TMI Can Kill You
The topic of this week’s blog is the essence of confidentiality. No. It’s not a new cologne. But there is a fresh fragrance when trust is kept and honored.
We in the media find getting a scoop to be a delicious morsel. News stations like to brag about being the first to bring a story to your attention. Writers treasure the opportunity to share insider information that only they have been privy to uncover. It’s all part of the larger game in business that we call competition.
Exclusivity is worth bucks as well. Over the weekend, my wife and I indulged in watching the movie Steve Jobs. In one sequence, a technology reporter is pursuing Steve for comments. He wants what we might call the prime sound bytes. Jobs and his marketing whiz refuse comment, but then go “off the record.” We know this to be the comments made that are not recorded, and intended to be kept private. Often they are not.
A different variation on this theme comes from sources who give out information that they are unauthorized to share. The tragic crash of the Russian jetliner had reporters scrambling to get answers on why it went down. Any source with some credibility will do.
In reading the Chicago Tribune story about the incident, I read this:
“A U.S. satellite registered a ‘heat flash’ about the time that the plane crashed, a U.S. official said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the information publicly.”
This line about sources who wish to remain anonymous because they aren’t supposed to talk is quite common. But I don’t like it. I’ve been asked by a reporter to be quoted for a story he was writing. It was understood my name would carry attribution for what was said.
The disturbing element of the anonymous secret sharer is one of mislaid trust. People who are unauthorized to give out information can’t be trusted. They have violated an ethical code of silence. And when you do that, what other ethical transgressions might you be open to?
Mind you, I don’t consider it inappropriate to speak “off the record” if what you are sharing is to add context and is not damaging information. But one must be careful. If you are at all worried that this information can be traced to you, it’s best to avoid oversharing.
Whistleblowers are in a different category. Genuine concern over some form of illegal activity that results in harm to others may lead someone within an organization to report it. But consider, if the principle motivation is financial gain or delivered out of spite or payback, how noble is the whistleblower?
This issue comes home to roost in personal relationships as well. Many people delight in being privy to others’ situations that they, in turn, can share with friends or coworkers. This often leads to gossip — that “casual or unconstrained conversation about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” Oh the joy of spreading others’ secrets!
Knowing this about the human condition leaves us untrusting. And it hurts our cause in building authentic relationships. Gaining someone’s trust is to be prized. Violating that trust can leave one crushed.
I’ve been involved in several small groups with men to build friendships. In those conversations, we share events from our personal lives. Being more private in nature, the spoken word came with a caveat: intended for this audience ONLY. We would jokingly refer to these sessions as being the “Pope’s Chambers.” Or applying the “cone of silence.”
People in leadership have a difficult time in being transparent with others. They know the damage that can be done from unguarded sharing. Without a very few friends who can be trusted, these same leaders risk isolation. That too is troublesome.
The Bible speaks to this in several ways. The book of Proverbs is a good place to start. Proverbs 11:13 reads,
“A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” (NLT) Proverbs 16:28 adds, “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” (NLT)
And then this warning from Proverbs 20:19:
“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” (ESV)
One final word on this topic from Jesus. There are times when we must share what others would wish we keep to ourselves. It is a report of the Good News. In sending His disciples out, the Gospel of Matthew records these instructions:
“So do not be afraid of people. Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered, and every secret will be made known. What I am telling you in the dark you must repeat in broad daylight, and what you have heard in private you must announce from the housetops.”
– (Matthew 10:26-27, GNT)
When it comes to sharing with others on any topic, know your boundaries.
TMI can kill you.
Originally posted on The Way We Work.