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Guidelines For Self-Disclosure: Personally & Professionally

Guidelines For Self-Disclosure
When it comes to social interactions within the workplace or outside of it, we all end up sharing small bits of personal information with one another. This is how we create bonds and relationships with others, share opinions and thoughts […]

When it comes to social interactions within the workplace or outside of it, we all end up sharing small bits of personal information with one another. This is how we create bonds and relationships with others, share opinions and thoughts about topics. So what is self-disclosure exactly? Are there any benefits or risks to self-disclosing? These guidelines for self-disclosure will be helpful for you.

What is Self-disclosure

The definition of self-disclosure is the act of revealing or sharing intimate or personal information about yourself to another. Through self-disclosing, one can hope to make a connection with others of similar experiences, feelings, and thoughts in attempts to get to know each other by sharing this information. 

Ways you Self-disclose

You disclose information directly, indirectly, consciously, or unconsciously through body movement and physical reactions to information being told or seen. Data can even be inadvertently disclosed by your tone of voice when you speak to others, as well as through your clothes, hairstyle, and if you have tattoos or piercings.

Examples of Self-disclosure

Doctors & Medical

Psychologists, for example, will share their similar experiences with their clients if it will help the client to feel more comfortable knowing they’re not alone in the experience and that their therapist will understand how they feel as they continue their sessions.

Self Disclousure In Front Of Doctor

This professional bond will enable the therapist to help their clients better in their journeys to acceptance of new situations (such as losing a loved one, limb, or a life-changing diagnosis) or overcoming phobias and deep personal problems.

Your primary physician will know some more personal details in regards to your health as if you smoke, have a form of cancer, are pregnant or trying to conceive, or have a physical or mental disability.

Intimate Relationships (Non-relatives)

When first entering an intimate relationship with someone, you disclose personal information about yourself in order to begin forming a bond or connection with the other person. Self-disclosure is also used to strengthen bonds and the relationship with your intimate partner.

Social Interactions

Social encounters, like with friends, will not disclose as intimate of information, but will instead reveal your likes, dislikes, hobby interests, and opinions on other aspects that are not as deep and profound. Information like your favorite video games, board games, or outdoor activities will help build a bond with friends and enable you to have positive interactions doing the same activities together, building upon that friendship.

Career Encounters

For career encounters, like with co-workers or customers, you will not disclose as much personal or intimate information. Instead, you can express opinions on product performances, brands, and experiences with using those items or brands, and solutions to problems or ideas for projects. If a coworker is having a problem with a computer application that you use to struggle with, you can offer up how you solved the problem to them-this gives your coworker insight into how you are a problem solver and that they can come to you for help when they need it.

Theories of Self-disclosure

There are 3 main self-disclosure theories and 1 model that psychologists use today to help them analyze behaviors and social interactions between people and in explaining the concept of self-disclosure. Communication Privacy Management theory (CPM), Social Penetration Theory (SPT), Social Exchange Theory (SET), and Johari Window Pane model.

Communication Privacy Management Theory (CPM)

This self-disclosure theory sounds simple, but the process is quite complex in reality as it has 5 principles within it. In essence, it describes how everyone feels they have the right and ownership of their personal information, and continually work to maintain control over that information within many boundaries. In this theory, there are 5 factors that determine privacy rules formations: culture, gender, motivation, context, and risk & benefit ratios.

Social Exchange Theory (SET)

Introduced in 1958 by the sociologist George Homans, he described it as the exchange of activity, tangible or intangible, and more or less rewarding or costly, between at least two persons which bring in the aspect of communication (Emerson, 1976).

Social Penetration Theory (SPT)

 Developed by Irwin Altman and Dallas Taylor in 1973, they use metaphors to describe the layers of personality within each individual in intimate relationships between couples. Their theory has had revisions, as weaknesses and flaws were revealed during studies. The theory has also been expanded upon by others studying psychology.

Johari Window Pane Model

This model has four window panes to self-disclosure: Open, Hidden, Blind, and Unknown.

Johnari Window Pane Model:

Open Pane Blind Pane
Hidden Pane Unknown Pane

Source: Steinberg (2007)

Open Pane

This window is where information that is public and is willingly disclosed is displayed: Gender, hair color, eye color, height, body type, and other superficial details.

Hidden Pane

This window holds information more in-depth into your private life histories such as relationship problems, salary, fears, successes, and failures. 

Blind Pane

This window is in regard to information that others know about you, that you are not aware of.

Unknown Pane

This is information that no one knows, and it is unknown how large it expands.

The process of self-disclosure enlarges the open pane when you take information from the hidden compartment and move it to the open with certain individuals as you establish trust and a relationship with them. Self-disclosure in relationships helps to reduce the size of the blind and unknown panes over time.

How is Self-disclosure important?

In short yes, and for many reasons. It is critical for mental and emotional health within ourselves. Self-disclosure encompasses many aspects of social interactions and life in general. It is the key to how we develop as individuals and in developing trust within others. 

Why is self-disclosure important in communication?

