we had to share our “shadow sides” and “be more vulnerable” at a meeting

A reader writes:

The small team of seven people I’m on (within a Fortune 500 company) recently had an offsite for team-building and strategic planning. A junior employee was assigned to plan the team-building part of our offsite. She’s repeatedly said she wants more trust within the team and for us to feel like a “family.” So she planned an activity for us to “be more vulnerable with each other.” We were given blank paper masks and asked to draw/paint our strengths and things we showed to the world on the front of the mask, and then on the back to draw/paint our “shadow sides” or weaknesses or things we don’t usually share in the workplace. Then we were all asked to share.

I managed this by not talking about anything I didn’t want to share. But one employee cried while sharing and another was visibly uncomfortable. I’ve done this type of activity before, but in the context of group therapy under the supervision of a professional therapist!

I have the credibility and capital to share some feedback with my management team about this activity. But I’m having a hard time figuring out how to articulate it beyond “inappropriate for the workplace.” I don’t want them to tell the junior employee that other people didn’t like her activity, but I do want the managers to vet activities going forward! Do you have any suggested language to talk about this?


It’s so common for managers to let employees plan this kind of activity without any oversight! Often the first time other people hear details about the activity are when it’s being announced at the meeting and everyone is expected to participate on the spot. It’s pretty bizarre since if team-building and ice-breakers are valuable enough to spend meeting time on (and they can be! I’m not saying they never are), you’d think they’d be important enough for someone to review before setting a junior staffer loose with complete free rein to come up with anything they want.

Especially one who has repeatedly said the team should feel more like a family.

Anyway, here’s your list of reasons:

* Highly personal activities about people’s most intimate selves are best done with the guidance of a therapist or at a spiritual retreat, not at work. For many people, good-faith participation in this activity would have meant delving into and revealing trauma, which no one should have to do at work … and which could be counter to some employees’ mental health needs.

* It’s intrusive. Many people feel violated by demands that they lower their boundaries, and feel being expected to share deeply intimate things with colleagues or managers as highly invasive and overstepping.

* Asking employees to “be more vulnerable” may not actually be safe for everyone there to do. It puts some people — particularly those with marginalized identities — in a position of actual vulnerability and risks opening them up to discrimination.

* It’s true that high-functioning teams are ones where people feel psychologically safe and where they can be their authentic selves. However, that environment is something that’s created by good management over a sustained period of time. Simply demanding emotional intimacy from employees doesn’t achieve that; to that contrary, that will make many people feel less safe.

* Activities like these always need to be opt-in; people should never feel obligated or pressured to participate. (And even opt-in activities can be inappropriate for work, and I’d argue this one is.)

So yes, please do share feedback with your management team about what happened at this meeting, and ask that future activities be vetted ahead of time and guidelines provided to anyone charged with planning them. Your coworkers will thank you.

Read an update to this letter.

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. Neon*

    “I managed this by not talking about anything I didn’t want to share.”

    This is the right move.

    You don’t have to bare your soul in a corporate conference room just because some random work flunkie tells you to.

    Roll your eyes, give them some bland horseshit, get paid, move to the next thing.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          This. I don’t know what the junior employee was thinking, but this activity needs to be shut down so she doesn’t get the idea that this sort of exercise is okay in the future (because she will plan more of these things if left unchecked).

          1. Rex Libris*

            I’ve seen a trend lately (at least in my workplace) with some junior employees where all their feels must be felt and shared and acknowledged at work. All. The. Time. I suspect this seeming like a good idea comes out of that, and the junior employee would be shocked that not everyone found it appropriate, healthy and affirming.

            I personally long for the days of pleasant and professional work relationships, where sharing and managing one’s emotions was a solo sport, and normally done outside the office.

              1. Mongrel*

                “However, that environment is something that’s created by good management over a sustained period of time. ”

                So much this. I find declarations of “Don’t worry, this is a safe space” both patronising and wrong, it’s not a toggle switch

            1. GreenDoor*

              I work in K-12 education and there is a movement to increase socio-emotional learning and restorative practices in the classroom. In schools, this is hugely positive – kids learn how to manage emotions positively, it reduces violence in schools, teachers get a better sense of which students might need interventions, etc. These activities are done under the guidance of teachers or school psychologists, not willy-nilly. But for as beneficial as these lessons are, one failure I see is that kids aren’t taught that Sharing the Feels is not appropriate or beneficial in every environment. So they enter the workforce and want to do a sharing circle and are pretty clueless about the potential for negative impact on the workplace – and on individuals in the group. If OP has any standing to push back or give feedback, I hope they do! This one was not well executed.

            2. Nonprofit writer*

              FWIW, the one time I had to do this kind of exercise at work, it was a VP’s idea. He had his personal “life coach” come & lead the meeting, ugh. The VP was at least in his mid- 40s at the time, and that was about 10-12 years ago. So not necessarily a “kids these days” kind of thing,

      1. Sleepy*

        One, I always laugh at the feeling like family language because my family is very messy and I do not want to copy that over to work. Keep it professional please. Two, it’s not about liking the activity or not, it’s that it is inappropriate for the workplace. People should not feel forced to share like this at work.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          We’re also incredibly messy and LOUD once you get past a branch or two of my tree. There is no way this would work at….work.

          If I had capital to do so, I would push back. And I’d probably put myself in timeout to figure out how to do so in a more constructive way than “dafuqisdissheet?” which would honestly be the first thing tumbling out of my mouth.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            In one branch of my family, you’d wind up with “playful slapping” like that other LW had observed, which would quickly escalate to actual slapping, punching, kick fights and if alcohol were involved, full on brawls. I don’t spend time with swaths of my family on purpose, with good reason.

            Employers should not be hoping to make the workplace environment “more like family” no matter what their intentions.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Same. I’m estranged from most of my family, so if you want work to feel like family, I’ll probably stop talking to you. :D

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            100% this. It’s been almost ten years since I spoke to most of mine. Can emulate at work if necessary!

          2. Bfam*

            Same. I come from a very toxic family-the benefit of my workplace is that it’s NOT like my family!

        3. Sabina*

          Yeah, when the whole “our office is just like a family” line was trotted out I always wanted to respond, “Cool. Who is the alcoholic and who is the enabler ?Who has been divorced four times? Who puts on the most passive-aggressive Christmas morning mandatory brunch ?”

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            “Who’s going to criticize my appearance every day? Who’s going to make fun of me for being overly dramatic every time I state a fact? Oh wait, whose turn is it to make fun of me for the things I love to do? Can’t forget that one!”

            1. Sabina*

              LOL, I actually had a boss who would call me dramatic when I’d state facts like “we can’t not pay people on time, it’s illegal. ” Maybe he was related to your family.

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                Your boss must have written the letter about the employee who should be more of a good sport for not being paid on time!

          2. KoiFeeder*

            Who’s slipping essential oils into the food and drink to “cure” our various ailments? Who tried to kidnap their cousin from her own wedding because they didn’t like that she’d divorced the first guy? Who’s the one that got a black eye from one of the nuns for acting the fool at her brother’s funeral?

            (I could get darker, but I think too many of the dark ones are disability-relevant)

            1. Le Sigh*

              “Who tried to kidnap their cousin from her own wedding because they didn’t like that she’d divorced the first guy?”

              I’m sorry, what?

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Yeah, it was some sort of Thing (religious, maybe?) about divorce being a bad thing that shouldn’t be allowed. No data on whether he’d have harassed the first guy because he moved to Idaho, changed his name, and joined a cult (there is a statistically unusual amount of cults that pop up in my family lore, I’ve found).

                1. IT Manager*

                  Wow, somehow your followup was even wilder than your original post!

                  My family is not the greatest but I can’t hold a candle to that – my condolences ….

                2. KoiFeeder*

                  My immediate family is pretty good and I like them! It’s just the extended family gets… weird.
                  (though to be clear: person who tried to kidnap his cousin from her own wedding is not idaho cult man. idaho cult man was her first husband.)

          3. Red5*

            Love this. It has very, “You don’t need to tell me you’re disappointed in me. That’s my mother’s job.” vibes.

          4. MurpMaureep*

            The few times I have heard this line I have responded with some level of snark, along the lines of “Dear lord I hope it’s not like MY family! Yikes!”. If someone calls me on that then I say “well my family’s love language is sarcasm, so maybe I’m fitting in after all”.

        4. Lenora Rose*

          My family is fairly functional and supportive of one another and I still don’t want our dynamics, built up by knowing one another since the younger members’ birth (or close to) and layers of deep and complex intimacy and knowing exactly how to push each other’s buttons (while usually choosing not to) carried over to work. I just don’t want to know anyone at work that well, and that includes the people I have been fond enough of to call friends.

          1. Nonym*

            Right. While my family isn’t perfect, I am extremely lucky to have a loving, healthy, supportive, boundary-respecting family. I’m still not interested in a for-profit business (or a non-for-profit for that matters) pretending to be family to extract more of me than is appropriate when I know perfectly well they wouldn’t support me as family does. Among other issues.

            I actually work for a family business and I appreciate that they understand there is a family and there is a business. Because they know we aren’t family, they understand the importance of a good work-life balance so we can take care of our actual families and they understand that us employees can’t invest as much into their business as family members do because it doesn’t and will never belong to us.

          2. Orora*

            This. Exactly. Most of my co workers are lovely people I enjoy working with and even personally interacting with. This is all I really want. I don’t need them to be family.

        5. J*

          i think a lot of people who say they want work to be a family are either a) coming from a place where theyve never had to deal with complicated or terrible families or b) the complicated and terrible member of their family. i cant imagine any other scenario where that would seem like a reasonable thing to say.

          1. Nonym*

            OTOH, people who push the family narrative tend to push an unhealthy view of it, alongside the fuzzy narrative: endlessly giving (expected on your part) with guilt tripping, tolerating everything (no amount of poor behavior or abuse warrants cutting someone off) and kowtowing to the most difficult personalities (it’s your fault for rocking the boat, you know how he/she gets), being all up in each other’s business and submitting to parental authority or having to bargain and plead for your own life’s choices as an adult, etc.

            It almost always means: no boundaries. Some of the stuff I read under the work family pretense, I wouldn’t even accept from my actual family.

          2. Anon 4 now*

            I know we’re using this is our military unit – because we want to make sure that everyone in our unit and their families are taken care of or know the resources available both locally and within the military. (We’re at a fairly remote, small installation in a homogenous portion of the USA.) Why? Because most people have not chosen to move here willingly and have very little family or other support systems around them, the military still deploys with irritating regularity, and we do a tremendous disservice to both the servicemember and their family when our support systems fail. It’s on me, and the rest of the command team, to ensure our families DO have a support system available (and are actively encouraged to find another local community if we aren’t their cup of tea so that when the poop hits the fan SOMEONE is there to help).

        6. Lab Boss*

          A lot of people here are (correctly) pointing out how often “being like family” is a painful concept- but heck, I get along great with my extended family and it would still be totally inappropriate for me to have that kind of loud, irreverent, half-drunk relationship with my coworkers.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, my family is fairly healthy, but it still has things like divorce, gossip, guilt trips and manipulation. I don’t need that kind of garbage at work.

          2. ScruffyInternHerder*

            (This is my family’s version of “messy”. There’d be irreverent purposeful button pushing happening.)

          3. Observer*

            Yup. Even without the “loud, irreverent, half drunk” part.

            I love my mother dearly, but I do NOT want to work for her! And I do NOT want her to work for me!

        7. Observer*

          I always laugh at the feeling like family language because my family is very messy and I do not want to copy that over to work.

          Yeah, there are a LOT of messy families in the world. Who needs that at work?

        8. Nina*

          My current workplace is like a family.

          My family is chaotic, we have a lot of fast marriages and faster divorces so the complement of partners at Christmas is never the same two years in a row, there are whole branches who just do not acknowledge each other’s existence, anything involving cooperation goes badly, everyone is all up in everyone else’s business all the time, there have been multiple cases of people going to police about family members showing up drunk and belligerent on doorsteps and/or phoning at 3 am with death threats, physical confrontation is a thing, and six-figure embezzlement resulting in people shrugging and going ‘well what can you do’ happens every decade or so.

      2. Neon*

        I agree that is a very good thing for the LW to do.

        I was reinforcing their point that in the moment it’s 100% fine to just phone it in with generic responses that do not invite further scrutiny or discussion.

        If Bob the HR assistant cooks up an activity that requires you to share your personal weaknesses you’re allowed to just say “I watch too much TV” and shrug.

