I’ve Got a Secret

We love secrets.

The only thing we love more than keeping them is sharing them.

Indiscreetly.

In research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University [full disclosure: I was accepted there and wished I'd attended but Pittsburgh has snow] we're learning more about privacy and the willingness to abrogate same.

We share what we shouldn't

The studies reveal some fascinating points: people share very private matters if baseline questions asked of them are exceedingly invasive. By comparison successive [inappropriate] questions seem more 'normal' so we tend to answer them.

People also tend to reveal more private personal information if they believe others have already done so. This is called the “herding” effect.

Those researchers! How quaint!

And, my favorite point, we tend to share more with comparative strangers or people we know just slightly. Like, say, the people at work.

Can I tell you a secret?

As the old adage goes (I hope there is an old adage like this because it sure sounds good) if two people know something its not a secret.

We can't have it both ways

  • If its online, its not secret – People post dumb things in various forums. I don't know why. The advantage of the pre-digital age (and there were some) is that we could all be as dumb as we wanted and fewer people would know. Nowadays, Google & Bing assure the world that on-line foibles can be found. Post what you want, but as Herm Edwards would say, put your name on it
  • Sharing is caring – Not. While there are confidences in the office the best rule is, if its not work-related don't share anything sensitive. Talk about the weekend, sure. Your vacation? Okay. What you do between the sheets and with whom – no. Not now. Not ever. Things told “in confidence” rarely stay in confidence so don't share unless you can handle others knowing
  • Secrets are not anonymous – You can't fool people long. Juicy tidbits you share about others cloaked in “anonymity” are easily unraveled. Should you spice up these clandestine stories with just a little bit of “color” (we call that lying) they'll be solved faster than a broken Rubik's Cube with the storytelling trail leading back to you

So how do we handle sensitive information in the workplace?

In a word, carefully

First, if its not true, don't share it.

Likewise don't assume what you tell bosses or coworkers will remain confidential simply because you ask to keep it that way: some things [harassment, et al] are legally required to be reported so your confidante may not have a choice.

And finally beware of the herding effect, invasive questions and the cloying sense of the stranger's perceived safety: they are all false.

Secrets shared can never be secret again.

Take responsibility for managing your own sense of privacy.

Because others won't.

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