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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Private Conversations

It's happened to you, hasn't it? You've had a team member or colleague ask you, "can you keep this between us?" It's not uncommon at all.

Now, if they start off your conversation that way, or with other phrases like, "can you keep a secret?" or "can I tell you something in confidence?, you have the opportunity to stop them right then and say, "you know, I can't tell you for sure until I know what the 'something' is, and then it might be too late so...maybe you might want to hold off."

The reason is that, as a leader, you have loyalty to several people or groups: the person in the conversation, your team, your boss, as well as the organization as a whole. Your ultimate loyalty should always be to the organization as a whole (even more than to your boss) so that can definitely cause a problem.

You're in a better position if someone says, "I probably shouldn't tell you this" because then you can interrupt and say, "then don't tell me". If they insist, ensure they know you can't necessarily keep the conversation in confidence. If they STILL persist, then it's on them.

The problem can arise when the person has already shared with you and then asks for privacy. When you are asked to keep some information in confidence AFTER it's already been shared with you, then you have a potential conundrum. You want to be someone who others can confide in, who others can trust. You may have even expended a lot of effort building a trusting relationship with the people around definitely don't want to screw that up.

The thing is, you have your integrity to consider along with the loyalty. You can't assure confidence and then go ahead and share with someone else even if it is the right thing to do.

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to confidential conversations. Just don't let yourself get backed into a corner when the right thing to do is share the details with the appropriate party.

Bottom Line: Be prepared for conversations like this and set the expectations right up front. The better others know where you stand, the more they'll respect you and your conversations will be easier.

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