      3. Maverick Jo*

        What’s the true value of sharing one’s “vulnerability” in the workplace? I don’t understand this. I feel like it’s no one’s business. A person agrees to perform certain duties. Why should there be any further expectations?

      4. That'sNotMyName*

        Agreed. However, I think this is good advice if you find yourself suddenly on the spot faced with a situation like OP’s.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      If you’re in this situation – absolutely. The right way to handle it in the moment is to be conservative with what you share and then, if you can, address it afterward. Which is exactly what LW is looking to do.

      However, when put on the spot, not everyone is going to react with their best rationale. You don’t know what other people are going to share, you don’t know the indirect consequences of being the one who doesn’t bare their soul – I agree with you that no one should have to, but if everyone else is doing it and you’re the one holdout you might get labeled “not a team player” or any other number of ridiculous things. No reaction is without consequence and people – as Alison points out, especially people who are already vulnerable – might have to make hard choices in the moment.

      So yes you’re right, and the best solution is to never put anyone in this position to begin with.

      1. Tau*

        You’re also seriously putting people on the spot, and some may share more than they would if you gave then warning just because they feel pressured into it by the situation or don’t have the time to calibrate correctly. I’m vulnerable to peer pressure and don’t deal well with unexpected happenings (yay autism) and could easily imagine myself admitting things I’d regret later in OP’s situation.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Same. I have a tendency to ramble and say too much. I try very hard not to do that, I have varying levels of success. But on the spot and nervous? I’d almost certainly overshare. (yay ADHD)

          1. dawbs*

            yeah, and then you overshare about why you overshare (which is why some of my coworkers know about my ADHD…whoops.)

            My daughter is autistic and we’ve been dealing with the literal interpretations she has for so many things like this at school this year–even things that seem really benign.

            Like “name your favorite dessert and write down 1 reason you like it”. That is SUPPOSED to be a softball ice-breaker question that is designed to help the teacher evaluate her writing skills by having 1-3 sentences as an answer.

            I’m sure the teacher didn’t expect that this came home (because the kid couldn’t explain in the room to a new teacher why she couldn’t do the question) and then involved a multiple hours long struggle to explain 1-that ‘favorite’ doesn’t actually have to mean ‘favorite’–it might just be something you like. and 2-I know the question is very vague, that doesn’t mean your teacher is trying to trick you; there isn’t a ‘right’ answer. Just pick something!

            (We’re working on it. but I can totally see 6 years in the future & this happening at work. Because “name the worst time you were hurt by someone in your family” is something she would answer honestly and would be disastrous. And her way to avoid it would be for her to disclose her autism which isn’t a choice without consequences either. She’d have to overshare to explain over-sharing!)

            (And the homework is improving [the child writes well above grade level, when we get past these].
            The mantras for these homework assignments currently are “Put words on paper even if you hate them. We can edit later” and “the Best is the enemy of the Good” and “there are many right answers”.)

            1. Humble Schoolmarm*

              Just wanted to throw out a quick thank you to you (and other neuro-divergent folks in the commentariat) for share the challenges of best and worst questions. I’ve started being really explicit in my instructions that “a good thing” and “a bad thing” or a “thing you liked” and a “thing you didn’t like” is a good answer if you have trouble picking a best or worst.

              1. dawbs*

                I’m so glad it can help!
                There are so many quirks of language i never had to focus on before my kid pointed them out to me

              2. nightengale*

                the other one – former neurodivergent child and now neurodiversity professional here – is even just assuming every person has knowledge and an opinion in a specific area. Like, not only could I not pick my favorite sports team, I can’t name a sports team I like. I may not be able to name the sports teams in my city at all. This applies to kinds of food, superheroes, movies, etc. I am supposed to pick a favorite or at least something I like. . . and I dislike all of them or have no idea what any of them are.

  2. Amber Rose*

    I’d argue this has the opposite effect and is more team breaking than team building. Consciously or unconsciously, I’d have a harder time taking Tom seriously after an event where he painted sad pandas on a mask and cried about his relationship with his parents at work.

    1. AGD*

      I’d feel terrible for him, and be putting up a mental force field around the person who made him do that. Most of the cases of “make yourself vulnerable” in my life have come from people looking for ammunition to store for later manipulation/blackmail, so it’s a red flag for me.

      1. Former Employee*

        I believe that would be my reaction, too. Even though the employee who came up with this “team building ” exercise probably meant well, I would think of her as “the unintentional bully” going forward.

        Similarly, I would now see my sad coworker as “Poor Tom” and while I might think he needed to find a way to deal with his difficult relationship with his parents, I would also be inclined to give him a little extra help in future.

  3. SwampWitch85*

    Yes please say something. I’ve been in situations like that where management tried to make us individually responsible for your coworkers’ emotional state or emotional safety and it got so out of hand that management was diagnosing people and recommending medication when they weren’t doctors so please please say something.

    1. ferrina*

      YES!! Honestly, you may be able to just describe the activity- C-level boss would be cringing 2 sentences into the description. And she would have words for this staffer.

  4. I should really pick a name*

    I don’t want them to tell the junior employee that other people didn’t like her activity

    They need to know this. If someone doesn’t know that what they did was a problem, they’ll do it again.

    1. English Rose*

      Yes, this. And not that people only ‘didn’t like’ her activity, that it was unacceptably intrusive.

      1. Education Mike*

        Right. This isn’t a game she planned that no one found fun. This was a wildly inappropriate ask. She needs to know it’s not ok. She’s very likely going to feel very embarrassed. That’s good. That’s how humans learn.

        Hearing someone very junior did this I cringe and think they need to learn how the work world operates, as we all did at one point. It’s not ok, but it’s understandable on some level that they thought it would be. But if it was someone more senior I would file it away forever as “Emily has no sense of boundaries or appropriateness.”

        If people give her the feedback, she’s a young person who did something unwise. If everyone saves her feelings, she becomes a more senior person that people hate and think has awful judgment. It’s much kinder to everyone involved to let her know.

        1. Observer*

          If people give her the feedback, she’s a young person who did something unwise. If everyone saves her feelings, she becomes a more senior person that people hate and think has awful judgment. It’s much kinder to everyone involved to let her know.

          Very well put!

          OP, please keep this in mind. Not INSTEAD of asking the bosses to vet activities, but in addition.

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      Yes. The employee’s manager really needs to coach her on what is acceptable for team building.

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly. Junior staff need guidance in order to understand what the expectations are – and sometimes that guidance needs to be “this is unacceptable”.

        fwiw, I’ve had that conversation with a few junior staff. It’s hard to hear, but most have been able to take that guidance and grow and become really, really great professionals.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          At offsites, teambuilding I’ve been a part of, I’ve never seen anything quite this bad, but the things that were close to it, the root cause was usually the person in-charge of the offsite, driving the whole event didn’t have a real grasp of what they wanted the gathering to accomplish, aside from vague handwavy “teambuilding” or “strategery”

          So it was mostly a GIGO situation. The driver of the was vague, didn’t have clear objectives in mind, couldn’t articulate it to the people designing/facilitating sessions, usually didn’t understand that design, facilitation of teambuilding and other corporate “make this team work betterer” is actual a *thing*, a special area of expertise that requires skill, knowledge, experience to do well, to have a chance of getting anywhere near the desired results. If someone doesn’t realize that, and doesn’t know to ask about objectives, expected challenges, how to energize & engage staff and get them participating in meaningful stuff in a meaningful way , you’re going to get people approaching it as they would planning a 6 year old’s birthday party … only with less consideration of safety, people’s needs for the adult equivalent of naptime … everything from decorating cupcakes, reading each other’s palms, making shadow masks or … the worst I saw, someone trying to recreate a “trust fall” exercise from the little they remembered from a Project Adventure course they took one summer as a teenager … with the woefully incorrect assumption that office workers of varying ages, orthopedic and other physical, health statuses, widely ranging levels of comfort about their physical bodies, close touch in general, their co-workers in particular would ALL be willing and able to be a faller and/or a catcher at the drop of a hat.

          It’s like form design … if the person asking for the form doesn’t know what they want, or what they are going to do with the output, and assigns the design to someone who has never done form design before, and doesn’t clearly convey what they want … you’re going to get a form that is going to be annoying to the people using it and somewhere between impossible to use as intended or so poorly designed that the data entered is unusable for any purpose.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            As an example for when it can be done well, once at a process documentation, improvement offsite, the kick off exercise was breaking into teams to document the process of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

            After the teams turned in their instructions, the facilitator proceeded don a blue man group style poncho and make some sandwiches, following the written instructions – exactly.
            It was messy, entertaining, silly, got everyone engaged … but also drove home the point of why well written process instructions matter, in theory to get people on board RE the point of the off site. Also, the only person looking silly in that situation was the facilitator, so it didn’t depend on other people being vulnerable.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              I want to steal this idea. It would be fun for training some of the community stakeholders on the need for clear client documentation.

            2. Richard Hershberger*

              I don’t love it. Well written instructions have the right amount of detail for the audience. Consider a cookie recipe. An experienced baker might not need anything beyond a list of ingredients and the amounts. A novice baker will need more detail: cream the butter and sugar, combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and so on. For a complete tyro, you might explain what exactly creaming the butter and sugar entails. But it would be an extreme outlier to have to explain that the sugar is probably in some sort of cannister, or perhaps a bag, and that you have to remove the lid to the cannister or open the bag. Try to write instructions that unambiguously cover every detail and you end up writing a legal statute, which is terrible, as statutes are extremely difficult to read.

              1. Student*

                If only legal statutes generally had that level of detail! They can leave a lot to be desired, in addition to being terrible to read.

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  True. It is more of an aspiration than a reality. But either way, they aren’t written for ease of reading.

              2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                See, in my case, getting the experienced bakers to realize they need to include all the detail would be one of the points of the exercise. All too often folks forget that the next person reading the client notes might be brand new or in a totally different specialty so just because they know what they mean doesn’t mean anyone else will.

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  Sure, if the work product is intended for novice bakers. If the work product is intended for experienced bakers, you just end up spending a lot of extra time and paper. Its all about knowing your audience. My specific critique of the exercise as described is that it seems to be imagining the audience that doesn’t know you need to take the lid off the sugar cannister.

                2. Hannah Lee*

                  DGA Exactly! That was kind of the point of the exercise.

                  The people in the room were people who already knew how to do the stuff, so some didn’t see the point, value of writing the details of all the steps. They just assumed that of course people would know how to do it. The exercise gave a memorable visual of what happens when one assumes…

                  While of course “the right level of detail for the audience” is a good general rule, getting people to consider who the audience will likely, what level of knowledge they are likely to have, and what the documentation was going to be used for … BEFORE they actually sit down to create the documentation … was part of the point of the entire session.

              3. Joe R*

                You’ve clearly never dealt with soldiers. If you do not provide instructions on how to open a container, there are soldiers out there that will open it as destructively as possible just because you didn’t say not to. See SSG Robert McCain at the 2022 best Ranger competition.

                1. I should really pick a name*

                  That still falls under “provide the level of detail appropriate to the audience”

              4. ferrina*

                The PB&J instructions is a classic communication exercise. I like doing it live rather than written down. The key is to be literal in everything (in my test scenario I’m an extraterrestrial that has never heard of this delicacy and wants to recreate it at my home world).

                Partcipant: First you take the bread…
                Me: [pick up whole loaf]
                Participant: No, 2 slices.
                Me: [take two slices and hold them together]
                Participant: Take the slices apart. Put peanut butter on one and jelly on the other.
                Me: [Put jar of peanut butter on one slice and jar of jelly on another slice]

                It’s much, much harder than it sounds.

            3. Gumby*

              This activity was one my mom used in high school geometry class when introducing proofs. “Put the peanut butter on the bread” usually resulted in a jar of pb sitting on a slice of bread. Though I don’t think they wrote it down first, I think it was just spoken so kids could easily redirect.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                I almost went with geometry proofs as an example of what is under any other circumstances an insanely unnecessary level of detail.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yeah, I’m more inclined to blame management for giving a junior employee free rein with this activity.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      Agreed. It doesn’t need to be framed as “This was an awful activity and you’re an awful person for organizing it” but rather a discussion about what the purpose of these team-building events is and what activities are and are not appropriate for work.

      1. Smithy*

        I agree with this – and if anything, a lot of the points about “being vulnerable at work” and “bringing your whole self” aren’t necessarily bad. But when an exercise is framed in that way and brought forward that style, it can have the opposite impact.

