When we are kids we are taught to share. I know from being a parent that we start this training at the very earliest ages and we continue to reinforce it for several years. We do this because kids are inherently selfish. They can’t comprehend anything other than the self. I’m sure developmental researchers will tell you that it’s a survival trait developed through uncounted generations of evolution. Only makes sense if you are competing for survival with other kids in a world with the resources needed for maintaining life in limited availability.
Over time and through enculturation we are taught to share. An example in my household has to do with Tasty Cake Honey Buns. If you’ve never seen them, they are a massive blob of Sweet Roll wrapped in layers of icing. On the special occasions that we get them ,the kids like to eat them in the morning before school. They are too big to give to a single child so we cut them in half for the kids to share. Well typical of a self-centered child, one of our earliest lessons about sharing came from an ill-considered action of my son. He came down one morning that we had a honey bun in the pantry and just automatically assumed the entire massive treat was for him. He wolfed it down before my younger daughter could come down and get her half. She was excited about the honey bun because it’s what we used as a bribe to coax her to get out of bed, something she is loath to do early in the morning, and start getting dressed. I am certain that her copious tears and wales of disappointment bothered her big brother even as he tried to mount his “how was I supposed to know I needed to share?” defense. It’s this type of event that gets repeated in households across the country which embeds the concept of the goodness of sharing in our culture generation after generation.
This is why any mature individual will tell you, sharing is generally considered to be a good thing. We learned from our childhood that sharing seems fair. Sharing makes people happy. Sharing allows all to partake in a limited resource, be that a sweet cake for breakfast or access to the pickup truck to help a friend move. So deciding what should be shared in this arena is easy. Share as much as you can as long as the sharing won’t lead to any significant detriment on your own part. Thankfully, all this sharing works pretty well in our circle of family and friends, but what about sharing with people we don’t know? We exist the modern world where we have a medium of transaction called money and it’s easy to share.
Sharing of Resources
One way, probably the historically preferred way, that we can share with people we don’t know is charitable donations. Voluntary sharing is great. You can swipe the card, click the donate button or sign the paycheck draft voucher and some needy group will get additional resources to meet a mission that you want to support. It’s a win-win for everybody!
On the flip side of charitable sharing is redistribution, usually through taxation. Technically you could say it is the forced conscription of personal property for sharing. That’s where the problem with sharing happens. It’s not the conscription, it’s the forced part. It’s why taxes and politics are such a huge point of contention. At its core, government is the only Institution that can force you to share against your will. They do this through the police power.
This article isn’t meant to be a civics lesson. This sharing, whether voluntary or forced has been around since the dawn of mankind and we understand it almost innately. For the most part, most people agree. If you look at it broadly it’s the details that get people all riled up. You see it in every area with forced sharing. There is general agreement that things like medical care, retirement, and roads should have a measure of sharing. What should be the deductible, an individual contribution, or a toll, and what should not causes the issue? The friction comes at the line between what should be individual and what should be shared. Nobody is saying that everyone needs to pay for their own bypass surgery or highway around a city. So mankind has developed this system of politics where we vet these issues. It’s the job of our elected officials to decide what should be forced sharing. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t. There is a new frontier of sharing for the professional that is now starting to be the focus of our system for deciding what should be shared: the sharing of information. In the modern world the big new issue that has really come along in the last decade or so is the public sharing of personal information. It’s all over social media, but social media has crept into the professional world.
The Social Media Lifecycle
I have a theory about the whole sharing on social media thing. I think there is a life cycle to social media engagement that aligns to personalities and the stages of life. I believe a fairly normal person growing up in the information age uses the social media tools for identify formation. It’s the modern equivalent of wearing laser cut (marketing for pre-ripped) designer jeans when I was a kid. The way I see the cycle is that first people start spending time online as soon as their parents let them have access to social media. Then the developing teen gets obsessed with the identity and feedback loop in the same way we got obsessed about our personal appearance. Then they put too much out there, and conflict ensues. Instead of someone insulting the type of designer you chose in the high school hallway, it’s the comment or the photo that gets vilified online. As individuals develop, they understand the importance of perception and they either engage social media to drive a desired perception or they just pull away and use it sparingly. This is why some people are constantly using Facebook as a life placebo.
Sharing at work
I think this is a huge collision point. In the same way that the social media life cycle teaches us to share less and less publicly the working environment does the same thing. When you share without restrictions at work, both professional and work related issues as well as your own personal issues, someone will invariably use the information in a way that has a negative impact on you. This is the incentive to share less. It’s why everyone becomes so secretive at work. We can’t forget that even with the incentive, there is almost a spectrum of sharing. Some people overshare everything, i’m in that group. Others share too little, to the point where they don’t even share the things of importance. It’s this tendency that is part of what creates some of the challenges of the work environment. Different people work together but adhere to different sharing norms.
