Working with Management: Honor Confidentiality

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Mar 22

In Working with Management: Five Characteristics of the Cubicle Warrior, I described five items that would go a long way in what you can control in working with management. On review, however, I thought that each of the points, while good, could use some expansion. I’ve done that with other characteristics and today I’d like to expand on Honoring Confidentiality.

In the original post, I noted this:

Honor Confidentiality. It is exceptionally hard for people to keep their mouths shut when given confidential information. A Cubicle Warrior must do so. There are lots of ways of doing so, but the confidences of the management team given to you must be maintained. You can do all of the above — then utterly fail all of them by not following this rule.

One of the critical skills about moving ahead with management, whether the career path is an individual contributor in a technical career path or one who intends to go into management, is to learn to maintain confidentiality.

Initially, one might think that this is confidentiality with management and that is a critical component of confidentiality. I’ve already addressed this in the earlier post about becoming a Trusted Adviser to your management team.

Honoring confidentiality goes further, though. It includes the confidentiality of your cube mates as well.

Your cube mates know a lot of different things about the company; things that you most likely will not be exposed to in your position. It is important that you know what is going on in the company as it is the best protection for preserving your ability to keep your position within the company once you are past performing well in the position you are in.

People will also tell you about their personal lives as well. The most common thing people have told me about their personal lives is that they are looking for a new position outside the company. They’ve also told me that they are looking for a change in their life and, as a manager, to lay them off first so that others can stay. And then come back two months later and change their mind (which is absolutely OK…).

From a purely career standpoint, honoring confidentialities about work will increase your knowledge about the company and how it is moving. Honoring confidentialities about a person’s personal life will help increase your network. To not gossip means that more people will tell you more things because you don’t take that and then go running around telling everyone else. That will help you in your career and your networking.

It’s also entirely cynical and calculating.

You should be keeping confidences that people tell you because that’s what (in my opinion) a good person does.

I once had a person tell me that in another year they would be retiring and all of the associated moves that would go along with it. Six months later I was in a meeting where that person was being discussed from a career viewpoint. The chips fell where they may and I said nothing about this personal conversation I had about retirement in only six more months. Because the conversation was in confidence with me.

Two days later, I happened to see the person again and casually asked how the retirement plan was going. “Totally changed,” the person said. Family circumstances and a couple of events changed the plan and the person needed to continue working.

If I had brought up my private confidence, it would have changed the outcome of the career conversation. And, given circumstances, it would have been a significant error.

So honor confidences of your cube mates as well as management. It’s the right thing to do. And, as a side benefit, it will help you in your career.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.