I’m in the “secret” business.
People often confide in me.
Because I spend most of my day with decision makers, many of the secrets I hear are simply privileged information ranging from thoughts about organizational direction to personnel questions.
The news is not necessarily bad and may include discussions about promotions or how to distribute profits.
The conversation about secrets, however, can sometimes turn into the “office of the confessional.”
And then I begin to hear different kinds of secrets. These are the secrets born of mistrust, hurt, and fear—the kinds of secrets we all know too well.
This is what I have learned about secrets.
The Different Kinds of Secrets
Secrets come in two forms—benign and toxic.
People know the difference between a secret that protects and one that harms.
They know a surprise birthday party is not the same kind of secret as an affair.
Part of my job is to make sure people are clear about the kinds of secrets they are keeping and why they are keeping those secrets.
Why We Keep Secrets
We keep secrets because we are frightened, angry, hurt or unsafe.
We keep secrets because we have lost trust and feel out of control.
The secret and the information we have give us a feeling of control, at least temporarily.
In order to maintain control, we must maintain the secret; and to do so, we sometimes choose to mislead or even lie.
The Two Ways We Keep Secrets
We keep secrets by confiding in others or by misleading others.
From time to time when a client tells me their secrets, they are telling me they have lied or are about to lie to someone.
Sometime they are not even aware they have lied.
Most people think of lying as actively misleading someone by giving false information.
There is another way to lie— by withholding information.
Nice people, it seems, like to lie by omission.
They lie not by what they say but by what they leave out.
What to Do?
I have worked in organizations where it is neither wise nor appropriate to share some secrets because of the way they might be received.
I do not regard that as lying.
I regard that as being prudent about what one shares and when one shares it.
I also believe secrets sometimes should be withheld until the person being addressed is in a proper frame of mind to hear what is being said.
That being said I believe it is best to be as transparent as possible.
We do that by caring.
Caring enough to hold ourselves to a high standard.
Caring enough about others to tell them the truth.
People (and organizations) are as healthy as their biggest secrets.
This week look at your world and the world of those you care about.
What are the secrets that need to stop being secrets?