Can you keep a secret? For Career Success, Know What to Share and When to Share Information.

As a recruiter, I receive a great deal of personal information and people trust that I know how to manage that information.

It is fairly common knowledge among movie goers that the military classifies information with two requirements.  One is based on a person’s level of clearance or level of classification to know certain things.  Clearance is not entirely related to pay grade.  I was a junior military officer who had a lower clearance than some petty officers who had jobs that required them to manage very sensitive information. The second requirement is based on a person’s need to know the information.

Although people in the military may use the terms “secret” or “top secret,” the military really does not look at information as secrets. The military looks at information as a tools. If you are qualified to use a screwdriver and you have a need to use a screwdriver to get your job done, then the military guidelines on screwdrivers read, “please take this screwdriver and go get your job done.  Otherwise even if you may be qualified to use a screwdriver, but if you do not need to use a screwdriver to get your job done, then keep your hands off the screw drivers!”

Most of us do not read books of etiquette or have guidelines on managing  information among friends. A lot of personal information gets mishandled even in the military.  Use of the word “scuttlebutt” to mean unreliable chit chat to my knowledge originated in the Navy. A scuttlebutt is a drinking fountain aboard a Navy ship. When someone says that information is just scuttlebutt, they are using Navy speak for dismissing information as so much hot air passed between two sailors at the scuttlebutt.

We have all been in circles where we have heard personal information from one circle get passed along in open conversation to another circle.

Social networks have outed more than one person for openly sharing personal information about other people.

I read an article, perhaps in the late 80’s, that rated how well different companies manage information within their own company and on how well these companies manage information outside their own company. I recall that The Clorox Company was rated number one. I would say that this rating was to their credit and probably accurate.

One person who worked at Clorox and was a client of mine at the time was reputed to have worked for the CIA before he went to work for Clorox. I never asked him. I had no reason to know that information, and he probably would not have told if he had been in the CIA.

Even among his peers at Clorox, he was considered to be vigilant to the extreme in managing information. Most nice office desks have a lock. It is common for office doors to have a lock. This one manager was known to keep his desk locked even when he was at his desk and characteristically kept his office door locked during the work day. In discussions, he normally answered most questions with a question.

Clergy, doctors, attorneys, therapist, and other professionals maintain a practice of professional ethics on keeping professional informationto themselves. A friend of mine who is one of the most accomplished medical professionals I have ever known called because he had heard from a patient that I was very ill. Actually I was fine and did not understand why anyone thought I was ill. If I perhaps I knew the source of the information, I might be able to understand what this person had told my friend the doctor. Of course he could not identify this person who had said things about me that were not true. The source was a patient who had shared the information in a doctor-patient relationship.

So when someone asks me if I can keep a secret, I tell them, “No.” I do not believe in secrets. I do believe in passing along information people have directed me to pass along as it pertains to themselves, and I only pass that information along to the people the person involved wants to know the information. I practice a sort of cleared to know and need to know policy. Secrets are for gossipers. Information is a tool that can really help people when it is shared correctly.

So how about you? Can you keep a secret?

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