work, and encourage people to share information with you. This can create opportunities in your career, and it can help you get the information you need when you need it, or even ahead of time.

Honest self-disclosure is especially useful when you're in a leadership role, because it shows others that you are empathetic, compassionate and authentic.

It can also be useful when you work with the public. For example, imagine that you have to speak to the media about a product recall that has negatively affected your customers. When you explain that this event affected you on a personal level, it can restore your reputation, and it can show people that you'll do whatever it takes to put things right.

Risks of Self-Disclosure

You need to exercise good judgment when you tell people intimate things about yourself. If you do this unwisely, or at the wrong time, this self-disclosure can harm your reputation.

You also need to think about the person who you share information with. It may be a relief to unload painful thoughts, emotions, or personal experiences, but this information can become a burden to others. Excessive disclosure can strain or end relationships if you don't choose the right time, or if you disclose too much.

When you learn personal information about others, you also risk breaking confidence. This is why you must walk a fine line with disclosure. You need to self-disclose to build trust; however, you need to be able to trust the person you disclose to, and you should only go so far.

How to Use Self-Disclosure in the Workplace

Follow the tips below to share personal information appropriately with other people.

Pay Attention

If you're uncomfortable when you share personal information, if you're new to your role, or if you're not sure what you should disclose to others, pay attention to how much your colleagues or clients share. What personal information do they communicate with others?

This will likely vary based on your relationship with each person. However, if you observe how open co-workers are with one another, it can give you important clues on how much to share. When you observe other people's self-disclosure, you'll feel more comfortable when you do open up.

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Go Slowly

Think about how you felt in the past when someone you didn't know well suddenly shared a long, deeply personal story with you. Chances are, the exchange made you feel very uncomfortable.

When it comes to self-disclosure, timing is everything. If you share too much, too soon, you might overwhelm people. If you wait too long, you may make people suspicious or uncertain.

If you join a new organization or team, introduce yourself to people early on, and share personal information about your family, friends, hobbies, and interests. Keep in mind that this superficial information builds relationships, and it enables you to share deeper, more personal information later.

Be Reciprocal

Studies show that reciprocal disclosure strengthens relationships, and it can help you build trust with others. You can use a tool like the Johari Window to think about how you'll share personal information with others through a give-and-take process.

Listen Carefully

When friends or colleagues share personal information with you, give them your full attention. Use active listening and empathetic listening skills to make them feel heard and understood.

However, take care that you don't betray the confidence of friends and colleagues. If you're not sure whether you should share information about another person, ask them first, or don't share it at all.

Use Social Media With Care

Posts on social media are another form of self-disclosure. The thoughts and emotions you share on Facebook®, Twitter®, LinkedIn®, and other sites give people insights into who you are and how you think. This can have both a positive and a negative effect!

Bear in mind that the information you share online might be there for years, and it may be seen by people you don't know. Always think twice before you post or comment; if you wouldn't want this information printed on the front page of a newspaper, then don't share it.

Key Points

When you self-disclose, you share personal information – such as your thoughts, dreams, fears, goals, likes, and dislikes – with others. This is an important way to strengthen relationships, and build trust.

Self-disclosure must be appropriate, and you should time it with care and attention. Take notice of how much your colleagues share at work; these interactions can give you important clues on how much you should share with others.

When you're ready, go slowly, and don't underestimate how important it is to share superficial information about your hobbies, family, and interests with others.

Also, remember that to build relationships, disclosure must go both ways. Listen actively when your colleagues or friends open up to you.

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Comments (3)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi Charita,
    Welcome to the Club and thanks for sharing your 'safe' topics for self-disclosure. I'm a chocolate lover too!

    I agree sometimes comments might appear as arrogant or show off, yet I believe it depends on the circumstances. There are still times that it is relevant or important to share that type of information such as your experience and degrees in order for you to 'sell yourself' as a potential new employee or to get that promotion.

    If it is just as a casual conversation between colleagues, friends or at a networking event, it might not be appropriate.

    For me, it is intention / purpose of sharing and relevant/appropriate environment.

    Have you experienced situations where it was relevant / appropriate to share that type of information?

  • Over a month ago charita1968 wrote
    Hi Midgie. I think it depends on what you disclose. I wouldnt say too much about how much experience I have or how many degrees I hold. That may make you come off as being arrogant or a show off. I would keep it basic. Talk about hobbies, pets or how much you love chocolate! I feel topics like that are safe. Hope this helps.
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    This is a great article of open, honest, communication and yet the key is picking and choosing what you say, when you say it and to whom you say it to. For me, it touches on the reasons why you are sharing things.

    Are the reasons for divulging information about creating an opening to build a relationship or is it to 'show off' and say 'look at me, I've had this experience or that experience'?

    How do you decide when and what is appropriate to disclose?