When someone trusts you enough to tell you top secret information, it drives the connection we crave in relationships and confirms that others like us. But how do you know what you should or should not share? When it is gossip and ego urging us to impress others with what we know versus being authentic and empathetic?  

Learning Moment

Many years ago, in one of the largest manufacturing plants I have ever been in, my boss “George” shared some confidential information with me about an impending organizational reset. He told me about how the organizational reset was going to impact everything about how we all worked together, and even told me who was getting terminated. George and I built up trust over time and had never leaked each other’s confidential information before, so we both felt comfortable and started getting some planning done to prepare for the changes.

Before the announcement, George and I had a meeting with the head honcho orchestrating the reset. Feeling comfortable, I mentioned something specific to the upcoming changes—information I should not have had!

As soon as I said it, the room got heavy and I felt myself melting into my chair and wanting to disappear. There I was, imperfect in my confidentiality. Since I knew the information from George, my brain felt that we all knew the plan, and I ended up putting George in an ugly situation with our head leader.

I Need to Tell You Something . . . Or Do I?

“I’m about to tell you something, but this is just between the two of us and you can’t tell anyone else.”

When someone is about to confide in you like this, your response may be to lean in and confirm that you’ll keep it between the two of you.

But this situation can quickly become more complex, like when they add something like “Sarah told me this and asked me not to share it with anyone, but I’m going to tell you.”

When this happens, you could be thinking two things:

  1. I must be really trusted that this person is telling me something they are not supposed to tell, or the information must be very important, like leaked information from your boss about you or a health condition about Sarah.
  1. OH NO! The safe has a back door!

If it’s the second option, you may start thinking that whatever information you tell this person, they may share it with others. There is a back door to their safe and information is not secure.

The Safe

You know that feeling of locking a safe, closing the door, hearing the click, and thinking “ahh, security!” You had an item, you put it away, and until you put in a code and open the door to the safe, that baby is secure. You trust the safe and know that if anyone really wants what’s inside, it is going to take a lot of work to break in and they’ll be met with a ton of resistance.

Be the Safe

These are the moments that define our authenticity.  The Genos Emotionally Intelligent survey measures authenticity by how we—and others around us—honor commitments and keep promises. Kind of sounds like integrity?

What If?

When the voice in my head starts turning on whether I should share certain information, I like to ask myself: what If? What if I did not tell this person?  Are there safety implications if I do not share this information? Is it up to me to share this information?  

When considering a “what if” question on when to share information, think about these 3 points of context.

  1. There is a confidential change coming up and you have the intel 

Let’s go back to my learning moment. George and I talked after and agreed that, moving forward, we would not share information that we committed not to share. If I hadn’t had that information, I would not have made that mistake during the meeting.

You should always consider others and the situation you may be putting them in. Do they need to carry the weight of your confidential information?  If you care for them, don’t put them in that situation if you are not as concerned about your own integrity. Before sharing information, pause and be honest with yourself about why you feel compelled to speak on it. 

  1. Someone confided in you, and you feel it might be beneficial for that person if you shared that secret

It could be a health issue or a personal dilemma. Consider all the “what if” questions before sharing the information. What if you never shared it? What if that person was sitting right beside you? Would you still share it then?

  1. Information about yourself

Is it just about you? Information can be a burden if it’s not shared. Perhaps you’ve resigned or are getting a promotion, and you want to break the news yourself to a few close colleagues. Before confiding, consider: what if you did not share the information? What if you let it go through the designated channels so everyone gets the same message?

There’s so many scenarios on this one, but my call to action for you is to ask those two words:

What if . . .

Written by Trevor Blondeel, copyright June 2021.


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