If you’re in a position of authority and you tell one of your team members, “don’t share this with anyone,” thin ice magically appears below your feet as well as theirs.
You have just created a precarious predicament. Both of you are implicated – you in sharing and them in knowing.
Asking a team member to withhold information from other team members borders on asking them to be covert.
There are times that call for short-term confidential measures.
Though there are many times when this type of request is unnecessarily made – which puts the team member in an awkward position – loyalty to their boss vs. transparency with their co-workers.
As leaders, sometimes we simply don’t want to be all alone holding the heavy bag of knowledge – and yet as a leader, that’s what there is to do. Other times, we want a sounding board to validate our tough decisions – instead seek someone who is not your team member. I’ve also seen this language used to strengthen bonds of trust. There are much more productive ways to build trust, and know, depending on the situation, you may actually be deemed less trustworthy.
Be really thoughtful before you make this request. Ask yourself: Does this person have to know this information at this time? And if so, do they really need to keep it hidden? What positive outcome comes from having this person know this information now – can they truly contribute to resolving the source of the secret?
Also know that when you tell someone “don’t share this with anyone” you have just up-leveled the seriousness of that communication tenfold. Make sure the content is truly “top secret” worthy before you burden your team member.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight with fireworks and ALL CAPS that overall transparency and direct communication should be your cultural go-to default.