Consider this scenario: you walk into your manager’s office ready to discuss a recent revenue dip. Instead of examining the line graph in your hands, your boss holds up an X-ray and begins to explain the consequences of a recent major surgery. Workplace TMI (“too much information,” in case you’ve never heard the acronym before) can cause extreme awkwardness and dwindling respect, and it can be especially troubling when your boss is the culprit.
When your supervisor violates the generally accepted rules of workplace discourse with TMI, it is essential to respond with the exact opposite behavior. Be appropriate and be professional.
Here is some advice for dealing with a boss who shares inappropriate information:
First, identify the reason behind the boss’s story. To properly handle any instance of TMI, it is important to understand why a person is giving you all that unnecessary information. Why does your boss feel compelled to detail how her last one-night stand went awry? Is it possible that she is trying to bond with you? Is your supervisor sharing the best remedies for UTIs to subtly explain why she has been taking so many sick days?
If you are able to determine the rationale behind the TMI, you can address the cause with a proper workplace action. For example, if the boss is trying to bond with you, grab lunch with her. You can chat about your families, hobbies, and other topics, rather than sexual escapades.
Another tactic is to change the subject to something more relevant to work. Sometimes an abrupt change in topic is all your boss needs to realize that they have crossed the line. Offering an unexpected change in topic brings your boss back into the reality of the social situation. This method won’t offend or embarrass, but will convey your discomfort effectively.
If you find it difficult to get a word in while your boss rambles on with their TMI, you can use nonverbal cues to show your supervisor that you are not sure how to respond. Glance at the door, angle your body away from the speaker, or check the time on your cellphone repeatedly. Showing that you are disengaging from the conversation lets your boss know that you are not interested in engaging with the material being shared.
If body language doesn’t work, resist the urge to join in. You may see it as a way to ease the awkwardness or fit in, but two TMIs do not make a right. Despite the precedent your boss has set, they could balk at your personal story, or your sharing could escalate the conversation to whole new level of too much information.
Finally, lock up the conversation in your mental vault. Regardless of how you choose to combat workplace TMI, it’s absolutely necessary to internalize the material — forever. Sharing it with your coworkers may score you some points, but no matter how open your boss may have seemed at the time, TMI is not meant for group consumption. Stories have a tendency to transform as they pass from person to person. By the time the story circles back to your boss, you could end up looking like a gossip instead of an innocent listener.