- Insight For Handling Confidential Matters –
Everyone wants to keep private things private, especially when there is an understanding that things are being kept confidential. A trusted confidence-keeper is highly valued, but too rarely found. There are stresses and realities involved in keeping a confidence. The following are seven practical principles that will help a person be a better confidence keeper.
1. Know More About The Confidence Before Agreeing To Keep It
People sometimes agree to keep confidences too quickly. This is often done with an unclear understanding of the situation or of the person involved in the confidence. An example of this situation would be one person saying to another, “Can I tell you something, if you promise not to tell anyone?” To agree to this kind of request is making a blind promise that can lead to all manner of difficulties. Promises of confidentiality work much better when they are not blind, when they have more information to help in the keeping of that promise.
There are basically two reasons for wanting more information involving a confidence. One reason is because the confidence may involve details about something illegal or immoral. The other reason is to be better prepared to respond to the confidence, and any advice that may be based on that information.
Instead of agreeing to keep a confidence before it is known what is involved in that confidence, it is better to communicate a desire to try your best to keep matter confidential, communicating that more information about some of the basics of the matter will help in the decision to keep it confidential.
The old saying “Look before you leap” is good advice for a entering a confidential situation.
2. There May Be Good Reasons To Break A Confidence
If the confidence reveals information of an illegal or an immoral nature, it may need to be reported. When things are revealed such as danger to another person, violence inflicted on another person, involvement in criminal activity, or serious breaches of moral ethics, the confidant needs to exercise discerning judgment in what is or is not reported, how it is reported and to whom, and what should be communicated back to the person who shared the confidence.
Eric sought the help of his pastor, and in a confidential conversation, he revealed that he had sexually violated a number of under-age people. This came as a total surprise to the pastor. Since Eric trusted his pastor and genuinely sought help for his problem, he followed his pastor’s advice and voluntarily reported his actions to law enforcement officials. Had Eric not done this, the pastor made clear to him that he would have to do the reporting.
While it is important – very important – to keep confidences, it is also important to be prepared to act responsibly if criminal or immoral information has been revealed.
3. Confidences About Third Parties Need Special Handling
In a confidential situation, sometimes a confidence is shared about someone else not present. To avoid this, the confidant needs to suggest that the discussion end until the third party has given his permission for it to continue. This will help the person sharing the confidence to realize his responsibility involved, it will help protect the third party, and it will keep the confidant from losing his credibility as a reliable consultant.
In a private conversation between Jerry and John, Jerry’s administrator, John began to tell Jerry a story that was obviously a confidential matter about another person. Jerry respectfully asked John if he should be telling this story. John indicated that he saw nothing wrong with sharing that confidence with Jerry, saying he knew Jerry would keep it confidential. Jerry’s respect for John was lowered considerably, and he made a decision never to share any of his own confidences with John again.
A confidential conversation should be an “exclusive club”, with all members of that club present. Being in a confidential conversation gives no freedom to discuss confidences involving others without their permission.
4. Confidences Need To Take Place By Agreement, Not Assumption
There is a difference, often a big difference, between assuming things are confidential and knowing they are confidential by agreement. In other words, don’t assume anything.
Janet spoke to Mary about something that was important and private to Janet, only to find out later that Mary told someone else about their conversation. When Janet asked Mary about this, Mary said “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know we were talking confidentially.” How many times does something like this happen? Without a clear agreement about confidentiality, it happens too many times.
A mutual understanding of what keeping confidences means and how confidences will be handled can open the way for a more open discussion, and it certainly builds more trust and respect in the confidant. People want to be reminded with both words and actions that things will be kept confidential.
5. When A Confidence Is Promised, Do All You Can To Keep It
If there is any area of human conversation that can have clear black and white, right and wrong descriptions associated with it, it is in the keeping of confidences.
Two good friends were enjoying being together. Their conversation began to become very private and very personal. The first friend said to the other, “This is private, but I really need to talk to you about something June told me recently.” What then happened was the first friend told the other friend something that the first friend had previously promised to never tell anyone else.
How many a wounded heart cries out in situations like this: “What is it about CONFIDENTIAL that you didn’t understand?”
A confidence is a Promise . A person’s word is his honor, and it is either kept or it is not. When someone agrees to keep a confidence, he or she needs to do all in his power to keep that agreement. This includes not telling the confidence to a wife, a good friend, a pastor, a lawyer, a doctor — or to anyone else, period. Too many times confidences are shared under the explanation that it is professional courtesy, or it is explained as something the person just needs to unburden himself with.
The more care a person practices in keeping a confidence, the more opportunity and trust there is within the confidence to open up, help, and to heal. It is a matter of integrity. It is a matter of honor. It is a matter of trust.
6. A Confidence Can Be Shared When It Is Done With Permission
One of the things that many do not realize or consider is that a confidence can be shared when permission is given to do so. Many do not think about asking for permission. Sometimes this is because asking for permission is often viewed as a lot of extra work, or it is viewed as an unpleasant experience to be avoided. It does involve work and sometimes it is stressful in the beginning, because it is ASKING permission, which runs the risk of receiving a “No” answer. However, what often happens is the person being asked grants the permission, and he increases his respect for the person asking permission, because he has acted with integrity and with protective instincts.
Another aspect of handling confidences is that once permission is given to share a confidence, care should be given to protect the identity of the person in the confidence. Permission has been given to share a confidence, not the name of the person in the confidence. Often the identity is not necessary.
There are two main reasons why permission is sought to share a confidence. One is to seek further help for the one in the confidence, and the other is to share an insight gained in that confidence which can help another in a similar situation. In either case, privacy can be maintained when sharing a confidence with permission.
A man was being asked for help in a confidential conversation. The consultant said to the one who came to him, “I want you to know I treat confidences very seriously. Can I have your permission to share this with my wife, as she may have some insights that will help you? I do not share any confidence with my wife without permission, and she practices the same principle.” Permission was given, respect for the consultant increased, and help did come from the wife.
Gaining permission in a confidence often opens the door for respect, trust, and help on the way.
7. A Broken Confidence Needs Immediate Repair
A broken confidence is a broken trust. It is very personal, and the damage is very personal. When a confidence is broken, two actions are needed: One is that an apology needs to be given with a request for forgiveness. The other is a need for the confidence breaker to clearly communicate that breaking confidences is not a continuing pattern on his part. Both actions require character and courage, and both are necessary to restore trust.
Allan repeated a confidence about Jeff without Jeff’s permission. That confidence was then communicated to others. When Jeff learned about this, he confronted Allan. Allan apologized to Jeff and asked for his forgiveness, wisely assuring Jeff that this would not happen again, and promising that he would also apologize to the others who knew of this broken confidence.
The chain of broken confidences grows and tears down trust. The process of repentance and forgiveness breaks the chain and rebuilds what was torn down. The sooner this process is initiated, the shorter is the length and the weight of that chain.
Keeping confidences is a skill with amazing healing powers. It is a skill that is learned and decided. It never happens naturally. It takes work, commitment, character, and discipline.
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