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I am part of a small business of myself, the business owner, and a recently new employee.

For all intents and purposes, it is just myself and the new employee are the ones running the business - the business owner is only attending monthly meetings to see how the business is progressing. We have reached a point where we have identified how we work together well, with only one issue; they are bringing their personal issues to work.

I have no issues with this in general, I sometimes have bad days, or lose control to my own personal issues, but it is not something that I bring up. At most, I might need to apologize for my behavior due to my "personal situations"; but I leave it at that.

They, on the other hand, bring it up as part of the morning meetings, and in detail. They give updates on how things are progressing, or regressing as the case may be. Again, I have no issue with them dealing with these situations, but I feel that this is not really something that we should be addressing in such detail in the workplace.

From an interpersonal perspective, I could approach them outside of work hours and address it there, but I do not feel comfortable with that at this point in time; partially because we do not really communicate on a level I am comfortable with outside of work hours, and partially because I cannot really support them in this either - I feel like my simple remarks of "I can understand things are tough" appears as a brush off.

So how should I be handling this, in a professional sense?


For clarification, the "issues" I have mentioned are along the lines of PTSD and anxiety.

I have spoken to him about some of issues before, but only in so far as how they affect work. For example, he is always keen to argue in the favor of the client, regardless of whether or not it is a good business idea - not only making me look bad for denying the client their request(s) but also having to take him away to discuss where he actually sits in the deal. This particular issue has been resolved, but he still brings up others that are far more personal; generally focusing on their origin in his childhood.

Quite simply; in a work environment I do not feel that these are things that should be brought up at any time, and I personally do not feel comfortable being included in the sharing.

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    What's your goal? Getting them to stop bringing up personal things at work? Whether and how much of your personal life you bring to your work is pretty work-culture dependant and your company being only the two of you means you'll need to make a decision on what that culture is going to be first, I think. – Erik Jul 17 at 5:18
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    Did you confront (politely) your colleague about his "behavior"? – virolino Jul 17 at 6:14
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    What kind of "personal issues"? – guest Jul 17 at 7:47
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    can you give some details? Is this a man, or a woman? If it's a woman, I would be careful about approaching them outside of work hours – Old_Lamplighter Jul 17 at 11:01
  • Your coworker is a human being with a problem. It's not like they can turn off their PTSD and anxiety at will. – shoover Jul 21 at 20:17
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There is a lot of good advice about situations like this at Ask A Manager. This one I found is for someone who has several people chit-chatting about personal issues (not just one), but some of the advice is still sound:

  • Be busy - be so busy with work that you don't have time to listen and chat
  • Perhaps talk to them about the bigger issue

And this quote is especially good:

Perhaps most important, reframe your thinking a bit. I suspect you feel an obligation to listen to your co-workers and be a supportive presence for them (and that's how this all started), so keep in the forefront of your mind that you have a higher obligation to your employer to focus on your job. Unless your employer has specifically hired you to play office therapist, continuing to do it is shortchanging them. It's also shortchanging yourself -- you're putting yourself in a position where you're not going to be as productive as you otherwise would be, and that will have very real ramifications on future raises, project assignments, promotions, and your reputation.

I've seen the advice often - listen just a bit, acknowledge them, and then change the subject back to work. Something like "Yeah, that sounds tough. Now, about those TPS reports..."

It's not rude to want to do the work you are being paid to do, nor to remind your co-worker that is why you are there. And it will probably take time - some people are so used to complaining that they won't easily give it up, even when there is no positive and some negative reinforcement.

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You aren't obligated to be this person's friend or therapist. Yes, people can have those relationships at work but it's based on some mutual compatibility & acceptance. Not imposed by one person. And a work meeting is almost never the right place for personal stuff.

  1. Say that you want to talk about work issues at the start of every meeting.
  2. Observe closely how much time the work portion of the meeting takes.
  3. Shorten work meeting lengths to be closer to the time you observed.
  4. Always warn in advance of the meeting what the time constraint is.
  5. Whenever you reach the end time leave the meeting and start doing something else.

If they try to insist on talking about anything (business or personal) at the end of the scheduled meeting time you say, "I have a hard stop now" or "I have a hard stop at 10AM". This isn't unusual for busy people to do.

From an interpersonal perspective, I could approach them outside of work hours and address it there, but I do not feel comfortable with that at this point in time; partially because we do not really communicate on a level I am comfortable with outside of work hours

If they try and push you for why you no longer listen to their personal issues, just say: "I'm sorry but I'm not good dealing with this kind of thing. I just want to focus on work right now."

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Usually this would be something for your supervisor to bring up, and usually you could verify it's not just yourself over-reacting by checking with other members of the team. With just two people however it's a very different dynamic, so this doesn't work so well, and it's easy to cause offence if you're not careful.

I'd start by saying something very neutral / soft / non-confrontational, such as:

Hi Alice, I've noticed we both drift a bit off-piste in these morning meetings and as such they're starting to eat into our days more than they should! Do you mind if we keep them strictly to work matters, and aim for no more than (appropriate length of time)?

If Alice still brings these matters up in the morning meetings, you can get a bit more direct:

Alice, I realise this is a really tough situation, but I'd really like to keep these morning meetings on track.

...and then if it's really unbearable, you can of course talk to the founder and tell him to have a word. Going above Alice's head is always going to leave a bit of a bad taste though rather than talking to her directly, so I'd leave that as a last resort.

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There are two sides to this, your colleague may be suffering and needing the support of someone, and because they trust you is able to open up.

The other side, this is frustrating for you. I would suggest that during your next morning meeting you mention that how the meetings are not sticking to topic, however you are happy to discuss other matters outside of this meeting and make time during break, this way the person wont feel rejected for opening up and you will be able to progress the morning meetings.

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