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Keeping a Secret



Hi everybody, I’m Mike Staver. This is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. Here’s this week’s question:

I have a question that there may not be an answer for. I’ve been asked to not share information that was shared with me. I agreed not to share it. However, the information that was shared with me will eventually have a potentially negative impact on another person I know really well. It feels like a trap. Where is the line between keeping my word on the one hand, and helping another person avoid pain in their life?


That’s a tough question. Here is the simple answer, it’s not the easy answer. You gave your word to the first person. And they shared information with you. So, if I violate that information, is that worse than not telling the person who might be hurt by the information that I now know? This is kind of dicey! I think I gotta keep my word to the first person, and measure how bad the trainwreck’s gonna be.

My counsel to you is measure the intensity of the trainwreck. Let me just be ridiculous. If the first person shares “I’m going to firebomb the second person’s house. Don’t tell them.” that’s pretty cut and dry… But if it’s like you’re talking to somebody, and they’re counting on somebody… I’m thinking of a situation right now where a friend of mine was trusted with some very confidential information that could have helped another person, but they kept their word to the first person and it actually worked out. And here’s why it worked out. The first person changed their mind about a month down the road, and it never affected the second person at all. So my friend could have created a big mess had they shared that information.

So, it has to do with the degree of the impact of the trainwreck if you shared it. I’m always a believer, keep your word first, and measure what the downstream impact of that is.

Now, the final thing you could say to the person who you gave your word to, is “Hey, look, that feels like something YOU need to go talk to them about, because if they didn’t know it was happening, I don’t think it’s fair.” I think your work is with the person you made the initial promise to to encourage them to go share it. It’s not your place to share it, unless life, limb, or something like that is at stake.

I’m Mike Staver, take care.

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Years ago I was approached by an organization that wanted to do things differently. They asked me if I believed there was a way to make the development of leaders more predictable.

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