If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve probably fallen victim to a colleague who has shared confidential information and violated your trust. As tough as that might have been for you, that experience likely cast your colleague in a very negative light. That’s because breaking confidentiality can erode your reputation and damage your overall credibility in a split second. Great leaders know this—as well as how to keep a secret. They are adept at managing privy information, and they recognize that upholding confidentiality builds relationships and trust. Commit to manage confidentiality with the highest level of integrity and you, too, will develop strong relationships and a reputation for being a trustworthy leader.
Here are some key pointers to help you better manage confidentiality:
Choose to be trustworthy. People generally fall into two categories: Those who can be trusted and those who cannot. If you’ve struggled with upholding confidentiality in the past, know that being a trustworthy leader is a choice that relates directly to your values and style. It’s something you must conscientiously decide to embrace and do—a resolution that once made can become a defining moment in your professional and personal life. Once you recognize its importance, model the behavior you want seen and how you want to be perceived.
Never automatically promise to confidentiality. Have you ever had someone ask you to keep something secret, you promise to keep it, and then realize that you’ve got to break confidentiality for a very good or ethical reason? It can be a very sticky situation in terms of managing your relationships and upholding your reputation as a trustworthy leader. If this happens to you, never automatically promise confidentiality. Let the person know if the information they share violates company policy, is illegal, or is possibly putting someone in danger, then you might be forced to break confidentiality. This tactic turns a no-win situation into a somewhat better situation in which that person must now carefully decide what to do with their secret.
Avoid chronic offenders. In every business operation, there’s always someone who gossips and shares “secrets” about others. Try and avoid professionals who don’t honor and demonstrate good integrity. This may mean walking away from groups of people when they start bashing others behind their back. Or it might mean calling out those who habitually break confidentiality, tactfully stating that you don’t support this type of behavior in the workplace. When it comes to such chronic offenders, a good rule of thumb is to avoid them if you can, confront them if you must.
How have you handled such chronic offenders at work—those who share secrets and betray others’ trust?