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Several times in the past, I've had a bit of good news which I'd like to share at work (or at least not actively hide). The issue is that often, a colleague is struggling in the same domain. I know how uncomfortable this can be from the other side, since when I was going through a difficult divorce I was invited (with everyone else) to a colleague's wedding reception. I knew it would be too difficult so I didn't RSVP either way and nothing was ever said about it.

Here's a couple of cases of 'awkward' interactions I have been involved with:

Financial

My colleague and I report to the same manager, but he's a 'standard' Web Developer and I'm a 'Senior' Web Developer and as a senior I earn a bit more. I'm also about 10 years older than he is and single and childless by choice. He has expressed (to me and other people) concerns about money, as he has a young family and a stay-at-home-mom wife, and worries how to pay all the bills. For example, he asks us (co-workers) if we can recommend cheap places to get car maintenance done.. etc. [nb: I don't have any influence over his salary and he knows that - I don't think it's a "passive aggressive" request for more money or anything like that!]

I now feel uncomfortable around him mentioning money I've spent on anything that may be seen as "non-essential". I have much more disposable income, but I feel self-conscious mentioning anything about something I did (e.g. buying a new laptop, getting the kitchen replaced with new units) as I think he probably wouldn't have the spare income for that. (We are Web Developers so it's normal to be geeks about laptops and stuff, maybe not so much about kitchens and such like.)

Relationships

My boss (different job) is going through a fairly involved breakup and divorce. Court cases and stuff.

I'm in a relatively new (3 years) relationship talking (to my partner) about engagement etc, but I don't feel like I can bring it up in the office. (It's standard in this workplace to bring in "cakes in the kitchen" to celebrate events like that but now I feel like I should keep it quiet.. to what extent? Getting married secretly?!)

Work achievements:

Co-worker has failed the certification exam for a particular technology (that is used in the company) a couple of times. I took the exam and passed it easily the first time.

There's a process to notify certification success to HR and it gets published on our Intranet. There's also a financial reward. However, I'm conscious of how co-worker will feel having failed a couple of times if I "bask" in the success of that. So I am wondering whether to "conceal" the achievement for the sake of co-worker's feelings. [and miss out on the money.. about $100 so not huge.]


I'd prefer to not have to hide or edit out my life, but do not wish to hurt my colleagues. Having that in mind: How do I mention good news (for me) at work when there are co-workers who are struggling in the domain where I'm succeeding ?

  • 10
    It seems that the question we can maybe answer is "How do I break good news about something to co-workers when they may be going through a rough time with the same something?" It's certainly not an easy question to word, but if you can narrow down the information that is necessary to explain that goal, that would be great. I hope that helps :) – ElizB Jul 21 at 20:57
  • I feel that the question is too broad, because each example can be answered with different approaches, since they cover different issues. The first example is a life choice, because raising children demands money. The second case is more an example of empathy, where you celebrate your marriage while trying to learn from your boss experience. The last one is a case where you typically would try to mentor and support your colleague. – Santiago Jul 23 at 20:47
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I have been on both sides of this: struggling while others are doing very well on the particular things I'm struggling on, and doing very well around people who are struggling with that thing. Some tips:

