ASK PAUL: Hello, I just read your recent post on sharing information. I have two follow-up questions for you. Thanks for taking time to answer. Julie
1) What if there is something I do know but don’t want to share it with employees?
2) What if someone tells me something that I need to share with others, yet I want to respect their confidence in me?
Julie, thank you for following the blog and for the excellent follow-up questions.
Let’s take your two questions one at a time.
What if there is something I do know but don’t want to share it with employees?
There are circumstances when you might not feel comfortable sharing everything you know. In such situations, there are a number of conversational moves you can use that respect both the person asking the question and the situation.
“I do know something about what you are asking. While at the moment I am committed to not saying anything, I will be able to say more about this next Wednesday. Please follow up with me then, and thank you for understanding my choosing not to answer this today.”
“I will tell you what I know with one caveat: The last time I spoke with the director for this area was two weeks ago, so I may not have the latest information. With that background, here is what I knew to be true two weeks ago.”
“I know something about what happened and the actions that will be taken. I’ve been asked not to speak about it until the manager for that unit has had a chance to speak with her people. Ask me again at our next meeting if you still need clarification.”
“I think this is a conversation that needs enough time for us to go back-and-forth long enough to get clarity and understand each other. I would prefer that you and I find 20 minutes for coffee rather than trying to give a quick answer that might not be sufficient or that might be misinterpreted.”
“I do not know anything about that. Here’s when I can find out and get back to you.”
This last answer is only an honest one if you truly don’t know anything. If you’ve demonstrated your willingness to be open when you can be, as in the other responses, the last response is more likely to be seen as authentic.
What if someone tells me something that I need to share with others, yet I want to respect their confidence in me?
Part of being a supervisor who can be trusted is based on what he or she does with confidential conversations. Again, there are options for how to proceed.
“Thank you. I appreciate your confiding in me. I will not pass this conversation on to anyone without checking with you first.”
“Okay, I appreciate that you are willing to tell me. However, you have told me something that I must legally report to human resources. Let’s talk through how to make this work for you and the organization.”
“Thank you. You have told me something about Mike that he needs to be made aware of. I can try to respect your confidentiality, but I expect Mike will want to know where I learned about this. Let’s discuss how we can make this work for everyone involved.”
Julie, these are also excellent topics to discuss with Human Resources and senior supervisors to deepen your understanding of how your organization prefers to share information. Being thoughtful about conversation is at the heart of creating safety, permission, and building your reputation for being a reliable person to speak with and confide in.
Take care, Paul