        Like, people’s personal life inevitably comes into their work life – a sick family member can impact someone’s workplace availability or potential for needing a short notice longer term absence. So feeling like you can have that conversation with your supervisor is helpful. Additionally, feeling safe at work to say a project is going poorly is a huge difference between feeling supported and not supported.

        But that’s not “feeling like a family”. I will also say, I have learned to be less surprised to hear from friends who say they want that where they work. So while I do believe there’s some education around why that can be problematic, I do think it’s helpful to know that often it’s coming from a place where it’s viewed as a positive.

        1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

          For me being vulnerable in the workplace having the space to admit mistakes or that they need work related help, without that being seen as a negative by the rest of the group. That is a good thing.

          This was not that.

          1. Just Another Zebra*


            I want to work someplace that I can trust management to have my back, and not fly off the handle if I make a small calculation error. I want to be confident that I can go to management and admit mistakes. I don’t need to bring my “whole self”.

            1. Rex Libris*

              Definitely this. There’s been a thing (around here anyway) about how staff should be able to “bring their authentic self” to work. I don’t want to bring my authentic self. I want to bring my work self. I also want other people to bring their work self, so we can, you know, work.

              1. Lab Boss*

                So many people seem to struggle with the idea that there’s a lot of comfortable middle ground between bringing your true WHOLE self to work, and being a bunch of business robots who never chat or laugh or enjoy each other’s company. At work I have friends, we have fun, we even goof around sometimes- but they’re work-friends, and we have work-fun, and we work-goof-around. None of those are the same as the versions my whole authentic self has in my personal life.

                1. UKDancer*

                  This so much. Bringing your whole self to work, for me, means that Bob doesn’t have to hide the fact he’s gay and Firouze can ask for a work hour adjustment because of Ramadan. It was never meant to imply you could go around being an unprofessional twit. I always viewed it as be your professional self but without having to hide unnecessarily.

                2. Smithy*

                  Absolutely this.

                  Honestly – I think that so many of these team building/team culture exercise set colleagues up poorly when terms and new business jargon aren’t more explicitly defined in advance. For many adults their “whole self” includes sleep and having sex, and for the vast majority of employers – they’re not looking to see that featured at work.

                  And while it may be reasonable to assume that’s not what they’re talking about, if no one defines it – having different employees define it differently isn’t an unforeseen result. I know that personally when my father received a terminal diagnosis and was nearing the end of his life, being able to talk to my boss about that and what that would mean for my time in the office, out of the office, remote work, and eventual bereavement – and also how I wanted other team members to know or not know. All of that helped helped my “whole self” in terms of doing what I needed to do in my personal life and being as productive as possible when I was at work.

                  But if you don’t define it, then you have real risks of people interpreting whole self and vulnerable in that more emotional and therapeutic context. Which, hey – sometimes management buys into that thinking, so those assumptions aren’t coming from no where. But when the ambition is to create a workspace where staff can admit to mistakes, ask for the accommodations they require to do their best work, be out, etc. – it helps all team members understand that.

                3. That One Person*

                  Very much this. I like “reasonable comfort” more than “family” for work. It doesn’t feel necessary to share every inner demon, trauma, or even memorable event to everyone at work. There’s nothing they can really do with that information (unless there’s a change to some sites’ security questions I don’t know about) so they’d be lugging around this book unnecessarily when a post it or double spaced page is enough.

              2. Just Another Zebra*

                My “authentic self” is a hermit who lives under a sherpa throw blanket, drinking tea and reading questionable literature. She also has low tolerance for social interactions. You don’t want her at work lol.

                1. Lab Boss*

                  It’s entirely possible that you’re one of my employees based on that amount of information- and if you are, that’s why I fought so hard to let you work from home more :D

      2. LB*

        Yes, the tone can be, “Hey, we know you mean well, and no one thinks otherwise. HOWEVER, this was a misstep and we need to explain why.”

    4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      –sarcasm on

      Well I guess the exercise failed, since you don’t want anyone to be ‘vulnerable’ and tell this person how they really felt about it.

      1. CharlieBrown*

        Sarcasm? Not really, though. This is the outcome, and it’s the opposite of what was intended.

      2. EngineeringFun*

        Spot on! Yeah we did vulnerability training recently and as a 40 something female engineer, I think there are shades of vulnerability. I think you shape this grey area over time. I wish there had been more explanation for the younger workers.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes, and they need to be coached on their desire to have their team be more “like a family” and why that’s not a good goal. This is someone who needs to be reined in. Nicely, I don’t think they have malicious intent, but they need to reframe their working relationships.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Definitely. This junior person, who is probably new to the work force, does need to learn that work is not family. A lot of people go to work, do their job and go home. They have to be civil to everyone at work. They don’t have to like everyone.

        It would be a kindness to the junior person to learn this now.

    6. Dark Macadamia*

      It’s not even about “liking” it, it’s that it made people feel uncomfortable and was not appropriate for work! Sure, the employee may interpret that as “they didn’t like my activity and they don’t like ME” but that’s not on LW.

      1. Random Bystander*

        Exactly — it isn’t merely a matter of disliking the activity, it’s that the activity was inappropriate for a workplace.

        As an example of an activity that falls in the mere dislike–this one happened at my work in one meeting. The idea was to get people to talk to others on the team that they didn’t necessarily talk to previously (clique-breaking), so a piece of paper was attached to each person’s back, so you would have to talk to someone to find out what was on your back (say “salt”) and then you would have to go in search for the person with the match (“pepper”) .. at least there wasn’t also vinegar/oil as a combo because salt and vinegar go together as much as salt and pepper, but not pepper and oil. Or washer/dryer, ink/pen, etc. I did it, thought it was stupid, but it wasn’t horribly inappropriate.

        1. JustaTech*

          We did an “icebreaker” in a small team recently (including people who’d worked together for years, but also new people) that was just “when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?” It was entertaining how many of us said “vet” (given that we don’t work with animals).

          But it’s a gentle, easy question that also can be BS’d on two minutes notice (because you can always default to a little-kid standard like “firefighter” or “astronaut”). You reveal exactly as much about yourself as you want and it’s quick.

          That’s how you do these activities. Not by asking people to bare their soul, because you don’t know what you’re going to get. (I had a coworker respond to “tell us an interesting fact about yourself” question with the story of when she was hit by a drunk driver and spent 3 weeks in a coma. The outside instructor was shocked and horrified and clearly did not expect that kind of answer. Which is fair, the rest of us understood it to be asking for an answer like “I have 6 cats” or “I crochet infectious diseases”.)

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            The best icebreaker exercise that I ever did was one where you had to pick one superpower you’d like to have and briefly explain why. About 80% of people said they’d like to have the ability to fly. I don’t like heights, so I said that I’d like to be a cat whisperer. Control the cats, control the world…

          2. UKDancer*

            I had something similar the first time I did that. The person shared something far more intimate than expected which threw everyone. So now if I’m doing that one I say “share an amusing and interesting fact.”

            I also use 2 truths and a lie and the one where people have to bring in a picture of their favourite place and say why. That one worked really well because we had everything from dream holiday destinations to their allotment so it could be as deep or not as people wanted.

            Ice breakers shouldn’t want people to bare their deepest souls and most hidden secrets. You just want something light and amusing to promote conversation.

          3. Irish Teacher*

            One school I worked in, a teacher went around the group at lunchtime and asked us all what job we would least like to have. It was a small school and we were just chatting in our breaktime, nothing official, but it was interesting, did give some insight into people and again, not invasive. I said “firefighter because my two biggest fears are heights and fires,” but you could just say something like “chef ’cause I hate cooking.”

        2. KRM*

          Also this exercise does what it says on the label–gets people who don’t normally interact over the course of a day to interact. And it’s not intrusive and doesn’t involve anyone confessing weaknesses, etc.
          It’s like the intro activity my old work did once: two truths and a lie. Mine were “has been charged by an elephant”, “has climbed the leaning tower of Pisa” and “has gone whale watching in Alaska”. Fun facts, nothing intrusive, you don’t have to share more than you want or on any topic you don’t want to bring up.

    7. Antilles*

      If she had the experience / wisdom / whatever to realize it was a bad idea, she wouldn’t have done it in the first place. You’re doing her a favor by addressing it so she actually recognizes this was a mistake.

    8. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      “Esme, I really appreciate that you are interested in getting the team to be closer, but a lot of people don’t think of ‘family’ as a warm or safe experience. I find that great teams happen when we do a lot of great work together and appreciate and support one another. Can we look into focusing on those things in future activites?”

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Great language. I think also going forward any team-building activities should be reviewed prior to the event (regardless of who plans them).

        1. JustaTech*

          Yes to this! We had someone plan a “team building” event who had very nearly booked the venue when someone else heard it was a ropes course and was like “You know we have one person with disabilities who can’t do it and at least one other person with a serious fear of heights, right? Pick something else.” (The organizer had no idea because they didn’t actually know anyone in the building.)

      2. Nonym*

        I feel that this doesn’t convey that the activity was inappropriate and why, merely that there are other aspects of team-building you’d rather have focused on. At least that’s how I would interpret it if I was the one receiving the feedback; I admit that I’m not the best with reading between the lines of indirect feedback.

        Likewise, I think that just mentioning that some employees don’t have a warm or safe family unduly puts the focus on individual employees’ personal background. As if there was nothing wrong with pushing a ‘work is family’ narrative and the issue was that some people won’t be able to appreciate it due to their trauma or difficult personal history. It gives the impression it would be perfectly fine if every member of the team had a great family.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          All of this. The junior employee needs clear, direct, and specific feedback as to why this exercise in particular was not workplace appropriate. It needs to be spelled all the way out, leaving no room for doubt regarding the meaning here, so she doesn’t plan anything like this again.

        2. Education Mike*

          Agreed. This language is way too soft/vague, and the fact that some people don’t have good family relationships is NOT the main reason that workplaces should not strive to “be like family.”

    9. FizzyWaterismyFav*

      The person who organized it might interpret someone crying as a success, so yeah, they need to know that this is not appropriate for work.

    10. Purple Cat*

      I can see where LW is coming from, the message ISN”T “People didn’t like her activity”. The message that she needed help with is “This activity wasn’t appropriate for the workplace” and here are the reasons why.

    11. cmcinnyc*

      This is the line that really made me cringe. LW is the *manager* and they didn’t shut this down in the moment, dealt with it by sidestepping the exercise (but not voicing *out loud* to everyone that she was going to do that/recommends it), and now doesn’t want to tell Junior Terror that no one liked the activity???? LW, you are the manager no one can trust, do you know that? You looked out for yourself professionally–but not your staff.

      1. OP*

        OP here — I’m not a manager! I’m the newest employee on the team. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking up in the moment when our director and senior managers were going along with it.

      2. Education Mike*

        This is coming in reallll hot for someone who does not seem to have read the letter very closely.

  5. English Rose*

    Good lord! Trust and emotional safety in the workplace have to be earned, they can’t be produced like a rabbit out of a hat. And even then there are likely boundaries.
    Agree with everything Alison and others have said.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Right? My grand-grand-boss, who is a lying liar who lies (you can generally tell when he’s lying because his mouth is moving) likes to talk a lot about establishing trust. Good sir, no one here trusts you, and it’s because you are a liar.

    2. soontoberetired*

      My work has had people who want us to be vulnerable and open up but thank goodness I was with a woman who had a ton of capital to shut it all down at the first really inappropriate one I was in. This was very early in my time at this part of my company, and I knew if she wouldn’t go along with it, I was safe not going along with it, too.

      And I have since had to tell people they are being in appropriate with some requests, too, either directly or thru their manager. It isn’t fun, but people need to learn.

    3. ShysterB*

      Now I’m hearing that in Bullwinkle’s voice. “Hey, Rocky, watch me pull trust and emotional safety in the workplace outta this hat!”

  6. Mockingjay*

    Why don’t you want the junior member to know that other people didn’t like her activity?

    It’s not that you’re going to slam her. The goal here is explain that team building isn’t about sharing dark feelings; it’s to build comradery so the team can tackle challenges and work smoothly together. Follow up with examples of exercises that would be suitable.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yes, treat it as feedback on the idea, not on the person. I think the concern OP is having is that the very nature of the activity makes it seem like OP is in some way attacking Planner’s person/identity, not her idea. But really, it should be the same as if she had planned a high intensity physical activity, or an activity that cost employees money and time to travel to, didn’t have food or not food for everyone and OP wanted to prevent it in the future. That wouldn’t be odd. Speaking up on this shouldn’t be, either.

