TMI: Coworkers Airing Dirty Laundry on Facebook

by Staff - Original publish date: January 2, 2013

Q: Dear Heather,

I read your recent article on Social Media Mistakes and wonder what you would think of a co-worker of mine that broadcasts EVERYTHING on Facebook and Twitter! She violates at least four of your "mistakes" regularly! Lately she’s posted some really negative and really sad barbs at her boyfriend. I also gather that a couple of friends (or coworkers?) have upset her. I wouldn’t know this but for Facebook as we work in different departments. We aren’t close friends, but we have lunch as a group once or twice a week. Do I pretend I haven’t noticed that her personal life is in a bad place? What’s the etiquette on this?

A: Dear Anna,

While Facebook can be an excellent way to stay connected with friends and family, it can also magnify dysfunctional tendencies and be an easy tool for passive aggressive personalities. As I stated in the article, there’s nothing minor about a venue that can and will impact one’s career. So the question is, do you politely avert your eyes or do you extend compassion to this co-worker with an unfortunate proclivity toward parading what should be private?

As one who chooses to alert strangers regarding obvious embarrassments (spinach on teeth, price tags dangling from garments), I would vote for tactful communication. Something along the lines of "Hey Brenda. I get your Facebook postings in my feed. Sounds like things have been a little rough lately. Everything OK?"

This does three things. It alerts Brenda that she indeed has a signal, and that it is strong in the workplace. It also communicates that her passive/aggressive messages are not as nuanced as she might believe.

Only Brenda can change Brenda. From what you describe, Brenda is either an angry and vindictive woman (in which case, I doubt you’d be so sympathetic), or she is one who struggles with appropriate confrontation. People who are uncomfortable with direct communication will often use social media to take a stand in the ineffective manner that a pre-teen might mutter at a parent under his breath. However, via social media, that muted mutter has a like button and share option. Instead of shooting out a singular message, hoping it will go viral, these individuals desire that a mass communication will hit a very specific mark. Ineffective -- and often embarrassing -- to us all.

Facebook "etiquette" is evolving. Never before have we shared so much with so many. My personal filters include: Is it kind? Is it respectful? So yes, it might be kind to let Brenda know that her venting is generating some steam. What happens (or doesn't happen) next is Brenda's responsibility. You might also want to take a few minutes to check your own timeline and be sure you’re sending out a message your career can live with.

Good luck,

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