The “Ex-Files”

The other day I met with a friend of mine for coffee before leaving for Illinois SHRM (1) & the #TalentNet Live! pre-con workshop.  While I was there, I got a text message from a guy I’m considering going out on another date with.  We met, ironically, while I was in the middle of the most embarrassing date I’ve had of late: I FACE-PLANTED playing tennis a few weeks before. (2)  He’s nice enough, but by the time I’d received that text, I have to concede my interest was already well past waning.  What was the reason for my quick disengagement, you might wonder?   Easy:  The ‘ex-files.’

In this context, I’m not referring to the Sci-Fi show w/ David Duchovny, (3) but rather the info we tend to file away and trudge out for review on our old relationships.  Romantic, friendships, neighbors, co-workers, subordinates… doesn’t matter, we seem to be fixated on sharing the past with those we want in our future.  What we liked, what we loathed… why we loved and lost…. its like a fractured fairy tale and instruction manual all rolled into one.  It needs to be said that from the “new person’s” perspective… this?  Can be creepy as all get-out.

Think about it for a minute:  you’re bonding over a compare and contrast with someone who’s basically replaced whomever was there before.  It’s casting a cold, uncomfortable shadow that should make it a little hard for someone to warm up in… and if they could get cozy comfortable in it, it seems like that might be something of a warning sign??  Because really, it’s a negatively based conversation during a time-frame when you’re supposed to be basking in the glow of the positive:  what you like, what you hope for, what your goals are, positive preferences and attributes.  If you’re waxing aglow about an ex? Might question why they’re an ex- to begin with (3) & if you’re tearing them down then there’s a whole other truism to consider: “What someone will do with you is but a preview of what they will do about you.”   I opine that neither sets the stage for success.

Let me just throw this out there:  Let the “ex-files” stay filed away.  You  can know that they always smelled like pepperoni and that it drove everyone nuts that they never turned in their reports on time… doesn’t mean you need to share that with your new co-worker.  You may know that the way the ex-girlfriend often forgot to double-check that the gas burner was off after cooking made you cringe; but that doesn’t mean you need to regale the new one with stories of your former firebug.

A Different Kind of “Reference”

Of course, the ‘proactive overshare’ isn’t the only concern when it comes to rifling through the ex-files.  There’s the inquiries, as well… which is, picking back up to the beginning of the post, my current issue.  ”Why did you get divorced?”  ”Why didn’t it work out with your ex-boyfriend?”  ”What was wrong with your employer that you decided to go out on your own – or was the problem really you??”  Personally, I think that is the issue people are really trying to gauge when they ask those kinds of questions… how much of the problems that led to the end of the ‘relationship’ was as a result of your baggage.

There’s probably a point where that’s an acceptable question to ask in personal relationships.  I tend to think the only value of asking it in an interview is to see the skill in which someone is able to answer uncomfortable questions – because unless they’re truly off their rocker?  Anyone with any level of aplomb should be able to sidestep the real reasons they bid their ex-whatever goodbye.  So, beyond the social savvy, I’m not sure there’s much other insight that will likely be gained.  But there is something you’re likely to lose:  happiness, trust, and your new relationship.

In a 2005 study done by Texas Tech, the trust levels and communication within personal relationships were examined.  Out of the survey participants, 78% of respondent couples maintained that the key to their success was trust and acceptance of their partner’s past.. no detailed discussion needed. Of those that did discuss it, the results were less overwhelming:  exactly 50% felt like knowing all of the ‘dirty details’ in the “ex-file” actually improved their trust, happiness, and acceptance of their partner.  Evidently, knowing all their past ‘write-ups’ doesn’t give you all the answers, after all. (5)  In the work environment, the first six month’s of a new employee’s relationship is when they’re most vulnerable to rethink their decision to join/stay with your organization… So too much conversation about “the way things were” could send them right back to exactly that:  business the way things were… sans their contributions!

At the end of the day, there’s probably some things worth talking about when it comes to the things in the “ex-files” – but much like references, I submit we’re looking for more name/rank/serial #/statistical data than essays on the past… or at least we should be… if we’re going to talk about it at all.

1. #ILSHRM12 on Twitter; follow the stream for fun & fascinating info starting 8/5.

2. I’m blaming this on the fact that on the wedges I was trying to play in because I forgot my tennis shoes. Anyway….

3. Whom I thought was awesomesauce until he did that soft porn show Californication, but anyway…

4. Which reads: What’s wrong with YOU?

5.  Shocker.  ;)

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