‘Sharing’ in Workplace Can Undermine Authority

Sharing personal information with friends and family has long been held by researchers as a way to build rapport and healthy relationships. But between coworkers, that’s not always true.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology looked into how personal disclosures in the workplace could impact relationships between coworkers and task effectiveness. Their study published in January in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes found that for higher status individuals, disclosing a weakness negatively affected their relationship and task effectiveness with their lowers status partners.

“We may think that sharing personal information is always a good thing, but what we found is that when higher status individuals, which could in real situations include star employees, share personal information that highlights a potential shortcoming, it can affect the way they are perceived by coworkers,” said Dana Harari, a doctoral student at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. “This is important because it could undermine their ability to be an effective manager.”

The researchers focused on task-oriented relationships such as those found in a workplace. They devised three lab experiments during which participants completed virtual tasks with either a higher status or peer status partner. During the task, the “coworker,” who was actually a confederate in the study, disclosed personal information that could be perceived either as a weakness, a positive or neutral.

Researchers found that although the type of disclosure did not affect peer status disclosers, higher status individuals who disclosed a weakness experienced a “status penalty.” As a result, higher status disclosers were liked less, and participants resisted their influence more during the task.

The findings are notable because in organizations, higher status individuals may be motivated to disclose information about their weaknesses to coworkers in the hopes of developing a closer relationship and working better together, the researchers wrote.

But that “status loss” could lead to unintended outcomes, such as the discloser having less influence and experiencing more conflict within their team, the researchers wrote.