What Triggers People to Reveal Too Much; Avoiding the Post-Conversation Cringe

May 6, 2013, 6:42 p.m. ET

Thank You for Not Sharing

What Triggers People to Reveal Too Much; Avoiding the Post-Conversation Cringe


Ever shared too much information—and you weren’t even tipsy? Bonds columnist Elizabeth Bernstein joins Lunch Break with a look at why we over-share, and how to control the impulse. 

PJ-BO130_BONDS_G_20130506193703After arguing with her husband one Sunday, Vasavi Kumar was so upset that she called up her mom, her dad, her sister and three of her closest friends. “This is it,” she told each one. “He is never going to understand me. I am getting a divorce.”

Guess what happened the next day. Ms. Kumar and her husband made up. They said they were sorry, hugged and agreed to put the argument behind them. Yet Ms. Kumar, a 30-year-old life coach and social worker in Overland Park, Kan., still had some more apologizing to do—to six other people. “I dropped a bomb on everyone, but I was now fine and dandy,” she says. “I had to go clean it up.”

We tend to overshare when we try to overcome our own anxiety about what the other person is thinking.

Too Much Information: Avoid It, Recover From It

1. Recognize situations where you might overshare. You might be eager to make a good impression or nervous about what others think of you.

2. Before revealing information, ask yourself, “Does the listener have time to listen? Is he or she emotionally available at this time?”

3. Will sharing, rather than relieve anxiety, make you feel more anxious? Then don’t.

4. Imagine the negative effects of oversharing and the regret you might feel afterward.

If you have overshared…

1. Think twice about revisiting the topic with the listener. He or she will probably forget about it if you don’t drag out the awkwardness.

2. If you must return to the subject, keep it brief.

3. Your message is an apology. Don’t seek approval. State your apology in as few words as possible and move on.

Sources: Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Hal Shorey

Ever share too much information—and you weren’t even tipsy? I call it BYB—Blabbing Your Business. It’s happening a lot these days thanks to reality TV and social media sites, where it’s perfectly normal for people to share every single detail of their lives, no matter how mundane or personal. In the culture we live in, it’s hard to remember that some things should be private.

It isn’t all Facebook’s fault. Experts say oversharing often happens when we are trying subconsciously to control our own anxiety. This effort is known as “self regulation” and here is how it works: When having a conversation, we can use up a lot of mental energy trying to manage the other person’s impression of us. We try to look smart, witty and interesting, but the effort required to do this leaves less brain power to filter what we say and to whom.

This explains why people often blurt out embarrassing things to precisely the people they want to impress most, whether it’s the boss, a first date or a future in-law.

Consider this scenario: Your boss walks by and doesn’t make eye contact. You feel uneasy and think of something you need to discuss with him or her. “If you are psychologically aware, you will realize you are feeling anxious and picking up rejection cues,” says Hal Shorey, a psychologist and assistant professor for the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University in Chester, Pa. “You’re trying to reestablish connection.”

Does this work? Of course not. We often regret our disclosures, feel like an idiot—and then worry even more about what the listener is thinking. We may feel compelled to “fix” the situation, leading to—you guessed it—even more blabbing. It’s a cruel downward spiral.

I know I’m not the only person who over-shares. I got the idea for this column after three people in one week said these terrifying words to me, “I want to tell you something I’ve never told anyone—not my spouse, my therapist, or my best friend.”

Still, some people by nature blab more than others. They tend to be individuals with an anxious or “preoccupied” attachment style according to attachment theory, which psychologists developed starting in the mid-1900s. Our attachment system is the evolutionary byproduct of a process humans developed to stay alive, Dr. Shorey says. Attachment style is partly genetic, but it also is determined in part by how our parents related to us as young children.

There are three basic attachment types: Secure, anxious and avoidant. Secure people, roughly 55% of the population, had parents who were consistently caring and responsive; these people are typically loving and comfortable with intimacy. The other 45% have an attachment style that is more problematic—either anxious, avoidant or some combination.

Avoidant people, about 15% of the population, try to minimize closeness. Their parents typically were withholding or unresponsive. These folks aren’t your blabbers. In fact, in interviews to determine personality type, therapists consider short, concise answers to be a marker of an avoidant attachment style.

Long, drawn-out answers typically indicate an anxious type. Anxious people, who make up roughly 15% of the population, typically had parents who were inconsistently nurturing. They are overly sensitive to social cues and prone to overmanaging their personal connections. (The other 15% are a combination.)

Of course, we all have our own bursting point, when under emotional stress we can no longer contain ourselves, says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a Mount Kisco, N.Y., marriage and family therapist. “They think, ‘Oh God, does that feel good to talk,’ ” she says. “But they’re definitely not thinking of the other person and this may hurt their relationship.”

The real trouble starts when you share information that isn’t really yours to share. In her therapy practice, Ms. O’Neill says she regularly sees people who tell someone about their own marital problems, or a divorce or separation before it actually happens. Another common scenario involves mothers sharing information about their daughters. In all these cases, she says, “it usually comes back to haunt them.”

So how do you stop yourself from blabbing too much? Do what your mother said: Stop and think before you open your mouth. “Go through the process in your mind where you walk through the ultimate effects of sharing,” Ms. O’Neill says.

These are specific questions you should ask yourself, Dr. Shorey says. “Does my listener have time right now—and is he or she emotionally available to listen?” “Will your blabbing relieve your anxiety—or make it worse?” “In other words,” Dr. Shorey says, “you can probably anticipate worrying that your boss will think you’re an idiot for oversharing if you just take the time to think about it.”

If you should find that you said too much, how do you recover? Most people think it’s a good idea to go back and apologize. Most often, though, it isn’t. “When I work with people in my office, I try to help them think through what the consequences will be,” Ms. O’Neill says. “Will there be a boomerang effect?”

If you decide your listener has fundamentally changed the way he or she sees you, then apologize, but keep it short and low-key. “You should say, ‘Listen, I don’t want to make a big deal of this, but I want you to know I embarrassed myself and this isn’t like me,’ ” Ms. O’Neill says. “And leave it at that.”

Ms. Kumar recalls she was always an oversharer. Her childhood nickname was “Loose Lips.” “I did it primarily as a way to connect with people, to get them to like me,” she says.

When she called her father to apologize for telling him prematurely that she was getting a divorce, he started to cry. “He said, ‘I just can’t take this anymore. I am getting too old. I am taking blood-pressure medication. I have a nervous breakdown every time I see your name come up on the phone.’ ”

These days, Ms. Kumar says before speaking she asks herself, “Why am I sharing this with this specific person? What am I looking for here?”

“Otherwise, it’s almost like you’ve spilled this debris over people’s lives, telling them your stuff,” she says. “And then you have to go back and clean up the mess you created.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: