What to do when…you’re asked to keep something confidential

by Karen Adamedes

Well this might be the shortest post I write all year…because the answer to this is pretty obvious. If you’re asked to keep something to yourself…do it!

Information is valuable currency in an organisation and sometimes it’s hard to keep the confidentiality you’ve been asked to keep.

It’s great to be seen as someone who is ‘ in-the-know’ and can break up the monotony of a work day when you know something that would make quite juicy gossip!

Or you might be tempted to share information that you know is going to impact others. If a colleague confides that they are leaving you might feel like your manager should be forewarned. If you’re told about a situation that is going to impact someone in your team you might be tempted to let them know.

But careers and reputations are built on trust. And keeping information you are asked to keep confidential is key to career credibility.

And hopefully there is a good reason why something is being kept quiet – often due to needing to tell other people (customers, managers, co-workers) in the right order. It’s respectful to let that process play out.

There are though a couple of things you can do to make confidences easier on yourself…

Ask how long the information is going to be confidential

If you know how long you need to be quiet it can make it much easier. If a colleague has told you they are going to resign or have a baby – there’s bound to be a date planned for the news to be made public. And it’s the same with customer or business information – there will be a plan for telling others.

Ask if anyone else knows

If there is someone you can freely talk to it might be a relief to be able to say “isn’t it great that Megan has that big promotion”.

Ask yourself why

When you’re told something in confidence it’s probably because you need to know (before others), someone has news they want to share (and they trust you) or because your (valued) opinion is being sought. Think about the why and then file the info away. Or if it’s something you need to think through or act on – you can do so without getting caught up in the secrecy of the situation.

There are exceptions though

If you’re about to be told something that you just can’t keep to yourself – let the person know that you have a conflict and would prefer not to know.

And the other big one for me is if you’re told something that is illegal or basically against the rules of your company. In those cases you must do what you must do.

But fortunately this is likely to be a rare circumstance and confidences should be kept.

Your credibility is on the line.

So keep what you’ve been told ‘under your hat’ and don’t let the ‘cat out of the bag’ – your trust will be valued!


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