    2. Cats and Bats Rule*

      I think LW was afraid that the reasons why the activity was inappropriate would not get through and the staffer (or someone else) would plan something just as bad or worse in the future.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I think you’re saying that if the staffer hears “people didn’t like…” they’ll hear it as preference and not digest the full reasons why it was inappropriate?

        I think that’s all the more reason for the staffer to be spoken to, but the way that feedback is given is definitely important in this case. Timely, specific, all those things.

    3. OP*

      OP here — I guess I have some feeling that it’s not the junior employee’s “fault,” in the sense that the leadership team had the opportunity to vet the activity but chose not to. In my ideal world, the leaders wouldn’t put the blame on her as a one-off problem, but instead reflect on how they’re responsible for creating an environment in everything we do as a team.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I don’t think someone talking to the junior employee is laying fault, just giving feedback, which would be beneficial to the employee in the long run. It sounds like she means well, but may have some skewed ideas of what creates trust and what is appropriate for work.

        That said, it would also be good to also point out to the leadership team that regardless of who plans the activity there should be a review process in place before the event to catch issues like this. Even if it’s not a matter of an inappropriate exercise but just making sure the activity will actually serve a purpose.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Feedback and fault can be separate. The conversation can even be “this wasn’t on you, someone more senior should have flagged it, but moving forward this is why this kind of activity isn’t appropriate for the workplace”. I really feel like it’s a kindness to give that feedback now, before it impacts their working relationships more than it maybe already has. Especially if it’s some kind of personal mission for them to make the culture more “family like”, this will come up again in another way. Nip it in the bud now.

        1. Properlike*

          Agreed. Even when not leading activities for the company, this employee will continue to “encourage vulnerabilities” (cross boundaries) in other ways that are inappropriate and could be detrimental to their career.

      3. the cat's ass*

        UGH, this is awful and intrusive and shame on senior leadership for choosing not to vet it! I’m not telling you sh!t about my personal life and while some of my colleagues are completely awesome (and friends outside of work) they are NOT my family.

      4. Clobberin' Time*

        Your junior employee threw her own emotional issues at her co-workers instead of taking them to her therapist where they belonged, to the point that she made someone cry. Yes, her choice to do this is her fault. The feedback she gets should be professional and with an eye to helping her improve, but she is at fault for doing something really awry and out of bounds.

        If you want to get upper management’s attention, you might discreetly hint that without vetting, some other employee might come up with ideas that get the company in hot water with HR or Legal.

      5. Ellis Bell*

        It isn’t the junior’s fault because this was all very predictable when the task was assigned. 1) It was assigned to someone with more social/familial experience than work experience, 2) The web is jam packed with amateur psychology just waiting to spew it all forth when the words “team building exercise” is searched for, and 3) it’s super lazy to put managing, team relationships and morale (extremely high level skills based on experience!) entirely on a junior’s shoulders AND to not bother signing off on any of it.
        At a minimum, the more senior people in this scenario need to be providing models of what kind of team building has been successfully implemented in the past, and exactly where to find what they are looking for. They also need to be actively discouraging anything that involves oversharing, speaking about trauma, triggers or invasions of privacy at work. If the team building is so unimportant that juniors are simply being sent off to be at the mercy of whatever a Google search tells them to do, then why is the team building worth doing?

      6. Observer*

        I guess I have some feeling that it’s not the junior employee’s “fault,” in the sense that the leadership team had the opportunity to vet the activity but chose not to.

        That’s true. But she still needs to be clearly told that this activity was inappropriate and why. That doesn’t negate your point that management fell down on the job here. They should most definitely have provided more guidance and supervision. And that they need to handle this kind of thing differently going forward.

        Alison’s point that if this is important enough to do, it’s important enough to properly supervise is really good in this context.

      7. Eyes Kiwami*

        I actually agree with you. Yes the junior employee did wrong, but directors and managers should have flagged this before it happened (or while it was happening!!). It’s their job to manage the team culture, provide guidance to junior employees about what work to do and what is appropriate, and make everyone feel safe at work.

        If they asked the junior employee to do the budget and she messed up, yeah that’s bad but that’s also on management!

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I think describing a situation like this as “people didn’t like it” feels a lot like when managers call conflict between coworkers “personal issues.” It’s a way of minimizing the situation that reduces the urgency on management to respond appropriately.

      It sounds like this isn’t wholly the junior staffer’s fault, they seem to have been tossed into the deep end without sufficient guidance. But I do think this is an opportunity for all staff members who may be involved in planning meetings and trainings to clarify which kinds of activities are appropriate and which aren’t.

  7. Falling Diphthong*

    I’ve seen “vulnerability” described as a positive thing employers seek in employees in the context of being willing to be wrong–that you will toss out an idea that might not be viable once people have taken a good luck at it. In some roles, that’s valuable, and someone who is never willing to be wrong wouldn’t work well there–whether because they never proposed anything intriguing, or because they couldn’t accept any feedback.

    This use of “vulnerability” is miles away from “tell us your most shameful secret” and the sort of vulnerability you’re supposed to strive to achieve with your therapist. The task reverses “I only talk about this stuff with my most intimate circle, whom I fully trust” to “If you talk about this stuff to us, it will cause us to form an intimate bond and fully trust each other.” And that’s not how the causality runs.

    1. Not My Name*

      This reminds me of a saying from my aunt: there’s a difference between being open and being vulnerable. Openness is being willing to share and hear ideas & experiences; vulnerability is the exposure of (and sometimes taking action on) your feelings. Emotional vulnerability should not be a goal of any workplace exercise, since for so many marginalized groups, it does the opposite of building trust.

    2. JustaTech*

      Yes exactly to this.

      Also, as a person, I might not want to know my coworker’s most intimate secrets. It’s one thing for my coworker to be willing to share her challenges with caring for her mother. It’s another when my coworkers share their genuinely traumatic experiences with me at work. Like, that’s horrific! I had nightmares! I don’t want to think about that when I’m asking you when you’ll be done that data analysis.

      Some of these coworkers also seemed upset/irritated that I did not have something of a similar caliber to share, like I was hiding something from them after they’d been vulnerable. I wasn’t hiding anything! I’ve just lived a thankfully boring life!

      1. Education Mike*

        This is so hugely important. I’ve been in this situations where you only had to share “if you wanted to.” I took a hard pass but when someone else starts talking about trauma that you also happen to have experienced and you have to choose to either sit there looking DEEPLY uncomfortable/tearing up or leave the room, you’ve basically been outed.

        It reminds me of the Kavanaugh hearings. I was working in tech, with mostly men, and I was amazed by how many of them discussed the situation constantly throughout the hearing. They all clearly considered themselves wonderful allies to women and not one of them considered that 15% of Americans women have been raped and they (and many others!!) might be deeply uncomfortable having no choice but to hear discussion about rape all day every day in the workplace. I wound up crying myself to sleep every night that week and the cherry on top was a man implying that I, a woman who has experienced that myself, did not seem to care enough about this important issue because I refused to engage on it and kept leaving the room for these conversations.

        TL;DR some people don’t want to hear about your trauma, esp at work.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      But why not call a spade a spade? It’s not “vulnerability” to be verbally receptive to criticism, or for people to be honest when they mess up. This is why I despise office psychobabble. However tempting it is for bosses to try a spot of mind-reading, just describe the behaviour, not whatever mindset may or may not be behind the behaviour.

  8. OyHiOh*

    This is just about my worst nightmare right now! My organization is getting ready for a big event in a month or so, and the language our staff event planner is using is setting off all the landmines I’m working on in therapy. Fortunately, the fact that I’m actively working on these specific issues in therapy means I have lots of “opportunities” to practice the skills I’m learning in therapy but honestly, if we had to do vulnerable ice breakers somewhere in the general neighborhood of one of Event Planner’s updates, I’d probably be the one crying and making it awkward for everyone and not on purpose – there’s just a couple things that are very raw and there’s kind of a panic-adjacent response that’s come close to over riding my normal business/professional sensibilities.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Do you have any capital to push back on the language you’re hearing now, before the event plans are finalized? If not, or if you’d rather not, I hope you do have the tools to get through it unscathed (or that you’re able to conjur a mysterious flu…)

      1. OyHiOh*

        Unfortunately, I do not have capital to push back on language. We’re in the middle of a DEI development process and the next training for that happens to fall shortly after the event in question. The DEI trainer (who is honest to god amazing) has a spot in the program to list issues/concerns that the organization should address and by then I should be able to bring up something about generally watching for gendered language/expectations without making a mess of myself.

        Equally unfortunately, the event is one of those things where everyone in the org is expected to show up and help. The only way I’m getting out of it is if my babysitter falls through.

        1. No Tribble At All*

          Gosh sounds like a real opportunity to give the babysitter a day off… sorry you’re getting stuck like that OyHiOh

        2. snoopythedog*

          Unless people at work personally know your babysitter…it’s ok to “help” them fall through if you need it for your mental health and maintaining professionalism at work during a triggering event.

          1. OyHiOh*

            Oh, the event itself will be fine and my partner will attend with me, which will make even more nice that otherwise. It’s the “ladies, whatever you need to do to feel beautiful!!!!!” language around the lead up. I have family issues around body stuff that I’ve been working on recently and the hyper gendered language/expectations are rubbing off the scabs.

            1. Properlike*

              I do not have issues around body stuff but I would rebel hard against gendered language and expectations in any work capacity.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                I have issues around gender dysphoria and am AFAB but don’t identify as female. The gendered language would irritate the hell out of those things.

            2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

              That sounds horrible. I send you fortitude and I hope the gala is at least somewhat worth it.

            3. Zephy*

              Oh, gross. I hope your DEI person is receptive to your feedback because I am struggling to think of a job where it would ever be appropriate to say those words in that order to your coworkers. Maybe if you were literally models whose job it was to be beautiful, but there’s a lot to unpack there even in that context.

            4. Marmoset*

              The heck? What if I feel beautiful in sweatpants and a ratty tshirt, Carol? Should I show up like that? I would be fuming.
              Yeah, use your capital to suggest non-gendered language that emphasizes formal/festive apparel (or whatever) rather than attractiveness.

            5. metadata minion*

              I have a hoodie that says “For all you know, this is standard formal attire for my gender”, and I wish I could loan it to you!

            6. Observer*

              It’s the “ladies, whatever you need to do to feel beautiful!!!!!” language around the lead up


              Please do bring this up with the DEI person. And it’s worth pointing out that this is language that can harm a LOT of people, not just women. Why in heavens name would someone be harping on people’s looks?!?!

    2. Antilles*

      One thing that I’ve found can help is to just remind myself this:
      People asking these questions as icebreakers and activities don’t actually want a detailed breakdown or fully honest answer. They may say they do, they might even think they believe it…but in their heart of hearts, they actually don’t; what they want to hear is some interesting breezy stories that you can talk about for a couple minutes, then move right on.
      So I treat those questions as if that’s exactly what’s being asked – share something light-hearted that’s completely safe – “my biggest worry is the economy, aren’t we all just hating inflation right now?” or “my biggest trauma, hm, that’s a toughie (smile), well, let me tell you about my high school football career and the pass that I definitely caught, no matter what the ref claimed (chuckle)”.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes to this! I had a coworker who gave a way, way, way over honest answer to a pretty innocuous question (“Tell me something interesting about yourself”) that horrified the instructor and completely derailed the class.

    3. ferrina*

      Can you ask about what kind of activities there are for people that can’t participate due to mental health or other reasons?

      Try saying it in a tone of of course there will be alternatives….cuz you know, ADA!

  9. WillowSunstar*

    Well, yeah, why should employees have to confess to things that would possibly make them actively discriminated against for raises or promotions? In some locations in the US, they might even get fired. True, it’s technically illegal in the US, but we all know that just because something is illegal, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Additionally, there are exceptions to the discrimination laws depending on the type of business — for example, religious schools.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Depending on what people are saying as their “shadow side”, it’s likely that a lot of it isn’t covered by the ADA. “I’m always stressed”, “I never had a relationship with my father” or “I struggle to stay on task when WFH” aren’t generally protected categories.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Yea that’s why I would hate this. I’d blurt out some horrible thing due to pure stress.

      2. Observer*

        “I always struggle to stay on task” could easily implicate the ADA.

        But the ADA is not the only law in place. Some are federal (eg someone reveals something about their religious background) and some are local (eg being a current victim of DV).

        So, @WillowSunstar is 100% correct that this is a real potential issue.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I work in a very in demand field where people could walk out any time, unionised up to the hilt and they’re also underpaid front line servants with no fucks left to give. If they were asked “share something you don’t usually share in the workplace” they’d tear the activity to bits and say “Well no, because we have reasons why we don’t share our privacy or inappropriate things at work”. Sadly, this kind of thing only ever gets by uncriticised in places where people are afraid of being out of work. The whole time people are job hunting on the quiet, the managers fondly believe they’re tied together like true family members through enforced intimacy. Yuk.

