Building Trust Through Confidentiality

Pssst. Can you keep a secret? How do you react when you hear these words uttered in a hushed tone? Do you feel important that you are about to be trusted with confidential information, or do you wonder if it’s gossip that you don’t want to hear?

In addition to ensuring that you don’t participate in matters that don’t concern you, it’s even more important to keep any confidence that you have been entrusted with by someone else. You can’t expect to advance personally or professionally if you betray the trust someone has placed in you.

Today’s lesson may prick your conscience; however, my hope is that you will see the immense value in learning the importance of keeping things confidential that should be private and secret.

The Link Between Trust and Confidentiality

When you earn the reputation of someone who can be relied on, you command the respect and trust of people around you and build deeper friendships. In business, trustworthy people are more likely to sell more products, built a larger customer base, receive more raises, and enjoy earlier promotions.

One of the most common, telltale signs of someone who cannot be trusted with confidential information is the person who is says, “So-and-so told me this in confidence, but I know you won’t say anything.”

While you may feel special that this person trusts you, what about the person whose information they promised not to divulge? Personally, I would think twice about sharing my own sensitive information with this person. In short, I would not trust someone who was telling me other people’s secrets.

Respecting and Keeping Confidences

Are you someone who can be trusted with private and confidential information?  To gauge your trustworthiness in this area, ask yourself how likely you would be to share any of the following:

1.  You are on a business trip and having some drinks after hours. A colleague overindulges and ends up passing out in the lobby after a series of pretty funny antics. Do you share this story back at the office?

2.  A partner decides to go his own way and leaves you hanging. You’ve been through a lot together and have plenty of information that could negatively influence his reputation. Do you leak this information?

3.  You and your spouse had a real blowout. Do you vent to your friends?

These situations are examples of implied confidentiality. In each case, no one is explicitly asked not to say anything, but clearly the right thing to do is to keep these things in confidence. There’s quite a bit at stake for the person at the center of each situation. Careers, reputations, and relationships could be irreparably damaged.

Here are a few tips when it comes to keeping confidences:

  • Never share information that you have been asked to keep confidential.
  • Use your judgment when it comes to matters of implied confidentiality.
  • Keep things confidential that were intended to be confidential even if a relationship breaks down.
  • Do not vent your private marital or relationship issues with your friends. This will cause them to view your spouse or significant other differently, probably negatively.
  • When someone says, “I was asked to keep this in confidence, but I can share it with you,” let them know that you’d rather not be involved.

The next time you consider sharing information, be sure to ask yourself if there is a chance that the person who shared the information with you would like it kept confidential. If that is the case, don’t share it.

As in most matters, there are exceptions to keeping confidences, such as when someone’s health or well-being is at risk. Don’t take the oath of secrecy so far that you let someone continue to endanger themselves or someone else.

Are you willing to make a commitment to never share anything that should be kept confidential? It’s not an easy commitment, but remember that your decision to share or not to share will affect how others view you.

When you keep things confidential that should be confidential, you will gain the reputation as a person who can be trusted, and you will grow strong in character and value.

About the Author: Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 30 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s daily lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts. (Todd’s podcasts are ranked #27 in America’s top 100 podcasts and #1 in the personal and development field.)

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  • Todd,

    Fine piece, reminding us once again that common sense isn't nearly common enough.
    Indeed, the ability to hold confidences, to treat things confidentially at the right times, is a big driver of trust. It gets there, in our own little trust equation model, by driving what we call intimacy--a broader sense of security that we have, or don't have, with others.

    We've highlighted your post on the December Trust Matters Review, at

    Thanks again for the most excellent content!

    Charlie Green, CEO
    Trusted Advisor Associates

  • Hi Charles,

    Thanks for your contribution. I just read your post. Great job. Thanks for the mention.

    Happy Holidays!


  • What an awesome post. This is what I instill in my core of character. My business sets me to provide contract services for two local area architects, both of which are fierce competitors. I am elated to say to the utmost confidence that I command the respect and honor from the both of them. With knowing certain knowledge of project information communicated to me by both parties, there is vital information will never indulge to either of them and both parties understand and give respect that will never happen. Your post hits a grand slam. I cannot stress enough how vital your post is in building a respectful business relationship. Thanks for sharing Todd.

    Andy Wagner
    Wagner Design Services
    Rocky Mount, NC

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