Can I get back to impersonal from too personal?
I was going through a hard time last fall and I unloaded my problems on a co-worker. Things are better now and I feel embarrassed around him knowing he knows so much about my personal life. I think he’s beginning to feel I’m avoiding him on purpose. How can I reassure him without going back over those gritty details? — Name Withheld
When we “unload” on our friends, family or co-workers, it's up to us to let them know that we're felling better and, more importantly, give them thanks for being there to listen.
Our panel of advisors, which included three therapists, agree that you should:
- Keep it professional
- Acknowledge your discomfort
- Reach out with a thank you
Keep it professional
Just because your co-worker was kind enough to listen when you needed someone to talk to, shouldn't mean that you can't continue a professional, courteous relationship now that you are feeling better.
“Remain friendly and professional. Avoidance would be more uncomfortable for both of you.”
“There is no reason why a professional relationship cannot exist even if you share personal life experiences with that coworker. Never totally avoid the person. The bigger deal you make something, the bigger deal it is.”
Acknowledge your discomfort
Our therapist professionals note that much of the discomfort is with you and only you can change the way you are feeling.
” When you really think about it, you are the one who is feeling uncomfortable and you must confront that first. You are doing better so give yourself the confidence to approach your coworker and let that person know that.”
“You feel more uncomfortable than they do. By now they have long forgotten your dilemma. No need to avoid them nor no need to discuss anything regarding it.”
Reach out with a thank you
Now that you are feeling better, why not share that with your co-worker too? You don't have to go into details – or even mention it at all. Go for a coffee, say thanks and talk about other things that interest you both.
“Just move forward casually saying. ‘Thanks for lending an ear when I needed it, hearing my own words come back to me was really helpful.' No need to bring up it again.”
“Give them a thank you. You don't need to rehash the past to move on in the present.”
Though it seems uncomfortable now, the longer you wait the more uncomfortable you will feel. As our advisors point out, “There is no reason why a professional relationship cannot exist even if you share personal life experiences with that coworker.”