  10. CatCat*

    She’s repeatedly said she wants more trust within the team and for us to feel like a “family.”

    Someone needs to set her straight more broadly on reasonable expectations for working relationships. Trust amongst the team, GREAT! “Feel like a family,” NO!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Ha ha ha she has obviously never met my German-Midwestern family. Not talking about our feelings is exactly what feels like family around here.

      1. Panhandlerann*

        Same here. We’d rather eat bark than to ever talk about our feelings (even the positive feelings ’cause we’d find that embarrassing).

      2. whingedrinking*

        I’m anglo-Canadian. Brooke Lynn Hytes plaintively saying, “Can’t we just bottle our feelings like normal people?” and hiding behind a cushion when her fellow drag queens were having a shouting match? Mood.

    2. Gracely*

      I would have to bite my tongue not to reply to her “You do realize there is a such thing as a ‘dysfunctional family,’ I hope?”

    3. Dark Macadamia*

      Plus, trust within a work team means like… you trust them to meet deadlines, have accurate data, cover for you when you’re out, etc. It doesn’t mean you trust them with your deep dark secrets (which many people don’t trust their actual family about anyway!)

    4. The Original K.*

      Yep – I was through with this when I read “feel like a family.” Nope! Not what I want from my colleagues, and you may not force it on me.

    5. anon for this*

      My actual family doesn’t like to talk about emotionally vulnerable subjects! Why on earth would I want to do that with my coworkers?

    6. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      If she’d ever seen my family trying to undertake a joint task she’d understand that family=/= effective team. I love them, but we are a group that has 10 people and 11 opinions.

    7. Coffee Bean*

      You know what prompts trust amongst co-workers? Being respectful of their privacy and boundaries.

  11. Cohort 1*

    I’m wondering, did anyone just leave the room? Suddenly have a bathroom emergency, a family emergency, anything that removed them from the activity? As a very vanilla person without any major issues, I would have found a reason. Not only do I not want to share my deepest, darkest feelings in that setting, I don’t want to hear others’ either. I think that would have wrecked my whole day whether I stayed or left – not what the planner was going for. I would add “extreme and lasting discomfort” to Alison’s list of talking points.

  12. MPerera*

    I used to work for a psychic (she owned a used bookstore and gave readings out of the back room while I ran the books part of it). She once insisted that I scribble on a large piece of paper with crayons, which was supposed to open me up emotionally and let me release all my pain. I didn’t know how she would react if I declined, so I took a crayon and drew a sine wave.

    “No, you need to let go!” she said. “You can curse at anyone who’s hurt you. You can snarl! You can growl!”

    “Gur,” I said.

    She finally realized it wasn’t working and let me go back to my regular duties. She eventually went out of business.

        1. allathian*


          It’s like the old ad in the local paper: “The fall meeting of the Clairvoyance Society has been canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        The screamlaugh I’m suppressing is obvious to anyone walking by my office right now.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Oh, man–nothing freezes me up like being asked to do something like this. I’m at work. This is not the place to release whatever pain I have.

    2. Chi*

      “Gur,” I said.

      I literally cried laughing at this. Sorry this happened to you, but thank you for the comedy gold!

  13. CharlieBrown*

    Even if I didn’t have the capital to put a stop to it, I would still say something. Do you really want to work at a company where this kind of thing becomes the norm?

    And if the response, “No, it was good, we really liked it” that would tell me all I need to know about sending my resume out there.

    1. Ann Lister’s Wife*

      Yes. I would flat refuse to participate.

      But I have seniority and capital to burn, understand not everyone has this privilege.

  14. Librarian of SHIELD*

    I loved the point Alison made about the connection between healthy teams and vulnerability.

    A lot of managers learn about that connection and get the causality of the relationship backward. They think, okay, in healthy teams, people are willing to open up and be vulnerable, so all we have to do is convince our staff to be vulnerable! Ta-da! Healthy team! But that’s the reverse of how it actually works.

    Vulnerability is the product of a healthy team environment, not the cause of it. If you want an environment where people feel safe expressing their identities, you have to do the work first. You have to actually prove to them that they are safe and you can be trusted. That takes time and effort and can’t be accomplished by one “share all your inner demons” team summit.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Vulnerability is the product of a healthy team environment, not the cause of it. ”

      I absolutely agree with this, but even in then the expectations around vulnerability at work are different than what vulnerability might be look like out in the world and I think this junior employee needs some level setting on that. I’m not going to cry about my breakup at work (okay, I did that once, but I was twenty and I was embarassed after), but I might express some frustration about my stress or how my sleep schedule is throwing me off. The most personal I’ll get is saying I’m on a new medication if and only if the side effects are impacting my work. It’s great if people feel safe but I think a big part of that is knowing your privacy is respected as well.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is totally correct. The kind of openness you want from your employees isn’t a deep dive into their psychological well-being. It’s stuff like “This big project isn’t going well and I feel safe to tell you that because I know you’ll take it seriously and not brush off my concerns.”

    2. Chris too*

      Yes! I work in a place that’s so niche people generally only leave to retire, go back to school, or move. People have decades of service.

      We know each other well and there’s a good feeling of support and psychological safety but we’re government and we don’t do “touchy-feely” team building stuff. It just takes time.

    3. ferrina*


      I had one staff member who opened up to me because I explicitly told her she didn’t have to. I made it easy for my team to participate or opt out of any social/personal talk, and it never impacted my working relationship or the professional opportunities they got. It was a year of not talking about anything personal (we’re talking Rosa Diaz level), When she did open up, she confessed that she was only at the job for the paycheck and didn’t want that to stand in the way of her career. I started laughing, because she definitely went above and beyond for that paycheck! I would hire her again in a heartbeat.

    4. Shirley Keeldar*

      “Vulnerability is the product of a healthy team environment, not the cause of it.” So well put!

      This reminds me of a recent post where the Health and Wellness committees’s work was to tell employees what personal healthy choices to make (and incidentally doing that poorly), instead of tackling what management could do—work/life balance, insurance, etc. This is the same thing—management outsourcing the building of trust to employees rather than, you know, doing the hard work of being trustworthy.

      1. Trust Me, Trust Me Not*

        I had a coworker who was an Uber-sharer about their vulnerabilities (mental health issues, medications, niche fet-life…), so they felt safe enough to share– hooray?? But truthfully I trusted them less because of the demonstrable lack of boundaries.

    5. Daisy*

      OMG, this! I am NOT going to hand a random coworker the knife that will cut down to my soul. My coworkers are not my therapist, and absolutely not trained in how to deal with “vulnerabilities.” That is even assuming they are all well-intentioned people and don’t get power trips about putting things over on others, or even their own trauma that would be triggered by hearing mine.
      If you want to build trust in a team start with small, no-pressure tasks. Give them Legos and have groups build something, or write a silly story as a group or something.

    6. Irish Teacher*

      This is exactly what I was trying, albeit nowhere near as effectively, to say. People in my workplace express vulnerabilities. We have extremely personal conversations sometimes. But it is BECAUSE we trust each other and honestly, one of the REASONS we trust each other is because people don’t do stuff like this.

  15. teapot analytics*

    Shadow Self sounds like something out of the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), which I find extremely creepy.

    1. Cease and D6*

      It could be, but it could also be from any number of other applications of Jungian psychology. ‘Shadow’ is a general term to that paradigm.

      Hell, she could even have recently played ‘Persona’ for all we know.

      None of them belong in the workplace, that’s for sure.

    2. Sylvan*

      It reminded me of the “shadow work” in self-help and spirituality. I’m not interested in practicing that, and I think people who are have preferred settings and likeminded people to be with… Nobody wants to do it at work.

  16. Butterfly Counter*

    Oh my goodness. It’s like OP was in our meeting 2 months ago! It was a different context, but the facilitator wanted us to be open and candid with each other and “how we got to where we are” in order to complete our goal (which really doesn’t require such openness). Very personal questions were asked, though we had complete discretion as to how much to share.

    And yes: tears, confessions, EXTREME discomfort.

    It was wild. Luckily, everyone in this meeting was on very friendly terms already, so nothing was shared that the person sharing regretted. But I don’t need to know all that about my coworkers!!!

    1. anon on this*

      I grew up in an emotionally abusive household and have battled on and off with cPTSD. No one would ever know from my work persona.

      At one employer, they asked us something similar and it turned into me giving a seminar on what emotional abuse is and how it affects child development. We worked with children, so it was at least somewhat relevant. But yeah, really, really awkward and not something the facilitator was ready for. The next year we went back to doing the Myers-Brigg.

  17. Dark Macadamia*

    Realistically, my shadow side would’ve been “I couldn’t think of anything” or maybe something like “I never get enough sleep” but I like the idea of just doing a really beautifully painted “This isn’t an appropriate activity for work” :)

    1. RunShaker*

      After my initial oh no, this sucks, how, why???? I then thought I would color whole inside of my mask black. Or since it is October & I love Halloween, I would draw ghosts & head stones. Or maybe put that on front of my mask. I probably wouldn’t if I found myself in this situation but it was fun thinking about how junior employee would take my mask.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        Ooh, or you could paint both sides exactly the same. Depending on how you want to play it, you could do just a pleasant “I’ve already shared everything I’m comfortable sharing at work” or like a really intense “I am the shadow! I have nothing to hide!”

    2. ecnaseener*

      “My greatest weakness is that I don’t like to do group therapy at work without a therapist”

  18. Dust Bunny*

    Yeah, no, sorry–as far as my coworkers know, I have no personal life.

    I mean, they know the superficial stuff–I have one-plus cats, a boyfriend, and a nephew–but they don’t need more than that. We have an EAP if things get rough.

  19. Troublemaker*

    These sorts of activities are great opportunities to spark solidarity. Put NLRA-protected acts on the front of the mask, and actions which are rude to management on the back of the mask. For bonus points, take the manager’s weaknesses and pretend that they are your own.

    In this sort of scenario, management’s goal is to inflict emotional damage and gain controlling information; it’s a cult move, according to the BITE model. Therefore, your goal should be to undermine the cult leader and protect your fellow acolytes from injury.

  20. 3.14159*

    We had something similar where I work: Write down something that others don’t know about you. Then we were to guess who it was.

    My first instinct was to write something they don’t know about, but that I’m very proud of. Then I considered what their reaction to that would be. (it’s positive & in the community)

    Instead, I decided to write down something bland that I did in high school. Eventually someone guessed, but I was safer.

    1. Yvette*

      That can be ok and fun if the “something that others don’t know about you” is not supposed to be some deep dark secret, like “I hate my mother” or “I stole from my cousin”. More along the lines of “I can touch my nose with my tongue” or “I was a mall Easter Bunny”

      1. Dinwar*

        Trouble is, what’s fun for one person may be pretty dark for another. For example: In a group of field geologists I could easily talk about the time I got stranded in a desert or nearly blown up via unscheduled rocket testing. We all have those stories. Among office folks, these generate looks of absolute horror. To give another example, a coworker during one of these mentioned that he was a Giddion (the folks who put Bibles in hotel rooms). If I mentioned I was a Pagan, it would not have gone well.

        If you don’t know your team well it can be really hard to calibrate. So you end up with bland, impersonal nothings, which defeats the purpose of the exercise and can perpetuate the idea that certain groups are not welcome.

    2. Sylvan*

      My job has done this, but it’s been clearly about fun, lighthearted things.

      One person’s fun fact was that he had been a mascot in school, for example.

  21. Avoiding hustle culture*

    I truly dislike the blurring of lines and being put on the spot. I have taken to publicly opting out and letting the organizer know that I feel it’s inappropriate and misguided. I stopped caring what it would cost me to refuse to participate.

    1. DarthVelma*

      This. It is on those of us who have built up capital to tackle these things in the moment. After is too late. After doesn’t help other employees who felt like they had to participate or risk their job and shared something they didn’t want to. It’s on us to set the example for more junior employees about what is and is not acceptable in the workplace and how to say no in a professional way when you’re asked to do something inappropriate at work.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Me too, that’s how I would handle it in the moment without question. I’m also willing to take it on the chin if that backfires on me. What infuriates me about this is that some, arguably most, people won’t feel empowered to do that and will have to experience the exercise and all the emotional and professional repercussions of it. It ends up just being a power play for whoever organized it.