In order to form strong bonds and social connections, information needs to be mutually shared between individuals- this exchange creates an understanding and mutual knowledge base. Self-disclosure is a mutual process of giving and taking.


In the workplace, communication is vital for the company to develop and meet the needs of its employees, and consumers. If a manager doesn’t communicate with others, then important tasks and information is not shared and will negatively affect the business all around. Should a conflict or problem occur, then the bond created with others will help resolve the conflict more quickly, and aid in problem-solving altogether.

Why is self-disclosure important in developing trust?

When you’ve created a strong bond with someone through disclosure, you create a bubble of trust. Trusting someone with delicate personal information is important for relationships in general, and most importantly for intimate ones. Having someone you can trust, whether it’s your spouse, parent, sibling, or a close friend, means you can depend on them to be there in good and bad times.

If you fall onto difficult times or situations, you can always rely on another member of the family or a close friend, who has dealt with a similar situation before, to help you get through difficult emotions by comforting you because of the bond created through self-disclosure. You can trust that they won’t go behind your back and tell people you don’t trust about how you wept and were torn apart over the event and mock you behind your back.

If you’re about to propose to the love of your life, and you need a friend to help you plan the perfect scene or pick out the engagement ring, then it’s important to have trust with that person. You know they won’t blow the surprise and will be genuinely happy to help you with this milestone you’re embarking on.

How does self-disclosure affect relationships?

There are 7 key ways that self-disclosure aids in building and reinforcing relationships with others in all aspects of social life. 

Builds Trust

Trust Gaining

No relationship is built on a lack of trust, professionally or privately. You wouldn’t divulge delicate details to someone you have just met over someone you’ve known for years and disclosed information back and forth with. When you disclose private details to someone it shows you trust them, and when they reciprocate it shows they have mutual trust with you. This creates a stronger bond and display of trust between you.

Promotes Attraction

Speakers often will share a personal story relating to what they’re speaking about. This draws the listeners in and creates a small connection with them-giving them a reason to listen more by building a small attraction with a relevant experience they can relate to. In relationships, this will do the same, but will build-up the foundations of that relationship more since you share similar experiences and creates the emotional attachment.

Determines how Relationships develop

If you are slow to disclose information to others, it shows your reluctance to be trusting. This will affect how quickly you form relationships both personally and professionally. If you disclose information to another, and they don’t reciprocate, then that will affect the rate at which the relationship progresses, and you will then feel less inclined to strengthen that bond. 

Makes you feel special

When private and deeply personal information is shared with you, it will create a sense of importance and a feeling of closeness. If someone shares something deeply personal with you and no one else, it shows how much they trust you with that information, and how important you are to them. Feeling important and wanted is a sense we all strive for socially, and is important for emotional and mental health.

Enables growth of Self-acceptance

Self-acceptance can be difficult to overcome by yourself. When you have something you feel guilty about from years before, it helps to have someone to tell you “it’s okay” and help push you forward. They can be a beacon of reasoning for the event or emotions and help you overcome those guilty feelings.

Strengthens Relationships


When you mutually disclose information with another, it strengthens the bond between you. Typically, stronger bonds last longer versus weaker bonds. For example, your bond with your best friend from high school vs someone you shared a few classes with back in high school. You will stay in contact with your best friend for years after graduation, while the classmate you will quickly lose contact with within a few years if not sooner.

Gives you someone you can rely on

We all need someone we can go talk to about anything that’s happening in our lives. Whether it’s an accomplishment at work or personally, a sad event, your fears, dreams, and goals. They’re someone you can talk to about it and they won’t judge you or shame you, instead, they will encourage and celebrate with you, or offer you a shoulder to cry on and comfort you when you need it most. This bond is developed progressively with mutual self-disclosure and is stronger than others.

Self-disclosure and interpersonal communication

Your everyday person-to-person interactions will convey certain levels of self-disclosure, most typically the visible or least personal details. Self-disclosure is important for building relationships in your private life and professional life.

Benefits of Self-disclosure

Disclosing personal information can have a great many benefits for you throughout life. Within the workplace self-disclosure will create bonds with coworkers, enabling you to work together as a coherent team to solve problems and get tasks done. It can also make you a likable person and enable you to get along with many others in your workplace.

As a member of leadership in the workplace, building bonds with your co-workers will build up trust with them. When the time comes and you have a plan for a project or solution to a problem, and will increase their willingness to stand behind you rather than against you because you’ve shown your authenticity with them.

Risks of Self-disclosure

There are certain circumstances that self-disclosing is not appropriate in the workplace or in your private life. While you may disclose extremely private desires, opinions, and other details with your spouse, you wouldn’t share the same details with a coworker in the cubicle next to you, or customers for that matter.

There are also certain ways to disclose details, and when they should be shared. There are also certain people you shouldn’t disclose to, like those you don’t know particularly well enough to know how they might respond to the information you’re about to drop on them. They may also be repercussions for what you say, and to whom.


Always be aware of what information you are putting out there for others to read, and if willingly doing so, make sure you are not dropping a bombshell on someone inadvertently and be tactful, as well as mindful of what you say and to whom.

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