Before I went on holiday, I had a reader reach out to me about how her trust had been betrayed – she had confided in a friend and said friend had gone on to tell other people what she had shared. I could sympathise with her and like many people, I could understand how the actions of her friend’s poor judgement had affected her. I asked if she was comfortable to share what had happened without going into too much details and she agreed to share her story. Reading through her story, there were many questions I wanted to ask her but one question I asked almost immediately after reading her story was if she had asked her friend why she had done what she did? My reader advised that she had decided to not ask her friend but she was not sure there was much of a friendship left to salvage in her opinion. I was sad that her friendship with this person would end this way and suggested that she asked her friend about what happened when she was feeling less emotional.
Thinking back on my conversation with this reader, I remembered a couple of people I knew who always happened to be in certain places when certain confidential conversations were being had. One of such persons would then turn around after having these conversations she advised were confidential and lie to other people that she heard it from the person she told initially. For months I had been friends with these people and they had even come into my home – however, certain conversations I had had in confidence were out there and it was only when it happened to me that I realised that all this while, they had been speaking about other people to me! I realised that I had started viewing certain people in our social circles through their narratives and to be honest, I felt ashamed. Since then, I have always been cautious of people who always seem to know something no one knows or happen to be confided in by someone else only to share that information casually with no regard for the other person. So you see, I understood how my reader felt and to be honest, I had broken these rules myself when I had told someone else what was told me in confidence.
I remembered the story of an old friend who had signed up to volunteer at a local charity – a few weeks into this worthy course, she noticed that the leader of this charity was abusing their role. She observed that on days she was not able to attend, she received the silent treatments and when she went back the following week, she was given tasks to do that she had had no training on – this was also the same for other volunteers. She spoke to one of the ladies in the group whom she had befriended about the issue – however, she asked her to not say anything as she was not ready to discuss with this leader. Unfortunately, this person went straight to the leader and relayed what this lady had said about her time volunteering at this charity! By the time she got to find out what had happened, everyone in this place knew and she was forced to leave something she enjoyed doing. One question this old friend as well as this reader kept asking was why these people had broken their trust in the way they did. When it comes to why people break confidentiality, there are several reasons why this could happen – however these four reasons below comes to mind;
1.Not knowing the information being shared was in confidence – Lets face it, there have been instances when someone had shared information and had not mentioned that it was in confidence so people had assumed that it was not confidential. Sometimes, information that may seem important to one person may seem trivial to the other person so they did not think it was a big deal sharing it – we are all wired differently. So if you must share information that is sensitive to you, ensure that you make your listener aware that you are counting on them keeping the information shared confidential. Setting the expectation of the listener about what is being shared, will save both parties from disappoinent and shame. If you have shared information you did not know was shared in confidence, apologise.
2. Wanting to provide clarity in the face of gossip – A few years ago, a friend of mine felt I had broken confidence because I has shared something he had told me with a mutual friend of ours. However, at the centre of this conversation was someone going round spreading malicious rumours about our mutual friend. Our mutual friend was struggling with how she was being treated in a certain social circle not knowing what she had done – when I heard the story, I know immediately why she was being treated the way she was. So I informed her of what this other person was saying about her – in hindsight, I should have made my friend aware I was going to tell our mutual friend, however I did not. In this instance, my reason was to stop malicious gossip from continuing which eventually did when my friend confronted the gossip. This is why I asked the reader that got in touch to speak to her friend, there may have been a reason for why confidentiality was broken.
3. Genuinely being concerned about someone – years ago, a couple of ladies that went to the same church met for coffee and a catch up. While they were conversing, one of the ladies narrated how she had been struggling lately in her job and was also feeling drained emotionally. She was so down she even alluded to ending her life – which she later jokingly brushed aside. However, one of the ladies she was meeting with had survived an attempted suicide and was concerned for her friend. So after their meeting, she informed the leader of their church who then reached out to this other lady. Initially, she was enraged that her friend had made her look weak in the eyes of someone she did not know personally. For days she was angry but after conversations with this leader of their church, she admitted that she started feeling better knowing someone cared. Personally, I think the friend should have suggested that she speaks to the religious leader before going ahead and sharing her friend’s story but I am also conscious that with her own experience, she was concerned for the well being of her friend.
4. People are just naughty – I wrote at the beginning of this post about people I once knew who always happened to be in the right place at the right time when information was being shared. One of these women spoke about every conversation she had had including sensitive family matters – especially of people in her husband’s family whom I never knew. During a very difficult season in my life, this lady invited me out for a meal – at the meal, she revealed conversations had between her and mutual friends and as she was about to reveal some more secrets, I changed the subject. I was no longer comfortable and I suddenly felt sick. I had trusted this person with information on someone I greatly admired and had asked for her advise while at this table. However a few moments into our meal she was painting this person I admired in a very bad light – this was when I realised my mistake. Fast forward a few weeks after our lunch date and my relationship with this other person my lunch buddy was talking about became strained without me having a chance to explain myself. For years I was angry with this woman – because if I thought about why she did it, I could not think of any reason why she would behave the way she did. I started distancing myself from her and the relationship ended – this person was toxic and so are many people out there. They will happily discuss what had been shared with them in confidence without any reason why or to make people seem bad in the eyes of others.
We humans are social beings and sometimes, we have information that we want to share with people in our lives. I however think we should all make a habit of telling people that information we are sharing is confidential so they know what is being asked of them. If you know you are unable to keep their information safe, then tell them the truth so there are no disappointments down the line. However, if you do decide to listen, then keep safe what has been entrusted to you – unless it is a crime, then report it – lol you don’t want to be complicit. In the event you must tell someone, make sure you make the person aware and why you feel you need to tell someone – like in points two and three. If you are behaving like the person in point four – stop it! What you are doing hurts people – it is not every information you hear that you must pass on, respect the trust people have placed in you and be a decent human being.
Like explained in point one, if you have broken confidentiality – please apologise and explain why without making excuses. Thank you so much for always getting in touch and sharing your stories. Let us continue to effect change by sharing our experiences.