This week, I´ve been sharing a conversation with Robbie Miller Kaplan, author of How to Say It When You don´t Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times. In this exchange, we talk some about the delicate and often loaded issue of keeping information under wraps. You´d think that your colleagues would know when something you tell them is to remain confidential, yet time and time again people surprise us with their less than exemplary judgment. That´s where some narrowly focused training comes in. It could be one meeting in the conference room followed up by a memo with an article attached (or this posting, hint, hint) or a series of communications workshops intended to help employees understand the importance of choosing words (and/or keeping those words in confidence) carefully. However you decide to inform people about the importance of language in the workplace will depend on office culture, work habits, personalities, and other factors. Ignoring it, though, will almost always make things worse. Here´s more from Robbie:
LGL: In addition to knowing how to process information people must also know what to do with the data. How can someone diplomatically and professionally let someone know that the information being shared is to be kept private and how can those who receive the information assure others that they will maintain that sense of trust? In other words, can you address how people should treat proprietary information? That seems to be such a problem in the workplace, problems that often end up on the front page of your morning newspaper.
RK: There are times when it is appropriate to confide in an individual at work and get an assurance of confidentiality, for example, your supervisor and human resources on an impending divorce as it impacts your benefits and potential time away from work. But, there are times when you need to communicate a difficulty and have that individual tactfully let others know so you can get time off, assistance with your deadlines or workload, or even personal support, such as: transportation, meals, or continued communications. How co-workers treat you may determine your comfort and willingness to continue working for that organization.
I can give you some examples of how these types of communications impact employment. A young woman was employed with a Federal agency and she delivered her baby at eight months and the baby died. She requested her supervisor send an e-mail to her co-workers, advising them of the loss, so she did not have to explain this to each person who inquired why she was back so soon. The day she returned to work, she learned he had not sent the e-mail. Her co-workers were uncomfortable around her once they learned the news and they began to avoid her. Their inappropriate behavior compounded her grief and she wound up quitting her job. In another office, an individual who had been thinking of quitting her job had surgery for a disabling problem. Her supervisor sent a message to the entire organization, advising them of the surgery, providing the individual´s home address, and asking everyone to send a message of support. She received 25 get-well cards over a three-week period and meals provided for a week. She was so touched by the support she stayed with her organization.
Next time: a little more about language and good intentions in the workplace