    3. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Same. I can get away with it. A lot of other people who can get away with it are frankly too chicken and do what LW did: smoothly participate while revealing nothing and letting some poor sap humiliate himself. Have some guts, people.

  22. Meghan R*

    Here’s my own guide post: Work should not make you cry. If someone is crying, something is wrong. Please, OP, voice your concerns.

  23. DramaQ*

    Ack. This would be highly triggering for me right now because I have a lot going on in my personal life I am trying to process. I am experienced enough to know how to play the game but the fact that I am being forced to play it would be enough to cause a panic attack because the question itself is putting all those things in the forefront of my brain. The people for who it was triggering/damaging may not feel comfortable expressing how hurtful/stressful this was and I am sure some felt like they had no choice but to share because it was a work required event. I think the organizer absolutely needs to know people hated it but that needs to come from management because she needs to understand WHY people hated it and how inappropriate that was for the workplace. It would also likely be beneficial if HR got involved because as Alison pointed out there are things that could expose people unintentionally during those exercises that would result in potential discrimination in the workplace. No way HR wants the company opened to that. Good on the letter writing for using their captial to speak up for others who may not feel comfortable doing so.

  24. Dana Whittaker*

    If a company authorizes this type of activity, I really have to hope they have immediate onsite resources available to refer people to if this activity triggers long-buried trauma or another unexpected reaction that people other than trained experienced therapists are not going to know how to handle.

    This is bad on so many levels ….

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Right? I work for a patient advocacy nonprofit and one of our patients called me last week with a technical/donation question which I am definitely the correct person to be handling but then she monologued a whole swarm of other topics that are definitely the kind of thing a trained therapist should be handling. I feel like she is probably one of those people who processes things verbally (as so many of us do) and needed to get her words out there but I feel quite terrible because I have absolutely no training to help her with the processing and of course it’s not my place to say to her that she should see a therapist. But honestly a trained therapist is definitely the correct person to be handling the kinds of things she was talking about and is also the correct person to be leading the kind of activity that OP’s coworker was leading (and coworker is definitely not)(and work is not the place for it either of course).

  25. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I suspect that this is the sort of ice breaker/trust experience that the staff member did while at summer camp or freshman orientation.

    And without the insight and mentorship of actual supervision, they translated their own experience into the work setting, where it was patently inappropriate and counter-productive.

    This is why we don’t just schedule events, we actually prepare for them completely.

  26. Dona Florinda*

    Ugh, my company did something similar a couple weeks ago: we were supposed to share a *good* life-changing situation and a *bad* life-changing situation we’ve been through in the past. Luckily I’ve been reading AAM for a while and was able to come up with generic, non-committal answers, but other people definitely overshared and cried, and the whole thing was just uncomfortable.

    I’m somewhat new to the company though, so I didn’t pushback. Glad LW is willing to spend her capital.

    1. Temperance*

      That’s just such a cringe activity. I hate this push towards being “vulnerable” at work. You’re not supposed to be vulnerable at work, you’re supposed to be *professional* at work.

      Team building activities should be something mildly enjoyable and fun. My husband’s team plays Among Us on occasion, for example. I’ve done some service projects for team building, too.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        My team is playing a Halloween-themed version of a popular game show as a team building exercise, lol. That’s about as close to a bonding event as I’m willing to get.

    2. OyHiOh*

      We did one awhile ago where we had groups stranded on an island. Premise that all groups would get rescued eventually, but we were supposed to convince the leader our group should be rescued first. Basically, the entire room went rogue and each group had its own reasons for being willing to either stay put, kthxs, or “nah, don’t bother rescuing us, we’ll get ourselves out of the place, and take everyone else with us, thanks much.”

      It was mildly fun within our groups, and extremely entertaining to watch the leader’s expressions when they realized this was not going to turn into the game of bargaining chips they’d expected.

      1. Wolfie*

        Ha, excellent responses. Were they hoping you’d get really competitive with each other? Seems so anti-team-building.

        1. OyHiOh*

          The way the thing was initially presented, it was meant as a small group conversation for people to identify strengths and what we each bring to the team – why we couldn’t just talk about *that* I don’t know. The compete for first rescue element was actually really out of touch with everything else on the agenda that day.

      2. Bibliothecarial*

        We did a desert island one too. Premise was that each of us could take 2 items with us. We each picked our items without telling the other team members. Then the moderator said, “Psych! You are only allowed to take 1item per person!” Then we had 5 minutes as a team to figure out what items we would take. It was actually helpful in learning how other team members think and how our group dynamics worked – and nobody cried or overshared.

      3. Retiring academic*

        I once went on a tedious 2-week management course with people from different companies. During the intervening weekend we had to do a sort of ‘outward bound’ style event involving canoeing and so on (it was winter – in the UK, but still). Part of it was that when we reached the site where we were spending the night, we were supposed to cooperate to build our accommodation out of scaffolding poles and tarpaulins. The organisers were obviously expecting us to have a lot of difficulty and conflict over this which would eventually make us better people or something. What they didn’t know was that two of the guys in the group (there were about 10 of us) were qualified scaffolders, and they had that tent built in the twinkling of an eye, with the rest of us not needing to lift a finger. It was awesome. The organisers were visibly annoyed.

    3. UKDancer*

      That’s really personal and uncomfortable making. Also you don’t know what people have been through. I think my colleague who lived through a civil war in her country of origin (and many of her family didn’t) would probably have something to say if they asked her for a bad life-changing situation.

      I don’t think it’s really a good idea to ask people to share that level of detail.

  27. The New Wanderer*

    The one thing that I might add to Alison’s first bullet:
    “Highly personal activities about people’s most intimate selves are best done with the guidance of a therapist or at a spiritual retreat [i] that they have chosen for themselves[/i], not at work.”

    Even without the highly inappropriate TMI activity, a junior employee who repeatedly says she wants more trust and to feel like a family would make me very uncomfortable as a coworker. Nobody ‘owes’ her a sense of family at work, and nobody ‘owes’ her whatever she thinks would increase her level of trust, especially if what she wants is deep personal oversharing. I think her manager needs to have a serious level-setting conversation with her about workplace expectations and boundaries. It sounds like she’s wanting something different than the workplace is offering and it’ll probably continue to manifest in more ways than just these complaints.

  28. Risha*

    While I do understand that not everyone feels comfortable and/or wants to speak up in the moment, this staffer needs to know that this is way past inappropriate in a work setting. Please do say something to your manager or whoever is in charge of giving feedback. She needs to know this is not the type of thing you do at work. Why protect her feelings when she possibly opened up a lot of trauma for other people there? Tbh, I think most people know this type of thing is inappropriate but choose to go ahead with it anyway for their own selfish reasons-being junior/young isn’t an excuse to arrange such a potentially traumatizing activity. Your management team can provide her feedback and not hurt her feelings. But even if her feelings are hurt over constructive feedback, it still needs to be said. Maybe I sound harsh, but I had a rough life and a lot of childhood/teen years trauma and would not want to be pressured at work to share my personal feelings with others. There are many things I keep suppressed and no one has a right to try to get it out of me for some ridiculous work activity. Many people had very horrific lives. There are a million other team building things to do besides that.

    At a job long ago, the ice breaker question was to state your fondest childhood memory. I said right in that moment that’s not an appropriate question because not everyone had a nice childhood and that I don’t feel comfortable doing this. I wasn’t rude or belligerent. Thankfully, the person running it changed the activity. She said that she never thought about people not having a good childhood (!!!). A person came up to me later and thanked me because he didn’t want to share his childhood memories either.

    The point of my story is to tell you that maybe others felt really uncomfortable doing this too and aren’t sure how to proceed with giving feedback. So please let management address this. They will think this type of thing is ok if no one says anything.

    1. Meep*

      As someone who is on the very tail end of being a millennial and as a result is familiar with the “zoomer” crowd – trauma dumping and trauma bonding is pretty popular, especially in Internet spaces, as laying out a badge of honor. I have seen kids complain that their parents are abusive for insisting they do their homework before hanging out with friends just to be included. (Just as an example of an extreme case)

      I think it is more likely that she thought it was appropriate because it is culturally appropriate online.

  29. Cookie Monster*

    Oof. Not only is it problematic to put this in the hands of untrained employees, but to put the JUNIOR team member in charge? The one with the least amount of professional experience? That makes even less sense.

  30. MusicWithRocksIn*

    I would totally blank for something to put on either side of the mask. Like, I’m trying to think of something right now and I’ve got nothing. This would end with the outside of the mask having baked goods on it and the inside of the mask me taking a nap, because the concept is so emotionally exhausting. Except those concepts portrayed by someone who hasn’t done artwork since third grade, so brown blobs on one side and purple blobs on the other.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I know, right? I am neurotypical (doctors said so! lol) and I sometimes think I must not be because I have no idea what they are even asking. And no drawing ability at all.

    2. MeepMeep123*

      I would too. I honestly would have no clue what to even do with such an assignment. I’d probably take a peek at someone else’s work and copy off of them, or just leave the thing blank and offer an apologetic shrug.

    3. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      I am a very sarcastic person, so on the “shadow” side I’d definitely write the word “nunya” (as in, “none of ya business”) and draw a passive-aggressive smiley face to drive the point home. But on the outer side? I’ll be honest, I’d have NO idea what to do. I’d WANT to draw something brain-breaking or shocking that would drive home how inappropriate this activity is, but everything I can think of would definitely lead to getting written up.

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        Actually, wait, no, I know EXACTLY what I would do on the front, because it’s word I use regularly to set boundaries: I would write “no” with another smiley face on the front. I’m not actually trying to be a jerk here (passive-aggressive smilies aside), just firmly state and set boundaries where everyone can see them, because not everyone will realize that they have the right to say no if they don’t see others do it first.

  31. Lil chickadee*

    I would like some advice on how to stop this kind of thing in the moment?
    What could one person say, to call out that this is inappropriate, without being too harsh with the junior employee?

    1. AllTheBirds*

      “I’m not comfortable sharing such personal information in my work environment. I will pass.”

      1. DarthVelma*

        I like this. I might also add something at the end about hoping others could do the same without judgment.

        If the activity was particularly egregious, I’d probably also add something like “this might have unintended impacts on folks and I’m sure you’d hate to cause someone emotional distress”.

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        I have done exactly this in situations and, while there’s always a brief awkward moment of silence among the rest of the group while I sit there looking perfectly composed, it’s FAR preferable to the continued awkward moments of sharing that follow.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      In a situation like this where I knew/suspected the person stumbled into it through inexperience I’d do a course correction, “Actually, why don’t we narrow the focus a bit to what we feel our strengths and areas we want to improve at work and instead of drawing lets write out, graphically or in words, where we are in our professional development and where we’d like to be in 2 years? I’ll start….”

  32. Lady_Lessa*

    This sort of thing happens elsewhere also. I was one of the leaders in a adult education class at church. We had a visiting leader, who was a spiritual director, had us do an activity and then share emotionally about it. I basically said, “No, I am not sharing” (in part because of the lack of trust with the group). She tried to force the issue, but you can’t make anyone talk.

    Because it has been many years, I don’t remember if anyone else refused or not.

    Ironically, I was looking for a spiritual director, and she was highly recommended. I never contacted her.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Serious question: What is a “spiritual director”? Given the church context, shouldn’t that be the pastor(s)?

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        At least for Catholics, pastors who are priests are pretty much over worked and/or not a person I’d feel comfortable with.

        Basically they are people who are trained who walk with/help someone on their spiritual journey. Shortly after I became Catholic, as an adult, a priest helped me while I investigated the idea about becoming a sister or nun. He gave me suggestions and homework and listened to my comments after meeting with a woman from the group. (I never found a good fit, for which I am glad).

        I’ve had some good ones, and at least one where it wasn’t a good fit, just like other counselors who don’t deal with the spiritual side of life.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Ah, that makes sense. I was coming from my own Protestant background, where our clergy-to-congregant ratio is usually more manageable.

  33. Dinwar*

    This sort of thing is Cargo Cult management. High functioning teams work because people on the teams have good relationships, including being vulnerable with one another; ergo, if we force people to be vulnerable we’ll get a high-functioning team! In reality the vulnerability is an effect, not a cause, of the high-functioning team. We trust each other, so we’re willing to let our guard down a bit and ask for help. Forced vulnerability is trauma, and team-building via shared trauma is part of indoctrination, not a healthy work environment.

    For my part, I’d refuse to do it. I’ve done shadow work in a spiritual setting, and I know my past; there are reasons I don’t bring that stuff to work with me. The stuff I’m willing to talk about is traumatic enough. My coworkers DON’T need to see that side of me. I’d burn political capital, sure, but I’d burn more doing this.

