You might think I have a thing for good manners and I do. In business, particularly, lack of good manners can get you in the doghouse. But what constitutes good manners? Well, a lot of things, but recently while visiting someone in the hospital I noticed an interesting sign. Basically it asks people to respect the privacy of patients by refraining from talking in public places about an individual´s medical situation. In other words, wait until you get inside someone´s room or until you leave the hospital altogether. I think the message is mostly intended for the public and I was glad to see it not only because of the way it reminds us of a patient´s right to privacy but everyone´s responsibility toward keeping confidential information confidential. Some people truly don´t understand the meaning of confidential and some simply don´t care. I have found that people who are privy to information they shouldn´t have simply consider the data to be in public domain once it´s out. But just because you´ve been given access to confidential information doesn´t mean that you don´t have the power to stop the chain.
In business, for example, if someone shares something they shouldn´t it´s not always necessary to continue to pass it on. Clearly, some information, like corporate theft, should be brought to the attention to those who matter. But certain conversations, certainly the ones that contain gossip, shouldn´t be shared. Is this something you can teach? Absolutely. This is especially critical when it comes to confidential company information. Here´s the thing that seems to get managers stuck: they assume that people should know better. Sometimes, though, people who "should know better" don´t behave like we assume they might. Does that make sense? Some employees really don´t know better. No one has ever told them otherwise. No one has explained the consequences of such behavior.
If you offer your employees formal training, consider adding this privacy component to your program. If you don´t have formal training, put it in a newsletter or an email. Or Google an article on this issue and send it around with a short note. Sometimes an issue doesn´t even require a big focus but merely a little spotlight. People will get the message. Believe me.