I’m biased, because of my tendency, I believe firmly that more should be shared in the professional environment than less. The person who’s having a tough day/week/month should be able to share that without fear of reprisal. We are humans after all and have bad periods in our life and good ones. If you stick through the bad, most times you get to the good. Professionally I’ve made the case that even things like interviewing should be open and shared for the simple fact that it helps everyone develop themselves. Pie in the sky ideas aside everyone reading this will agree, and rightfully so, that sharing too much at work will cause problems up to and including dismissal. There simply is no tolerance for too much sharing of information. This brings us to thinking about how and what to share. What are the sharing best practices?
Sharing Best Practices
Share the things, professional and personal, that will make people’s life better. This should be done aggressively and purposefully. Have a coworker who is struggling with weight or addiction and you have you had a similar experience? Then share it. What about being depressed about your job prospects or career growth? Share that too. Go out of your way to share items of possible interest to the people in the work world. Nobody likes to feel alone. Purposeful sharing can be really challenging for those who are naturally private. In my Holiday Parties Article, I’ve made the case that spouses have less of a filter when it comes to sharing things about life when they are around your co-workers. This may be a good standard to follow. It’s different for everyone but in the end, the question to ask is: Would your spouse share this information? If you were in non-work polite company, would you share the experience? If so, then share it at work.
Be careful about the words you use. You should always pay very close attention to how you share, the words you use. Got a total pain in the ass in the office who stresses everyone? Maybe you have a buddy who is struggling with them and is on a tear that would make a sailor blush. Share that you have had a similar experience with different language. Use words like “Yes, i’ve found them to be challenging too” or “Yes, I’ve been out of alignment with their personality on the high stress projects”. That both helps you connect with the venting person, but also allows you to some measure of verbal distance from pure gossip. There are real nuances to language use. I get that it’s a bit like doublespeak, which i’m not a fan of. The point I want to make is that by leveraging language, much more can be inferred than just a commiserating vent about the office turd. In this case the language can infer that there is a trend, and the trend relates to the stress of the project. That can help your colleague get some measure of solace.
Never share things with high levels of personal liability involved but share something if you can. Remember, you can always purposely discus that you are unable to share details but I would recommend that you discuss the greater context. An example could be a question about the location of a new office that will impact people’s commute. If the location is confidential the sharing could sound like “I wish I could tell you about where they are going to put the next office, but that’s under wraps. I can say that there is a big focus on putting it the place with the lowest cost/ greatest access to resources / ease of access.” Even if this is already known, refocusing on the core decision making elements can possibly get rid of some of the more erroneous rumors.
Even if you can’t share something you can also turn the sharing opportunity into a teaching moment. Generally people like to gossip about any potential big changes in the organization which nearly always has direct impact on personnel. No, you can’t share that you know who is going to get laid off, but you can share that the process is complicated and the maybe even the decision making criteria being used. Even if you can’t share the decision making criteria, you can share the experiences you had in the past or media you read that aligns to the situation. The goal here again is to share things that will help people with their own challenges and understanding. This would sound something like “I can’t talk about the personal decisions that will be made after the merger, but the company that bought us has a bunch of investor reports over the last years that discusses what they have done and continue to do with their other mergers”. Wink. Wink.
How you share in person is how you should share digitally. No matter if you are a LinkedIn person, a Facebook addict, or love to post photos all over Instagram, the purpose should not be gossip or filler. It should be sharing to provide value. Mirror the best practices with in-person sharing and you’ll definitely avoid drama. If you are good at it, your feed will be much more engaging than if you just put up venting or photos of your meal at the new restaurant that just opened in town.
In the end sharing is connecting. When done in the right ratio the connections are great and everyone’s life is enhanced. When done in the wrong ratio, then the connections are weak and relationships, personal and professional, become dysfunctional. Ultimately people’s lives get worse. How much you share should be something you think about. Consider who you are and what you natural tendency is. A good trick is to try and find someone who shares just the right amount with just the right words and model their behavior. I love to connect, to share, but often I get the amount wrong, which is one of the reasons why I’m writing this article. I decided one of the best things I can do to add value to the lives of my readers and listeners is to talk about my challenges and the things I learned about this topic. Simply stated I figured, hey, this is one of those subjects where it just can’t hurt to share.
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