    I would also simply state the facts: Several people were uncomfortable with this, and this doesn’t seem appropriate for this workplace or this group of people. Often upper management doesn’t know these things are occurring (particularly not when they aren’t vetting this stuff beforehand), and they certainly won’t know if someone objects until they object. Someone needs to raise their voice. And that’s what political capital is for.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Yup. Understanding the direction of causality is a level of abstract thinking that some people just aren’t capable of. (Quasi-) mandatory happy hours are another example. A happy group will tend to socialize together outside of the work place, because they want to. You can’t reverse the process. Forcing people to socialize together when they would prefer to be doing something else won’t turn them into a happy group.

  34. Skytext*

    This is a situation where I think it would be a kindness to educate/mentor this junior employee. Maybe point them towards some AAM articles about how “like a family” is dangerous and dysfunctional in a workplace, and is the opposite of a goal for the workplace. And definitely the articles about how being vulnerable in the workplace can damage your career or even get you fired. Again, not a workplace goal!

    1. 3lla*

      Yeah, every time my psychotic disorder and I try to participate in something like this I permanently lose buckets of capital and become anathema. No thanks!

    2. AnonForThis*

      “Well, when I’m in a depressive episode, I…oh wait, everybody’s looking real uncomfortable. Gee, do you think the intimate details of my mental health might have been just a little bit too much information?”

  35. CharlieBrown*

    I simply loathe the whole “just like family” thing at work. It comes from such a position of privilege.

    Not everybody comes from a functional, white-bread, middle-class family that has a decided lack of issues. And some of us grew up without family at all.

    1. Meep*

      Honestly, the older I get the more I realize there is no such thing as a “functional” family. I say as someone who THOUGHT she had a good childhood (my parents are great) but had a lot of trauma induced by extended family members she ended up unpacking in therapy.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t think that’s always the case. I’ve seen this mindset in a “found family” way – people without other social outlets wanting work to be a place that meets their needs. And sure it can come from people who overvalue the general concept of family as well. I’ve heard workplaces lovingly called “dysfunctional families” (red flag). But I think the word family is complicated for a lot of people and there are a lot of different ways it manifests.

  36. CLC*

    I don’t believe that individual team members without the appropriate expertise should be assigned to develop *any* type of team building type activities on their own. If it’s a Fortune 500 company, they should hire external consultants to conduct these types of activities at off-sites. Even if management reviews and approves an employee’s activity, they may not have enough understand of the implications themselves.

  37. Meep*

    Oof. Talk about a potential trauma dump. NO ONE wants to know how I view myself on bad days. Nor should anyone at work be expecting me to bare my soul.

    I could see it being a neat idea in the context of strictly work – i.e. Strengths: effective communicator and good with big pictures vs. Weaknesses: Poor time-management. Or even work communication styles – e.g. needs clear detailed instructions vs. likes to figure it out on own. That sort of thing where employees can learn about each other’s work style would be a good way to use this mask idea. Not this trauma dump of a mess.

    1. senobically*

      Yes, this!!! I am all about developing deep, meaningful relationships with people…. to the extent and avenue it is appropriate. Work sharing about communication styles: fun and useful! Work sharing about the abuse/neglect I experienced as a child: neither fun nor useful!

  38. Not Today, Satan*

    Trust is earned. Respect is earned. You can’t wave a wand or watch someone cry to give or get Instant Trust & Respect.

    Instead of asking me to bare my soul in front of coworkers, give me the damn tools I need to do my job well and leave me alone to do it.

    1. morethantired*

      I disagree. Respect is what we owe all people, animals and things unless it’s shown they’re not worthy of respect. Respect is the basic bottom line for how we should treat anyone, but especially important at work. Respect is not to be confused with kindness or warmness, it just means being civil.

      Trust, in a workplace, is similar. We’re all adults in a professional setting. All of us should be truthful and ethical. I trust a coworker unless they prove themselves to be untrustworthy. Now, I also make sure I keep up my end so that even dishonest people can’t harm me, but that’s just watching out for myself, not distrusting others. If you say you’re going to get X done by 5pm, I’m going to trust you until you prove otherwise.

      This is why it’s silly for companies to try to build trust and respect. If your employees don’t trust and respect each other, then something is already wrong. Find out WHY they don’t trust and respect each other and manage the actual problem. Don’t think forming personal bonds will make actual work problems disappear.

      1. DarthVelma*

        I think it depends on which definition of “respect” you’re using. Because I see respect used two very different ways.

        Definition 1 – “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements” is absolutely something you earn.

        Definition 2 – “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others” is something you should give everyone as a default.

        The problem comes when two people are talking about respect and not meaning the same thing. Like when I’m giving someone respect per definition 2 but they’re demanding definition 1.

        1. DarthVelma*

          Of course I found the quote about respect just after I hit send. I believe it was originally from a tumblr user named Autistic Abby:

          Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

          and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

          and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.

        2. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

          Yes, on the 2 kinds of respect. I’ve also seen it explained like,

          Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”
          and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”
          and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.


          1. morethantired*

            Most workplaces have codes of conduct that require employees to treat each other “with respect,” and most of us understand they mean treating each other with dignity and civility. I doubt anyone assumes they’re meant to treat everyone they work with like an authority figure.

        3. morethantired*

          But it still holds that trust, at least, is the bare minimum in a workplace. If you have “build trust” between your employees, it means they don’t trust each other. Which means either some of your employees are acting unethically OR some of your employees are a bit anti-social and treating their co-workers disrespectfully. Both signal major problems no “team building” exercise is going to fix. You build trust by hiring and keeping trustworthy, ethical employees and getting rid of untrustworthy, unethical employees.

  39. irene adler*

    What exactly does this employee mean by “trust”?

    If these employees are low in trust, how is manifested?
    See, for me, lack of trust means a co-worker might steal my ideas, or claim ownership of my work, or be willing to throw me under the bus when things go wrong. Knowing a co-worker’s “shadow sides” or being more vulnerable won’t prevent these sorts of things. Not sure team building exercises would prevent these things either. In fact, these are signs of a dysfunctional management. Fix that, instead.

    Does this coworker actually mean cooperation or working together more effectively? If so, then certain group activities would be more effective in imparting these skills. Maybe consider escape rooms, or building puzzles, or a contest where teams construct a structure out of household materials, etc. instead.

    Personally, I would never participate in such an event as the OP describes. Don’t mess with my mind, folks. Fire me instead.

    1. morethantired*

      Exactly this! If your employees don’t trust each other, you can’t fix it with an exercise. You need to get rid of the untrustworthy employees or at least stop their unethical behavior.

  40. Overit*

    Decades ago, I was young and more manipulable while at a team building event, held at resort, when we were required to share our deepest fear. I reluctantly shared that mine is drowning. I have that fear due to childhood water horseplay and a friend holding me under water for too long

    Cue that night when some of us went to the water park and a male colleague held me under water “so I could get over my stupid fear.”

    When I was allowed air and started screaming (and having my one and only panic attack ever) I was the one reprimanded for “overreacting to good intentions.”
    Thereafter, I simply refuse to participate in such crap and when pressed, tell that story. If pressed again, I say, “Sorry, not going to be held underwater ever again.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      “I prefer not to [be waterboarded]”. WTAF tho. I am astounded most at the reaction from your manager(s), I would LOSE MY SHIT if anyone I work with was “playfully” drowned at work. I’m so angry just thinking about this happening to you, I am so so sorry you experienced this.

    2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      I’m hard to surprise with the depths of human awfulness and this one shocked the hell out of me. Your coworker felt entitled to put his hands on you and hold you underwater, and your superiors responded by scolding you? I am astonished and furious on your behalf. I’m so sorry that was done to you.

      1. DarthVelma*

        Like seriously. Dude committed assault. Holding a panicking person’s head underwater could have had terrible consequences. I would never trust that person’s judgement ever again on anything.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          He would have been fired immediately if I was the manager. I have direct reports, and I would never stand for some messed up ish like this. Good lord.

    3. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      That’s terrible. Your coworker was very very wrong and so was the person who reprimanded you.

    4. MeepMeep123*

      Whaaaaaaaaat? I’d be calling the police in such a situation. (Not blaming you in any way for not doing so, by the way – more expressing outrage at what is, quite plainly, attempted murder)

    5. Russian in Texas*

      OMG, as a person who can’t swim and is terrified of deep water/drowning, I am having an anxiety attack just reading this.
      It’s an assault! It deserves at least firing, and possibly criminal complaint.

  41. lilsheba*

    UGGGHHHH why do workplaces always think this is a good thing to do? I HATE these kinds of things, and any team building to be honest. I’m not there to talk about myself or play around with stupid games.

  42. ENFP in Texas*

    I don’t want my team to feel “more like family”.

    I do want my team to feel “more ikea friends” so we can be open and honest and have a good working relationship.

    There’s a huge difference.

    1. Charles Shaw*

      I know it’s autocorrect but there’s something perhaps even more comforting about imagining work relationships based on a shared fondness for meatballs and affordable furniture :)

      1. Hex Code*

        Exactly. Functional, appropriate level of investment, works for that space you need a dresser in but you can leave it behind when you move no prob.

    2. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      “Let’s be more ikea friends” is the best! It’s very workplace appropriate. Go to IKEA, obtain items, put items together with a tiny allen wrench, grab some cheap eats together… perfect! That’s exactly what working relationships should be like: a day at IKEA with all its built-in ups and downs.

  43. Carrie*

    I am bipolar, with a nasty history of abuse, treatment-resistant depression, and a round of ECT (that’s electroconvulsive therapy – makes most people think of a Cuckoo Nest). And I’m not ashamed of it; I’ve written about it for classes and am working on getting it published. But I don’t really advertise it at work. (I’ll talk about it if asked.)

    Asked to do this exercise, I’d volunteer to go first, go into detail about *that* shadow self and watch them squirm. Then I would flat out say that no one had to say anything they were uncomfortable with and these were our stories to tell when and if we were ready to. I’m ready to tell mine but not everyone will ever be.

    This kind of thing makes me SO angry.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      “Then I would flat out say that no one had to say anything they were uncomfortable with and these were our stories to tell when and if we were ready to. I’m ready to tell mine but not everyone will ever be.”

      That is an excellent plan!!

      1. Carrie*

        The result of lots of therapy, especially around boundaries. I am one truly jacked up person but I use it for good. ;)

  44. Chilipepper Attitude*

    FYI, my plan, if ever confronted with something like this, is to have lots of problems with my vagina. All the problems with my vagina. And to talk about my vagina, repeatedly.

  45. Sharon*

    Ideally, in the moment, a senior leader would’ve had said something to redirect the activity to be more work-focused.

  46. Moonlight Elantra*

    Jesus Christ, the most vulnerable I ever want to get with my colleagues is when we get drunk at the company Christmas party every year and tell each other how much we love working together.

  47. Irish Teacher.*

    Even apart from the fact that people shouldn’t need to share their vulnerabilities at work, the employee is going completely the wrong way about encouraging people to do it. My workplace is one where people DO share vulnerabilities. A fair share of rather personal stuff has been discussed openly. It’s not unusual for people to share their health issues, family problems, past traumas, struggles etc. And I think a lot of the reason is that people don’t, for the most part, put pressure on people.

    I think even stuff I AM comfortable sharing, I’d be awkward about done like this. It makes too big a deal of it. Things I’d be perfectly comfortable sharing if they came up in conversation feel different when it’s a “reveal a vulnerability.”

    And then there are other issues. One thing that would make me uncomfortable with this would be the difference in people’s experience. One person’s biggest vulnerability might be that they failed a class in college. Another’s might be a trauma like the death of their child. And honestly, both of these might feel awkward. The first might feel either that people will think they are lying or feel silly that such a minor think, comparatively, is a big deal for them. The latter might feel uncomfortable sharing something traumatic.

    And while people can choose what they share, they cannot choose what others do. Somebody could well end up sharing something that is triggering for somebody else.

  48. Little Bobby Tables*

    My shadow self hasn’t been allowed out in public ever since that time he killed someone with a chandelier and kidnapped an opera singer. He had an awesome mask, at least. But you don’t want to know what it covers up.

    1. Industrial Tea Machine*

      If I were told I would meet my shadow self at a team-building event, I would think we were either going to hunt human beings for sport or participate in an eldritch ritual. Either way, probably more fun than doing sadness arts and crafts.

