Question: I keep hearing everyone say I should be authentic at work, but then the list of things not to discuss includes topics I'm passionate about, like politics. Which is true?
Answer: In fact, both are correct. To build connections with your peers at work, it's important to be genuine in how you show up and what you share. People want to know that when you say something is meaningful to you, it truly is. They'll learn to trust you more as they see you act consistent with your values. And they'll find you more relatable the more your interests align with their own.
That said, there's a fine line between being authentic and sharing too much. Politics, health issues, religious views, social disputes and money troubles are examples of topics to tread lightly on when sharing. Here are some best practices to help you navigate forward:
1. Create guardrails for yourself (and your personal brand) to know which areas of your personal life, military experience and lifestyle you are willing to share and which ones you won't. For example, you might be comfortable mentioning that you're in a same-sex marriage, but you're not willing to disclose whether you will want to have children. Or you might feel fine discussing your military jobs, but not what you saw during multiple deployments.
If you're comfortable talking about a topic, think through how far you're willing to go in revealing details. Saying that you look forward to starting a family someday might feel safer than discussing your fertility timeline in detail.
2. Have a response ready for addressing sensitive topics. It might feel natural for a colleague to ask whether you have kids or want them. This question may be innocent enough, but it could venture into territory that doesn't feel comfortable to you. Instead of saying, "That's too personal," or, "It's none of your business," think about a better response in advance. You could offer, "Those are the big questions we wrestle with, like most families," and then move on.
Similarly, it's not unusual for civilians to be curious about your military service and what you did and saw. Instead of refusing to share details or answering, "That's classified information," offer a well-thought-out response. You might reply with, "Military duty involves a lot of complex scenarios. We navigate them regardless of whether we see front-line combat or not. Describing what I saw or did might not paint an accurate picture without all the context, which I can't discuss." Again, plan ahead instead of trying to make up an answer on the spot.
3. For those topics you are passionate about and are comfortable discussing, think through the appropriateness of talking about them at work. Most people have an opinion about politics, social issues, climate change, financial acumen and so on. You have an opinion, but is your workplace the right place to share them? Is social media the right place?
Once you share something, you can't take it back. While you might feel more comfortable sharing your views if they align with popular opinion, that's not the only time to share. If you feel strongly about jumping into a discussion colleagues are having around politics, for example, and others are sharing their views, you should be able to participate if you are respectful. But you also retain the right to withhold your opinions -- not because they aren't valid, but because you choose not to share them.
There's a misperception that everything we feel and believe should be shared. While your mouth can project the words, your brain should remind you that you will be judged (fairly or unfairly) based on those views. Think this through in advance and participate as it makes sense for your career, your values and any guidelines your employer has laid out for appropriate discussion topics in the workplace.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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