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  • Herb Cohen

What to Ask Yourself Before Sharing Personal Problems with Your Boss

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

We all have problems that may be difficult to manage. These may include illness, family issues and the death of a loved one which can impact our emotions and performance at work. This is totally understandable and often times unavoidable. 

Perhaps your boss has mentioned an issue about your performance or a colleague has noticed a change in your behavior and has spoken with you about it. If you think your personal problem(s) might be affecting your work performance, now would be the time to talk with your supervisor.

The following are questions to consider when sharing personal matters with your boss.

1. Why do you want to share this information?

It is important to know what is motivating you. Is it to help your boss understand how your personal problem(s) is affecting your performance and attitude? Do you want to have a more authentic relationship? Are you using it as an excuse to avoid being criticized for something you find difficult doing?

It is not a good idea to share your personal problems with your boss unless your performance is compromised.

2. How well do you know your boss?

You want to consider how trustworthy your boss is. Do you think your boss can be discreet? Has your boss ever talked with you about another employee? If so, it would not be a good idea to talk with him/her. Instead, it’s better to talk with a colleague or someone in the Human Resources Department.

If you experience your boss as empathic and non-judgmental, then it is likely that you will be satisfied with the conversation. 

3. Can your boss do anything about it?

Does your boss have the power to do anything about your problem? Can you be temporarily reassigned? Can you be granted a leave of absence if necessary? Can your workload be changed? If so, talk with your boss.

4. Is your work being impacted?

The following can indicate that your personal problems are affecting your work:

  • You are more reactive towards others.

  • You are more distracted and disorganized.

  • You are late more often for work.

  • You work performance is compromised.

  • You don’t want to be there.

A good boss wants to know what is troubling you, especially when it is affecting your performance. You don’t want him/her to make assumptions about you, so talking about this is a good idea. 

5. What do you need to consider when talking with your boss?

How and when you communicate matters. Your job is to keep the conversation productive and positive. The following are some tips to ensure a beneficial discussion.

  • Timing is important. Don’t assume your boss is available at your request. You want to optimize your boss’s ability to listen so ask when it would be good to talk.

  • Think about what you need. Being honest with your boss will engender respect for you. This will occur because your boss will realize you want to be your best.

  • There is a limit to your conversation. Focusing too much on your personal problems can be distracting to your boss, colleagues and yourself. 

The bottom line: From health troubles to family issues, life can certainly be difficult. There are a multitude of challenges that can impact your performance at work, and it’s important to share those struggles with the right people.

Two women talking at a conference table.
Ask yourself these 5 questions to determine if you should speak to your boss about personal matters.

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