How do I handle a co-worker who shares too much unwanted personal information? There’s a guy at work constantly wants to gripe about his ex-wife and goes into great detail about all the troubles in their marriage, as well as how she “screwed” him in the divorce. He complains that she doesn’t care about their children, says she cheated on him when they were married, took all his money, etc. I like the guy and I don’t want to be rude to him, but I really don’t want to know this much about his personal life. He talks about this stuff on breaks, in meetings, whether you want to hear it or not and no matter who is around. It is getting to a point that I just want to get up and leave the minute he starts. What can I do?
A.Many of us are subjected to more personal information about our co-workers’ lives than is necessary or comfortable. It’s a problem for organizations when it interferes with harmonious working relationships, as it seems to be doing in your case. Your co-worker is “venting”. He’s apparently feeling a lot of strong emotions regarding his marriage and divorce and he’s trying to deal with them by talking about it. If he were writing me, I’d suggest that he talk to a trained counselor who might actually help him move on. As it is, he’s trying to feel better by criticizing his ex-wife to anyone who will listen. You don’t have to be one of those people, but you need to tell him that. He’s probably so caught up in his own drama that he has no idea of how his “sharing” is affecting others. Talk to him privately. Tell him you’re sorry for his troubles, but that it makes you uncomfortable hearing so much personal information. Tell him you’d prefer to keep the conversation lighter and more professional. Then, if he starts discussing his personal life in front of you again, simply say “Excuse me,” and politely walk away. That’s not rude; it’s respectful and professional. And it might be the incentive he needs to seek real help. (And by the way, if your company has an Employee Assistance Program, make sure he is aware of it and suggest he avail himself of that benefit.)