Professional Skills: Is It Your Business?

Posted by Bridget Beirne
March 4, 2013

Part of your professional skills set is knowing when it isn't your business.

By now, those of you who follow the Ovation Blog know that we are fans of the TV series, THE OFFICE. Besides being super funny, the bumblings of the Dunder Mifflin office darlings are often great business etiquette lessons. For example, an episode in years past featured regional manager Michael Scott (winningly played by Steve Carell) and his number 2, Dwight Schrute (the fabulous Rainn Wilson), at a company party thrown in the large house of the CFO. Over cocktails, Dwight asks how many square feet the house occupies. Michael admonishes him for asking something so personal, and follows with what he thinks is a better question- "How much did this house cost?" Yikes.

While we know we don't have any Michael Scotts among us, often the lines of our business relationships blur. It's good to go back to basics and think about what information about our colleagues is actually our business. Here are some things to think about when pondering the question:

1. "How much________?": Ah, tread lightly when it comes to those two words in conversation. More often than not, the answer to that question is probably not your business. (Obviously, we're not talking about purchasing transactions...) How much do you make a year? How much did your car cost? How much do you pay for Susie's private school? Personal financial issues are off the table. Nor should you feel compelled to share when someone hits YOU with a "how much" question. If you're uncomfortable sharing, just let the asker know. Even a simple dodge like, "I don't like to discuss my finances- I save that issue for home!" can free you from the clutches of a Michael Scott moment.

2. "Are you_________?": If any kind of personal issue follows "are you", you're digging into private territory. Are you (insert religion/political party here)? A homeowner? Engaged yet? Pregnant? Even in a solid, long-standing business relationship, these are issues that should only be shared by choice, not asked about. Many times, things that we think are no big deal may, in fact, be something others don't want to discuss. Turning it around, should someone ask you an "are you" question that you'd rather not share, once again remind them that there are certain things that you leave at home, regardless of how close you are with your associates.

3. "Why aren't you going to______?": Whether it's the next large conference or your weekend dinner party, if someone has to send their regrets, let it go at that. Oftentimes, it's not your business why a friend or colleague can't attend a certain function, and if they want to let you know why, they will. If you've given your regrets and a host hits you with a "why not" that you would prefer not to answer, just reiterate that your schedule doesn't permit it at the moment, and you hope you can be in attendance for the next function. Leave it at that. (*An exception to this rule? Your boss can ask you why you can't attend a business related event. But that goes without saying...)

As we've said before, we all know that many of our closest friendships often start in the office. However, it is all about what we and our colleagues choose to share. Our friends at Dunder Mifflin often forget that fact. If your deskmate chooses to tell you how much they paid for their house, that is their prerogative! But we all know that better business relationships are built without fishing expeditions for personal information.

All of these questions have us thinking about our video on Q&A facilitation! Have you seen it?

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