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Telling Secrets


Techniques > Conversation techniques > Conversational Traps > Telling Secrets

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



While sometimes telling secrets to others can be exciting and appreciated, doing so may be breaking confidences, result in harm to others, or create social upheaval.

Secrets come in various types, including:

  • Open secrets that many know and which can be discussed without causing any problems.
  • Closed circle secrets that a fixed number of people know and may discuss privately.
  • Implicit secrets that have been confidentially shared but without request not to share.
  • Explicit secrets which include restrictions on who these can and cannot be shared with.
  • Hidden secrets which are not shared but which may be discovered by an inquisitive person.
  • Dark secrets which will cause much shame if revealed.

Secrets can be about other people's private lives, what they have done or confidences they have entrusted you with. Sometimes they are direct secrets you have been told. Sometimes they include things you know but which would obviously embarrass others if you told other people (sometimes telling particular people, such as partners, parents or the police).


A person shares a confidence with a friend who promises not to pass it on, but they do. Soon, the first person is told the secret by another friend...

A person is asked what they know about a friend of theirs. They know the friend has done some things wrong. After some persuading, they reluctantly tell about what their friend had done, reasoning that they have not make any explicit promises not to tell. Later, the friend hears of this betrayal. Now they are not friends at all.


Telling secrets is at the heart of gossip and can lead to admiration and a status boost for the person who reveals them. Telling secrets also builds relationships. When I tell you a secret, then I am showing that I trust you (and so imply that you should trust me.

Telling secrets can also lead to harm being caused to others, even if this is only social harm where people who know the secret now think less of the person.

Telling secrets can easily be a betrayal of trust, and so lead to anger and recrimination of people affected. It also can lead to ambivalence in the person being told the secret. While they may appreciate being told, they can see the betrayal and so may trust the teller less, rather than more.

Sometimes telling secrets is important, particularly when something very wrong has been done. If you do decide to blow the whistle, do be aware that you may receive serious social punishment, even though your actions are based on good values.

See also


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