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How Much Should We Share at Work?

© 2022 Lane Wallace

Aviation for Women magazine, November/December issue, 2023

A few days ago, I was working on exercises for a diversity and inclusion training, and I decided to run a couple of them by my husband. I told him I wanted participants to share some of the different burdens they carried and experienced because of their gender, race, upbringing or cultural backgrounds. But I could keep the discussion generalized, or ask individuals to form pairs or small groups and share with each other. His reaction was immediate. “I wouldn’t do the pairs,” he said. “I don’t want to have to share personal details with co-workers I don’t necessarily trust.”

He had a valid point. What and how much we should share with our co-workers—not just in a workshop, but in the workplace in general—is an important thing to think about. Are we supposed to bring our “full selves” to work? Or just certain parts? And can we still be “authentic” if we’re editing what we share, or the parts of us we show, with our co-workers?


Knowing who our “authentic” self is—who we are and what matters most to us at the core—is the essential starting place for any of us, especially for women working in the challenging cross-cultural environment of aviation. But what we do with that knowledge is a different matter. To build the bridges we need in order to both survive and thrive as minorities in a majority-culture workplace, we have to make connections. And that requires consciously looking for common ground and reaching across differences with empathy and compassion. But boundaries are just as important as bridges when it comes to our interactions with other humans. Especially at work.

Some of those boundaries are pretty basic. Work spaces are not group therapy sessions. As a rule, nobody really needs or wants to hear all our complaints, opinions, or even much about our sticky personal issues, including the details of our love lives, the fight we had with our spouse that morning, or anything else that does more to benefit us, in the venting or unloading of it, than it benefits those we burden with having to listen to it. That doesn’t mean we can’t share any of that with anyone. If we’ve become friends with a co-worker, we might share that kind of detail. But then we’re sharing on the basis of that friendship, not our work relationship.

My husband was also right about the importance of trust. Sharing important elements of our lives, or asking others to share them with us, can create stronger personal connections with others. But it also makes us more vulnerable. So we need to think carefully about when, where, and with whom that’s appropriate. Somewhere between naïve and completely closed off is a middle ground where we pay attention to those we work with and make nuanced judgments about their trustworthiness and openness. Are they friend or foe? Are they open-minded enough that if we shared something about our experiences, it might broaden their understanding or open a door to a stronger and more supportive work relationship?

Most of us do that kind of evaluation almost intuitively, as we meet and get to know various people in a professional setting. But it’s not a bad thing to recognize how important that analysis is and go about it in a more intentional way. To say to ourselves, “Here, I might be able to build a productive bridge. With this other person, I probably need to focus more on boundaries.”


That doesn’t mean people have to be just like us to warrant our trust. Trustworthiness is a character issue independent of all that makes us different; a matter of maturity, integrity, open-mindedness, concern for others, and core motivations and intentions that are fundamentally good. If we have those in common with someone, they might well be someone with whom a trustworthy bridge can be built, even if they’re different from us in many ways.


I like to think of bridge-building as a matter of bricks and mortar. Bricks are the points of common ground we find and share with someone. Imagine a Venn Diagram—two circles that overlap at some point. That point might be tiny. Maybe it’s just an interest in airplanes. But it’s a start. Those points of common experience or interest allow us to make an initial connection: a foundation we can then expand and strengthen as we ask and learn about important parts of their experience that we don’t share. That’s the mortar. Granted, filling in spaces with mortar requires a more thoughtful level of sharing, some of which might be personal. But asking someone to share with us is a low-risk activity that allows us to evaluate, as we go, the level of sharing they’re capable and trustworthy of in return, before we expose ourselves any further.


There have been many times I’ve built productive bridges with people I had very little in common with, just by finding some kind of common ground and then asking, with compassion and authentic interest, about things I didn’t share but that mattered to them. Often, it became clear that they weren’t all that interested in gaining the same understanding about me. But that was okay. Bridges are important, and they don’t all have to be four lanes wide. I’d just make a mental note to tailor how much I shared with them to those areas where we could connect.


Does that mean I wasn’t be authentic or bringing my “full self” to those interactions, or to my work in general? Well, yes and no. Any time we edit ourselves, we’re not being our “full” authentic selves. But humans are as multi-faceted as diamonds. Not only can’t we show all of that at once; it wouldn’t be appropriate. What matters is making sure that whatever aspects of ourselves we do share or present are aligned and consistent with who we are and what matters most to us at our core.


Obviously, if we have to edit ourselves too much around a particular person or group, it takes a toll, over time. So we either need to find enough places outside of work where we don’t have to do so much editing, so we don’t lose touch with our full selves entirely … or we need to think about making a job change to a more compatible work environment. And, once again, the more we know about what we need and value most, the easier it is to decide when the benefits of a job outweigh the editing it requires, and when it’s time to look for a better place to share our talent … and ourselves.

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