  • don't bring up your successes out of the blue, or in direct response to their struggles. Eg "Hey, good morning! Guess who passed that certification on the first try?" or, after hearing about a car repair that they worry will be expensive, "oh yeah, that sounds rough, nothing like that for me, actually I just bought an amazing new car [drone on about its features for 20 minutes.]
  • If someone asks you what you did on the weekend, or if you have vacation plans, don't hold back on the joy and delight you're feeling. It might be tactful not to mention very expensive or exclusive things you can afford that they can't. "We're flying to Fiji and staying in a luxury villa with a butler" isn't necessary. "We're planning a winter getaway to sunshine and a sandy beach" will convey the essentials.
  • if someone asked what something cost you, don't answer with a number. "Oh yeah, it was a lot, we've been saving for 10 years" or "Oh, I'll be paying for it for quite some time, you can be sure" convey that it was expensive, but not exactly how expensive. And never say that something was "reasonable" or "pretty cheap, really", or "only" and then give a number they couldn't afford. A vacation that is "only" $20,000 is a lot more hurtful than a "very expensive" vacation you saved up for.
  • don't offer advice, based on your money or relationship happiness, about how they too could have what you have. It could easily come across as patronizing or suggesting they are responsible for the state they are in.
  • focus on what you like and what you have, not on what you still want or don't have, or how clever or hard working you have been so far. Celebrate the luck factor in your successes, and the role of others. Eg "I thank my lucky stars that I met [partner] when I did and that they are such a wonderful person in my life" is nicer than "I sure did the right thing persuing [partner] and sticking in the relationship even when [things got rough, I was tempted, we had to be long-distance for a while.]" Work successes can include mention of "a great team" or "terrific people to learn with".
  • never, and I mean never, complain about something others would love to have. I will never forget the friend who blabbered at me for over half an hour about some convention she was going to and the hotels near the venue were not luxurious enough but the 5 star hotel she wanted to be at was half an hour from the venue and she didn't want to be on a hot shuttle bus every morning or unable to pop back for a break or something but the mere 3 star properties would be just unbearable blah blah blah at a time when I literally could not go anywhere until an overdue client cheque arrived because I had only enough gas to get into town and no money to fill up when I got there or to buy food, so we were just waiting waiting day by day for this money to arrive and spending nothing until then, and feeding my kids strange meals built out of canned food and things from my freezer, and meanwhile I am supposed to be sympathetic to the thought of being in a 3 star hotel? So complaining that you can't find a venue that will hold 1000 people for your wedding, or that you have to delay the wedding because the live horse or elephant rentals are all booked three years in advance ... don't do that, and especially not to someone going through a difficult breakup.
  • watch people while you're talking to them. Are they asking you questions? Even just "and then what?" Or are they looking at the floor or away from you and going "mm hmm" or "oh" every once in a while. When that happens, don't just change the subject, remember not to repeat whatever you were just doing.
  • when they share a "win" with you, even if it's something that would mean nothing to you, celebrate with them. They finally passed the first certification! They found a way to save $120 on that car repair! Their partner's brother isn't going to jail after all, he got probation. Smile! Enjoy their news! Say "congrats" or "good work" as appropriate.

It's great that you care about the impact of your small talk on those around you. With some effort, you can be perceived as a very happy person who is sharing their joy in the good things of life, always has a positive outlook, and wants others to have great things too.

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Kate Gregory's response is very good, she gives some good pointers about what to say and not to say, and why. I'd like to offer you more general advice, and give you the permission to chill out a bit ;-)

I think you're overthinking this a bit. It's great that you want to be considerate of others, but if it's to the point where you're treating them like they're made of glass and can't handle hearing about other people's life, it becomes a problem. If they knew about this, they would probably be a bit insulted and/or embarrassed that you thought you had to hide and lie to preserve their egos. How would you have felt if your boss had not only not invited you to his wedding, but made an extra effort to hide this from you ?

As long as you're not rubbing it in (for example talking about your engagement constantly to someone who's going through a divorce) or drastically diminish (for example saying you passed a test because it was super easy to someone who failed it) your accomplishments, normal people can handle hearing about other people's good news or life events. They might feel sadness or frustration over their own situation, but it doesn't mean they aren't happy for the other person, or at least can deal hearing about it.

What you experience is also very common. Having more good fortune than others happens all the time. Same for having less. Right now me and my partner are in a financial pinch that isn't going to be resolved soon, while good friends of ours are talking about buying a house and start a family (something we'd like to do but can't right now). I have a friend who'd love to be in a relationship but always ends up with jerks, while I'm in a happy relationship. No one's life is perfect, and things never last.

So read over the suggestions in Kate Gregory's answer, keep them in mind, and then stop stressing so much over this. Unless you have a history of hurting people inadvertently, you mentioning a vacation or announcing your engagement will be fine.

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Having been in situations like the ones you describe, one of the most frustrating things was other people being over-sensitive too it. It's not like I wasn't aware that other people made different choices which reduced their outgoings and earned more than me, for example. In fact, it motivated me to strive for a similar lifestyle.

Part of life is that there will always be people with more money than you, who do better academically. When you own relationships are breaking down, there will be people building theirs up. Within reason you just have to deal with that, and can't really expect people to not enjoy their lives on the off chance it offends you.

In conclusion, don't flaunt it but don't hold back from enjoying your own life and engaging in conversation with your friends and colleagues because of it.

  • Always great to hear from someone with experience :) Could you explain a little more of what you mean by "don't flaunt it, but don't hold back", and what was oversensitive? People who haven't been on the receiving end may not know what sort of comments come off that way, so it'd be great to have some examples. – Em C Jul 29 at 13:23

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