Ah, children: They’re a great conversational equalizer and icebreaker. Still, there’s a fine line between pleasant conversation, which can create bonds with coworkers, and outright bragging (“Timmy’s the valedictorian!”) or venting (“Timmy’s in jail!”), which can brand you as arrogant or needy. H.R. consultant Patricia Hunt Sinacole, founder of The First Beacon Group, offers four ground rules for talking about your kids at work.
Rule 1: Censor yourself. “Sharing makes you appear human, but nobody wants to hear dirty details or dark secrets,” she says. Her guideline is to keep every topic “PG 13 or cleaner.” This isn’t just for other people’s comfort. Share too much seamy stuff, and “colleagues will wonder if you can handle confidential information at work and begin to question your judgment,” she warns.
Rule 2: Make it a two-way conversation. Only “brag” if it’s an opportunity for your conversation partner to shine. For example, if you know a colleague’s child is also going through the college admissions process, it’s perfectly fine to mention your child’s progress—so long as you end the conversation with an inquiry instead of a boast and couch it in humble terms. A good example: “My son just got into Colgate. It wasn’t his top choice, but he’s excited anyway. I know your daughter applied to Holy Cross. I’m eager to hear how it goes. I went there, too. Keep me posted!”
Rule 3: Offer up a lesson. Share your kids’ accomplishments in a way that helps fellow parents. If you love your child’s summer camp or music teacher, say so! If your daughter just won a trombone scholarship, offer to put a colleague in touch with her teacher. If you found a wonderful after-school program for your autistic son, mention it by name. “It’s all about how you frame personal news,” Sinacole says.
Rule 4: Be transparent. If you’re coping with a family crisis, say so, but don’t over-share. Strategize with your supervisor to manage workflow, and don’t offer up more details than necessary. Instead, explain the situation to your colleagues in broad, factual terms. “I’m dealing with a personal matter. I need to leave at 3:30 today. I’ll be back at 10 a.m. tomorrow” is enough. Lastly, urges Sinacole, don’t be shy about pursuing an employee assistance plan. Many companies offer counseling and support for families in crisis.