Have you ever heard something that you just couldn’t keep to yourself? Assuming you are older than 5… I hope you were able to resist the urge.

Sure, there are times when we are bursting at the seams to tell someone something we just heard. What if the person that told you said… please keep this confidential and just between us?

Do you have the fortitude to hold back and keep a confidence? If you don’t I suspect you will not be hearing a lot of confidential information… at least not more than once.

I posted the following on Facebook the other day. I received some great replies. You can see them here.

Keeping Confidences – I learned this from my parents, but it was reinforced during my time at Microsoft. I am regularly surprised by people that cannot keep them.

Every day we all hear information that we do NOT pass on and and we do NOT share with others. Why? Because the person that shared the information asked us not to. For most people that’s all that is needed.

Machiavellian Corollary – There are some people you know will share whatever you tell them. No matter how “confidential” you claim the information to be.

In business and life

Having the ability to keep confidences is something that is not just for business. It’s for life. Much like we learned in Kindergarten and from the playground there are rules that still apply as we get older.

Whether you are new to your career or have many years in your chosen profession. Your ability to keep confidences is measure of your ability to be trusted and perhaps more important it is one of the most critical components to your overall success. People that can keep confidences have longer careers.

In your business dealings you will be privy to information that should not be shared. Sometimes people will tell you this and provide this guidance. Other times you will need to use your common sense. Common Sense is important. Use it wisely. A Tip: If in doubt… Don’t Share It Out!

Deal Breakers – When the confidential information being shared is Ethically, Morally or Socially Wrong you have a responsibility to break a confidence. When this line is crossed… you will know and you should act.

Cone of silence

Most everyone who has ever spoken to me about business or personal matters has heard me say… I assume everything we are talking about is Under the Cone of Silence. If you have ever seen the old TV show “Get Smart” you might have seen where this saying comes from. (pic)

I say this because I mean it. And I mean it as much for me as I do for the person I’m speaking with. I say it because I want the person to know that they can trust me not to share what I’ve heard and that I expect them to follow the same rule.

I also always add “unless and until I hear otherwise from you” – I add this because if the person DOES want me to share something or some part of the conversation I’m letting them know they have to tell me what I can share.

Simple rule of thumb

Assume Everything you hear is confidential UNLESS you are specifically instructed otherwise. You career and your reputation depend on it.

It’s simple. Master the ability to Keep Confidences. It is your Secret Weapon for Success.


Jeff is a veteran in the Enterprise Content Management industry. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. Jeff is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances at Winshuttle. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), K2, Captaris, Open Text, Kofax and Kodak. He speaks and blogs about ECM and the Intersection between Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing.