“Don’t tell anyone, but ….”

What enters your mind if someone begins to share information with a lead-in that conveys confidentiality?

You can trust me not to tell a soul.

It all depends on what you’ll confide.

Don’t tell me if you must keep a secret.

Granted, some situations not only excuse people from revealing what they learn in private, but also obligate them to share it with pertinent parties. (When a child tells a teacher about being bullied by other students, for instance, the teacher is expected to report the issue.) Deep conflicts over what to do also concern ethically minded individuals who strive to do what is right.

For the moment, remove the justifiable cases from the argument to consider what happens when a confidante or member of a closed group reveals information (no matter how enlightening or valuable) that should have remained under wraps. What does spreading news that any would consider private say about the character of that individual?

A person who betrays the confidence of another could be classified as any of the following:

An Opportunist or Extortionist - The individual exploits information to gain an advantage. Achieving the goal at a high cost is acceptable to such a person.

A Troublemaker or Meddler - The individual stirs up trouble. Whether acting out of revenge, self-importance, or sheer desire for entertainment, the person either lacks concern over what may happen or fails to think critically and anticipate the potential casualties.

A Traitor or Backstabber - The individual gains people’s trust, feigning friendship and loyalty, while preparing to turn on them. The person collects information about one side to benefit another.

A Blabbermouth or Gossip - The individual does not keep secrets. The person’s intentions are inconsequential; the news will not remain private for whatever reason one may conceive.

Leaking information produces winners and losers. One party’s traitor is another’s secret weapon. Likewise, one person’s source of amusement is another’s gossipmonger and wrongdoer.

Granted, many don’t care about the harm they create; they’re focused on the prize, maybe a personal gain. However, those who benefit, while appreciative of the advantage, often mistrust their informants. If my promotional products salesperson would show me the fancy pen that a competitor of mine ordered, thereby prompting me to select a more enticing giveaway, what would prevent him from telling my other competitor what I’d purchased, compelling that company to order something even better to outshine me?

Consequently, and there are always consequences, the biggest loser is often the person who squanders the trust of others, including those who initially gain from his or her inside scoop. For that reason, wise individuals avoid landing in precarious, in-the-know situations by taking the following measures:

  • refusing the information
  • leaving or not attending the meeting, etc.
  • issuing a warning before anything is said or done that all information/activity should be considered “on the record”
  • stating upfront that they cannot make any promises to keep information or actions confidential

Typically, if others know where you stand and that your integrity is a priority, they’ll realize they can trust you and think twice about what they say and do in your company.

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at www.writelady.com.