Today’s audio is 19:02 long.
TMI is fairly universal I think. It stands for Too Much Information. And it happens all the time.
It happens at social gatherings. It happens on social media. It happens in texting.
It also happens at work…where it can be devastating.
Okay, let’s eliminate what you may be thinking. I’m not talking about those personal, intimate details people often share resulting is us holding up our hands and saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Too much information!”
If I have to tell you how inappropriate it is to discuss really personal details at work, then we need to go back to square one and begin again! It’s not proper to talk about EVERYTHING at work. It’s certainly not proper to SHARE everything at work. Especially intimate details of your life – or of anybody else’s personal life.*
* Listen, as a client, I’m not terribly worried about you doing this because you wouldn’t have likely gotten this far by failing to control yourself, and your discussion points at work…even in social settings around the office. However, even grizzled veterans sometimes, in a momentary lapse of judgment, can say things or ask things that get them into trouble. Guard your tongue.
No, I’m not talking about TMI as we normally think about it – personal details we sometimes share that make others feel uncomfortable. I’m talking about WORK ISSUES that we wrongly share.
You can wrongly share work information in three ways (or perhaps a combination of them):
a. You can share things you shouldn’t share with anybody.
b. You can share things you shouldn’t share right now.
c. You can share things you shouldn’t share with that person.
Timing, the person being told and the fact that it was YOU who told it – those can have a horrible impact on your career and on others, too.
It’s Lonely At The Top
You’re a leader else we wouldn’t be working together. That means you’ve got direct reports and a level of responsibility weightier than the average bear at your workplace. It also means you have to understand and exercise discretion.
Discretion is defined as the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information; the quality of having or showing discernment or good judgment; the quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid social embarrassment or distress.
Let me expound on those dictionary definitions a bit.
Discretion is the quality of not revealing information that may impede the performance of your employees or direct reports.
Yes, that means sharing things with them that may not serve them well. It means keeping some things to yourself. That’s why the cliche, “It’s lonely at the top” is trite, but true. It is lonely as a leader. Especially when YOU have to keep your mouth shut in order to enhance the performance of your direct reports.
“Well, I would never lie to my people,” you might be thinking.
You should NEVER lie to your people. I’ll go further and encourage you to never lie to ANYBODY. However, just because you know something, or think something, doesn’t mean you should tell it. And if you think that’s lying, then I have no earthly idea how you got this far in your career being that stupid! Call me immediately and fire me ’cause I’m sure I’ll be unable to help you.
Too often leaders forget their pledge of loneliness.
Let me put it into terms you’ll likely understand.
When you were growing up did your parents sit down and tell you all the problems they were suffering? I don’t care if they had marriage problems, financial problems or something else. As a child living at home, were you in the loop on those kinds of things? (For years I’ve asked this and grown increasingly jaded worried that somebody will say, “YES.” Thankfully, so far that hasn’t happened. I hope you’re not going to break my streak.)
I don’t care if you’re a parent or not, you surely understand the wisdom of parents who protect their children from such information. It’s quite literally TOO MUCH INFORMATION for a child to burdened with. It serves no useful purpose to put such things on children. It’s selfish on the part of the parent who would dare do such a thing.
It’s selfish when you do it, too!
Leaders often share things they should not because:
- They lack self-control
- They’re too friendly with staff members
- They don’t maintain professional distance
- They’re selfish and self-centered
- They don’t see themselves as protectors and guardians
- They’re lonely
Yes, there are likely many other reasons you can think of, but this list encompasses most of the ones I commonly see.
True confession (no, this won’t be TMI I promise): I rarely sit down with team members within weeks of initial engagement without unearthing some rather important TMI related issue. It’s remarkable how frequently this erupts into something under the surface…something the leader never intended. People are told things, sometimes in confidence, and the information begins to destroy their ability to do good work. I’ve seen it even destroy their ability to work, period.
People will say to me, “I wish he had never told me that.” Or they ask, “Why would he tell me that?”
I don’t gloss it over, but I don’t go through that list above either. Listen, I know leadership is lonely and I know that a leader’s credibility is always – ALWAYS – on the line. The last thing I want to do is undermine yours IF you’ve been guilty of TMI in the workplace! But I do owe these people a bit of guidance and help and I usually answer these people with honesty about how we’re all people who feel the need to share. Increasingly, with social media and smartphone technology we’re compelled to share more and more. That means, sometimes we share more than we should without even thinking about it. We can all relate to those facts. Then, I encourage them to deal with how this TMI has negatively impacted their work by letting me mediate a conversation about it. Sometimes they prefer to go it alone and talk directly – in private – with the leader. Other times they’re reluctant to even let me help. So important is this issue, I refuse to let up until I gain agreement to handle these things because they grow and fester over time.
I know you mean well, but…
You cannot discuss the poor work or weaknesses of employees with other employees.There are countless variations of this, but you must be so on guard that you refuse to poor mouth people behind their back. This is especially true when you’re dealing with a peer group. For instance, you have 6 direct reports. Casually, in an impromptu meeting with 2 of them you say something about a third member of your team. It’s not flattering. You think nothing of it until you begin to notice a sour attitude of that team member. You may not even remember saying it and you certainly aren’t thinking either of your 2 reports who heard the comment would run to the person to tell them. On all counts…you’d be wrong!
