My Boss Talks About His Personal Life All the Time & It's Inappropriate. What Can I Do? by Dr. Bethany Cook Clinical Psychologist
Q: At work, my boss talks about his personal life all the time. His dating adventures, how he parents his kids, how awful his ex-wife is. I find it inappropriate and distracting from the work I’m trying to do. How can I let him know (without getting fired)?
A. Setting boundaries with someone you care about isn’t easy – and setting a boundary with a person who is in a position of power over you is definitely arduous. Navigating the muddy waters of employee/employer relationships can be as easy as walking through a field filled with landmines.
Given that he’s your boss, if the company is big enough to have an HR department I would ask them what the policy is if a boss “overshares” his personal life. You can mention that his comments are making you feel uncomfortable and it’s making it difficult for you to complete your work tasks.
If the company doesn't have an HR department, or you know talking to HR won’t help anything, you can try to set boundaries with your boss yourself. Depending on your level of comfort you can set smaller boundaries at first and if he doesn't “get the hint” you may need to be firmer in the limits you set.
Without knowing your exact situation, sometimes people in positions of power don’t understand how their “casual” banter can unsettle someone else. You can simply say, “Hey, would you mind not talking about personal stuff with me? I am finding it difficult to focus on work,” and see how he takes it. That simple statement might be enough to help him shift the tone of the conversation.
Regardless of whether his interaction is positive or negative, I would record all interactions if possible just in case your boss says something inappropriate. Also, having a recording of the conversations before you set the boundary may also prove beneficial if he is the “nasty” type and starts making your work life even more difficult.
At the end of the day we spend most of our time with people from work. If your working environment is stressful and your boss doesn't respect you or your personal boundaries that stress will seep into all areas of your life. Good luck! Let’s hope they respect your boundaries and you can get back to work.
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