      1. Dinwar*

        You’re not hugely off base with the ritual thing….The times I’ve done shadow work were in clearly-defined religious contexts, for religious purposes. Meditations during waning/new moons, banishing rituals, that sort of thing–ways to improve my relationship with the deities I worship. Which presents some fairly serious problems when this is done in a work context. This would be no different from a Roman Catholic demanding we do a pale imitation of Confession–without a priest–for a work event. Those in religions where this is A Thing would find it a mockery of something that’s sacred, those outside the religion would feel deeply uncomfortable at best, and everyone would be justified in demanding to know why someone is bringing religion into the workplace.

  49. Alan*

    In my experience, team-building activities are *at best* a complete waste of time. My employer has someone whose sole job is to put stuff like this together. He seems like a nice enough guy but everything is so cringy, and often completely humiliating, like the time we had to throw footballs around (which sounds innocent enough unless you’re completely unable to put a spin on a football). These events typically reflect the biases of the organizer, like the jock organizer wants to throw footballs, the emotive organizer wants people to share feelings. It’s all so unbearable. And management is *completely* unable to see why I don’t want to be a “team player” off-site for a few days.

  50. NopeNopeNope*

    Something similar happened at a company I was temping at because one of the staff had aspirations of being a life coach or spiritual influencer or something and she literally had people in tears the first time she tried something like this. I love the language Allison gave you and PLEASE stress how unsafe and unprofessional it is to do such a thing.

  51. Russian in Texas*

    “I want the office to be more like a family.
    Cool, so Sue is the racist grandma, Debby is mom pushing homeopathy, Dillon is the uncle who asks you why are you fat, and Mike is the alcoholic.”

  52. Richard Hershberger*

    “I don’t understand the instructions.” Repeat as necessary. This isn’t even me being strategically incompetent. Ask me to “draw/paint our strengths and things we showed to the world on the front of the mask, and then on the back to draw/paint our “shadow sides” or weaknesses or things we don’t usually share in the workplace” and I seriously got nothing. I have absolutely no idea what I would draw, even were I all in on the activity. This is simply my old school German Lutheran upbringing. I have no vocabulary, verbal or visual, for this kind of stuff. In related news, I suck at free association, and show me an ink blot and I see an ink blot. I have annoyed at least one psychologist with this, but seriously, it looks like an ink blot.

    1. Russian in Texas*

      This isn’t my upbringing either. We. Do. Not. Talk. Feelings. With random people. And I get 100% stumped with “what does it make you feel”. I don’t understand what “shadow self” even means.

    2. nm*

      I really probably would draw a normal pic of myself on the front side, and a pic of what i look like in bad lighting on the back side. You said shadows!

    3. allathian*

      Hear you on the German Lutheran thing. I’m in Finland, and while we’ve become more secular as a nation every decade following WW2, being emotionally vulnerable hasn’t been a thing in most families. Intergenerational trauma from WW2 is a thing that we seem to be slowly getting past just as the last of the veterans of that war are dying of old age.

      That said, we don’t generally talk feelings with random people, either. And here, I absolutely count the vast majority of my coworkers and my manager as “random people.”

      Interestingly enough, the one time I took an ink blot test, all I could see was ink blots.

  53. HailRobonia*

    I feel like we should all have a “terrible manager survival kit” which includes things such as “prepared responses to intrusive questions”

    1. Infosecretariat*

      I actually keep a text file saved on my desktop and as a note in my phone, with sample verbiage for shutting down intrusive crap like this as well as responding to racist/sexism/homophobic/transphobic remarks. I’ve found it helps prevent me from freezing up in the moment – the key is to practice saying it in advance so you can (hopefully) summon the words when needed.

  54. Student*

    I know it’s not always viable or appropriate, and that it’s not for everyone – but I do want to speak in favor of responding to this kind activity in the moment. You don’t have to nod and smile and go along, especially in the situation described here.

    This doesn’t have to be extremely confrontational, and there are different gradients of it. One I’ve been successful with is simply not participating in activities that I think are inappropriate. Once one person opts out, other people feel more empowered to opt out, too. I may or may not explain why, depending on circumstances. Often I’m very clear but low-key about it: “This activity isn’t for me; I’ll return for the next agenda item,” (sometimes I’ll add a “have fun!” to soften it) then leave the room. Sometimes I use a white lie, like telling them I need to take a call, or feel ill, or whatever seems like a reasonable excuse to leave temporarily. If I feel the activity is actively dangerous, which has come up, I’ll be direct about that and enforce whatever workplace safety rules are appropriate or leave the area.

    Usually, people are just as worried about confronting you as you are of them, and they’ll let you excuse yourself with little to no fanfare. If you’re criticizing some aspect of the activity in the process, then you’re more likely to get push-back from the activity lead, and then you need to be more mindful of your workplace dynamics.

    1. OP*

      OP here — you’re right, and I feel better prepared for the future now! I really want to build my toolkit of ways to respond to things in the present, instead of being so surprised/uncomfortable that I kind of freeze.

  55. Purple Jello*

    If I were asked to do something like this for work, I’d be tempted to refuse and ask what the alternative activities were because this one was not appropriate. But… I would probably just make something up or not discuss anything of import. If this had happened in my 20s or 30s, I’m not sure what I would have done.

    OP: Please say something. 1) the junior employee should have had someone sensible to discuss and approve the activities. 2) We need people to speak out about inappropriate work activities: if you’ve got the clout, you should do it.

  56. Qest*

    Please, please be more direct to the young person who planned this.
    Me, I would have drawn a line on this paper and wrote “Danger. Do not cross.”
    And left. Much teamboiling, huh?

  57. unhappy employee*

    I was required to attend a retreat that had activities including rubbing the shoulders/having your shoulders rubbed by a person you didn’t know before that day and sharing this type of intimate “reveal something that you never have before at work.” It was so uncomfortable and to this day I shudder to think about it. It was supposed to promote diversity and inclusion but it way missed the mark on that.

    1. Dinwar*

      The combination would be interesting for me. “One thing I’ve never shared at work is that at least six people have tried to kill me via strangulation, therefore the act of being touched by someone I don’t know extremely well and trust deeply, outside my line of sight, triggers a fight-or-flight response.” (This is also why I don’t wear ties and can’t stand tight collars on shirts.) If you’re going to make ME super uncomfortable, I’m going to make everyone ELSE super uncomfortable.

  58. blood orange*

    One of the things that stands out to me the most is that this task was given to a “junior employee” to begin with. Maybe when it was assigned to her, they expected something lighter and it didn’t occur to them that this could go awry. A team building activity like building lego sets, or coming up with a fictitious product, is very different than an activity that uses psychology. It sounds as though they might have taken her interest in team bonding, and thought her interest made it a good idea to give her responsibility for a piece of the day.

  59. Observer*

    Alison gave you some excellent advice.

    Three thoughts.

    One is that you are right that the bosses should vet activities before they happen. But it also would not be a bad thing for them to tell her that what she chose was inappropriate and why.

    Another thing is that being “like family” and “high trust” are not the same thing. There are plenty of people who don’t tell everything with every member of their family – even people with reasonably healthy and “normal” families.

    Lastly, pushing for this kind of personal information could actually create some significant problems since it could push people to reveal information that the company is better off not knowing. Whether it’s medical issues that implicate the ADA or family relationships that could trigger someone’s illegal bigotry – or the perception of such bigotry. eg someone White mentions a Black relative and then gets disciplined by someone who mentions the relative. There could be a perfectly good reason to have mentioned that relative, but it is almost certainly going to sound like the REAL problem is that the relative is Black. Who needs it? Both real bigotry and the perception thereof.

  60. MT*

    Ha, this is very timely. I joined this dismantling racism, white-body affinity group about a month ago. It’s through my union but I know some people in it so it feels like it’s work. I thought I would be talking about bringing down racist practices, maybe talking about developing relational culture. No, it’s actually about confronting ourselves about internal racism and feeling the feels brought on by generational trauma of white supremacy. The session this week was exactly like this exercise, with paper masks representing how we mask ourselves to other people and to uncover why we do it and the root cause of it. Then we talked about what we figured out with one other person. Sounds like it was maybe a good exercise, but it was done completely without support. It was like, okay confess how you mask your true emotions and let out all the feels from that and you will be better! No, you just feel weird, shamed, uncomfortable! I’ve done this exercise in therapy before but I had someone to help support me and teach me coping methods. I felt bad for my partner, I could tell they were having a tough time with the realization they made but they just had to sit with it (we were strictly forbidden from responding to them or bringing up what was said later). Just talking it out does not help a lot of people! There is a time and place for this but not at work or work adjacent events.

  61. Observer*

    Another comment about “feeling like family” – this is the kind of activity that would absolutely NOT make me feel like I was with family. Because no one in my (immediate) family would ever dream of demanding this kind of information even from family, although they would be open to hearing it. And they would NEVER launch such a conversation – about themselves or the person they were talking to in public.

    I also actually happen to trust most of them, and this sense of discretion is part of the reason why!

  62. Dawn*

    What makes me feel vulnerable?

    Well, the fact that any of my coworkers could potentially be transphobic….

    Yeah not into sharing that with the group.

    1. Luna*

      “I feel vulnerable when places tend to overstep the established boundaries, like by demanding I reveal vulernable things about myself…” and then you let the awkward silence sit there, as they all squirm in their seats.

      1. Dawn*

        I think probably you need to have a certain amount of capital to pull that one off, not that I wouldn’t.

  63. Esmeralda*

    “I don’t want them to tell the junior employee that other people didn’t like her activity”

    Why not? Junior employee needs to know that people didn’t like the activity and that it was completely inappropriate.

    Personally, I think YOU should tell junior employee this, if you have any standing. (Are you Jr’s supervisor? team leader? in position to mentor/offer guidance?) Otherwise, yes, the higher ups need to tell her.

  64. That'sNotMyName*

    There is no faster way to make me clam up than demanding I share personal information. I’m generally pretty private, especially at work. If there are nosy gossips, I’ll do one weird overshare and then they leave me alone. Even in therapy that I sought out, paid lots of money for, and did with a trained professional, it took time for me to open up.

  65. Mehitabel*

    I simply will not participate in violating activities such as this. It took a while for me to work up the courage to start saying “No”, but that’s what I say. I don’t make a scene about it, I just say “I’m not comfortable sharing/discussing something so personal with the group.” It gets me side-eye at times, but no one has ever actually confronted me about it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  66. Bill Johnson*

    I keep thinking to myself regarding many of the situations that come up……why can’t work just be work? I don’t think that’s a bad thing!

  67. Luna*

    All of those employers that want to treat employees like family need to be reminded what family actually acts towards each other like: they are blunt, they are very open to having you face the consequences of your actions, as long as they are not physically harmful, and they do not coddle you. Some families are even downright nasty to each other! That is not the happy-sunshine-daisies-rainbow families that these employers believe families to act like.

    I dislike making myself appear vulnerable because I have issues with that. I am working on them, but if I do show my vulnerable side, it tends to be towards someone that I have a lot of trust towards because they have *earned* the trust. Even some family I don’t admit things to, but my best friend might hear them. It takes me a long time to trust people, due to bad experience, so… if I share? You earned it.

    Though I would also have no problem telling these people some uncomfortable, but not too-personal matters about me. The ‘shadow side’, as they call it. I have even done it during introductions at my training school.
    Maybe even go so far as to make it uncomfortable. They want vulnerability and shadow sides? They are not comfortable. They are awkward, and you asked for them. They feel bad then? Well, that’s what you get for demanding I tell you things that are none of your business. ;)

  68. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    I would also point out (which is more generally covered by Alison’s point that it may be contrary to many people’s mental health needs), that even if someone is comfortable sharing intimate details and past traumas, that could be highly triggering to another individual. That person would not have warning to absent themselves from the room before the trigger occurred, nor should they be required to advise others that they have a trigger to specific accounts of trauma, especially since that can lead to highly intrusive follow-up questions and comments, speculation, and even gossip.

    And OP, please do not worry about them telling the junior employee that the exercise was not well received. She needs to know this and to stop pushing this kind of thing (and stop looking to her professional life for her sense of family … those workplaces are usually pretty toxic anyhow).

  69. Here for the Insurance*

    This letter is giving me flashbacks to the 1st professional job I had. I was a receptionist at a law firm, and one of the partners had a weekly meeting with his men’s group in his office where they all sat around on the floor playing the bongos and passing the talking stick while they took turns crying over their childhoods. Maybe it was good therapy, IDK, but it was disconcerting for the clients walking through the office for their appointments. The 90’s were wild, y’all.

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