1. You cannot reveal possible changes that might negatively impact a person.
The operative term is “possible.” This is so common that I’ve labored for years with trying to figure out why leaders do it, but so far I don’t have any million dollar insights other than…they’re trying to see how the person might react. That’s not a good enough reason to do it. Let me explain, a SVP (senior vice president) of a division is sitting in your office. You happen to know that HQ is giving serious thought to eliminately this position within that division and reassigning him elsewhere. It’s not yet been decided, but you decide to send up a test balloon by talking about it. You try to couch your words carefully (this is your inner signal that you’re making a BIG MISTAKE). He grows increasingly uneasy in his chair and begins to ask the questions any sane person would.
Now you’re uneasy in your chair and you begin to crawfish and back pedal. The meeting ends and what good have you done? NONE. You’ve now stepped in a pile of crap that will hurt your employee, you and the entire operation. All because you just had to tell him what *might* happen.Here’s the explanation I most often get: “Well, don’t you think they deserve to know?” My answer: “No, they don’t.” For starters, they don’t deserve to know hypotheticals or possibilities unless they’re on the leadership team making such decisions. Secondly, they don’t deserve to be given crappy information. You can’t possibly give them anything to support them when the plan hasn’t even been fully hatched yet. Giving people a “heads up” is wrong. It’d be like a doctor speculating with us about having cancer without having run any tests to first confirm it. It’s just cruel.
2. You cannot blame your boss.
You have a regular meeting with your boss. The boss has made some suggestions – maybe even strong suggestions – regarding one of your team members or perhaps a number of them. At your next staff meeting you lay into your team telling them all about how your boss said this and your boss said that. You think you’re just being candid and open. Instead, you’re being selfish and arrogant. You’re an idiot.And you’re deflecting. You’re blaming the boss in hopes you’re team won’t think it’s YOU who are trying to elevate their performance. It’s your boss who is dissatisfied, it’s not you! You’re in it with your team and if it were up to you, you’d be happy. Blah, blah, blah!
It sounds ridiculous when you read it or hear me say it, doesn’t it? Too bad it didn’t sound as ridiculous when you told your team. Now, it’s like toothpaste squeezed from the tube…you can’t put it back. It’s done now. And it’s gonna cost you some mojo in your leadership because here’s what you don’t know – your team is losing respect for you.
3. You cannot point fingers.
This can be private in one-on-one meetings or it may be in a more public staff meeting. It’s interesting to me how often this happens when the person being targeted isn’t in the room. “Well, that last campaign had some difficulties. Sam knows he should have handled a few things better.” Meanwhile, Sam isn’t even in the building. The leader has just thrown Sam under the bus. Maybe Sam was at fault, but this is TMI and it’s poor leadership. A better option, if indeed Sam’s campaign was a talking point, would be for the leader to say, “Sam isn’t here, but I’ll let you guys know that he deserved more support from me in that last campaign. He and I have talked and we’re both going to make sure we do a better job of it next time.” It’s a completely different message and it’ll make a big difference in how the room sees your leadership.
“He’ll throw Sam under the bus, but he’d never do that to me,” right? See, this is where leaders lose their mind in thinking that TMI won’t hurt them. Only an idiot would think they’re immune from you throwing them under the bus if they see you do it to others. And pointing a finger IS throwing people under the bus. You don’t think so, but your people do.
4. You cannot take it out on your people.
I’ve sat in meetings with people and discussed the meeting privately with both leaders and their direct reports after the fact. The leader sometimes views the meeting as having “gone well.” The direct may say, “boy, he’s sure grumpy today.” Same meeting, two completely viewpoints.
The leader feels the meeting went well completely unaware that his foul mood permeated the meeting. That flat tire he got on the way to work entered that meeting. With frayed nerves he unknowingly barked a bit more than normal. He’s been snappy all morning. The staff has spent all morning trying to figure out why and what they can do to stay out of harm’s way. The lost man hours stack up because the leaders lacked the discipline to protect the work (and his people) from his own issues (professional or personal, it doesn’t matter!).
I can’t possibly review all the possibilities, but hopefully you now have the idea about the negative power of TMI. But before I end let me address one final item that is part of this.
Leaders sometime think they’re helping employees with a bit of “inside” information.
In the quest to let an employee feel closer to the boss, sometimes leaders will draw employees into their confidence. Now, I’m not talking about a person who may be in your true inner circle vital to your decision making. I’m talking about a person who has no need for TMI, a person whose work (and head) may be hampered with TMI.
I challenge you to consider WHY you are telling an employee this information. WHY?
If you are telling them in order to make them feel more like an insider, don’t. There are more effective ways to accomplish that. Namely, by talking with them one-on-one and telling them how important they are to your team, how you value their contribution and how you’d like to place a bit more responsibility on them. Isn’t that going to leave them feeling better than pulling them aside to confide some “secret” thing to them?
Think before you speak. Think before you act. Next time I’m going to talk a bit more about SERVING your people because it’s an important message that can’t be emphasized too much. It’s a fitting way to end today’s session by reminding you that your job, as a leader, is to help your people do the best work possible. That means you have to guard the information you share with them.