Think about the sounds that surround your work desk or office space.

Perhaps you would hear the drone of the ACs, the coffee machine whirring, fingers clacking away at keyboards, and of course, employee chatter. Employee conversation is the soundtrack of any office, signaling communication, collaboration, and even cohesion. But sometimes, the boundaries between the personal and professional bleed during casual conversations, making it difficult to know how much private information to share, with whom, and when. Similarly, there are also instances where disclosure is important.

What are some of these instances, and how can one be discreet when sharing sensitive, personal data? Here are a few examples.

Everyday scenarios mandating disclosure – and how you can address them

Disclosing personal information is always tricky. Some employees may simply prefer to keep certain things private. Also, some information really isn’t pertinent at the workplace. When caught unawares with a personal question, how can you respond? 

Scenario 1: As a new hire, Rajesh is excited about his job and new salary. During his orientation program, he meets some of his peer group members who are discussing their interview experience. They start comparing their salary slips and designations. Rajesh wants to keep his income private while also building rapport with his new friends.

Bide your time. Some information is personal and does not have to be disclosed at the workplace. But, when faced with a tricky question, one might flounder for a response. Stay prepared by learning what exactly is your confidential information so you know where to exercise your right to privacy. Then, when the time comes, you can choose how much to disclose and to whom. Rajesh can either choose to disclose his salary, or shrug off the conversation by changing the topic, maintaining his right to privacy.

Scenario 2: Steve undergoes a transgender male-to-female surgery, and is now Sasha. This leaves her colleagues confused as to how to address her during meetings and in emails. Frustrated, she wonders whether this is something she must discuss and disclose with everyone she meets henceforth at work.

Inform HR so they are apprised of your needs. HR departments should be the first port of call at the workplace when undergoing life-altering events, as they are often equipped to support employees through such change. In the above example, HR can conduct training programs to sensitize employees, build awareness around inclusivity, and educate personnel on the right pronoun use, thereby alleviating a lot of challenges Sasha faces in her new identity at the workplace. They can also apprise her of any related changes in health policy plans and packages that might accompany such milestone events or life changes.

Scenario 3: Mary’s manager is throwing a formal dinner to celebrate a recent win. He insists on everyone bringing their spouse or partner, and many have confirmed their attendance. Mary is in the midst of a divorce but wants to keep it private. How can she attend the party and be part of her team without feeling compelled to disclose her ongoing divorce?

Discuss big changes with your manager. Serious life events tend to impact our job performance. As emotional beings, we need support, and workplaces are equipped to offer it. Inform your manager or senior about the changes you are undergoing so they are tuned into your situation. This will not only help them understand when you have an off-day, but also allow them to plan around any emergencies you may have to attend to because of your changing circumstances. Mary can have a personal one-on-one conversation with her boss about her situation, allowing him to be more flexible when phrasing invites for team gatherings.

Personal questions are common at the workplace and often not posed with an intention to harm. By being aware of your own rights and building a healthy attitude, you can handle these questions with grace and tact.

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