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Keep Secrets

 

Techniques > How to > How Can I Get People to Trust Me? > Keep Secrets

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

When people entrust you with secrets, always keep them. Never tell them to others and certainly never turn a secret into gossip. Even when you will never see them again or do not care about them, always keep secrets. Keep secrets even if you learn them from other people, overhear them or otherwise gain knowledge about them.

If you are unwilling to keep a secret, for example if you are an open person or always tell your partner what you have heard, stop anyone from telling you their secrets as soon as you know they are entrusting you. If you feel you should tell somebody else the secret, then first ask permission to do this from the person entrusting you.

If you gain knowledge about a person that, if spread, could harm them, either say nothing about this or check with them first before spreading the knowledge. Remember that things you may consider trivial may be important to them. The reverse can be true too.

Make a show of your secret-keeping. Listen to people without judgement. Promise to keep secrets they tell you. Be shocked at attempts by others to make you reveal secrets, saying you would never do that. Show that you are a person who is serious about keeping the secrets of others.

When there are moral issues involved, you may yet have to decide to reveal a secret. But do consider the impact both on the person involved and also how it will reflect on your reputation.

Example

In a work conversation a manager is told in confidence by a subordinate they are dyslexic and feel ashamed of this. The manager never tells others but spends time helping the person cope with the resulting of their disability.

A friend starts telling me about misdeeds in their youth. I stop them and say I'd rather not know.

A person overhears a friend talking about a secret affair. They feel sorry for the friend's wife. They decide to tell their friend they have overheard the conversation but will not reveal the secret.

Discussion

When a person confides in us, they already trust us. Keeping their secrets will increase their trust. Divulging their secrets will lose their trust.

Sharing secrets can be very tempting as it gains attention from others and shows us to be powerful. Our social status, at least within some groups, may be increased by telling secrets from outside the group. The danger is that a secret shared is a secret lost. If you will share a secret with others, what is to stop them sharing it again with others?

When other people tell us their secrets, they make themselves vulnerable as they are giving us power by which we could harm them. If we betray them, then we may create betrayal effects where they seek disproportionate revenge on us.

Betrayal also has a wider effect where other people see us revealing secrets and so trust us less. If I betray one person, I could betray many others. In this way, while a person may enjoy a bit of gossip, their respect for the gossiper changes as they treat them with greater caution about their own private matters. When you are known to keep secrets, your reputation is enhanced. When you divulge secrets, while people may enjoy learning the secret, they will respect you less for doing so.

Keeping secrets can, however, get you into trouble when you do not reveal criminal or socially disapproved actions you have learned about. This creates a moral dilemma where whatever you do may be problematic. This is the realm of whistle-blowers who may be castigated while doing the right thing.

See also

Values

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