It is a privilege to have helpful and available friends during times of difficulty or personal struggle. Regardless of the situation, they are available to lend an ear, shoulder, or hand to help you through your current challenge. You confide in them because you trust them, but what happens when they violate that trust?

Violating trust slices deep into the heart of the victim. Even with the best intentions, the relational damage remains until it the transgression is addressed.

The further trouble often results despite the good intentions of the transgressor. They mistakenly believe they can help by intervening in your problem as an attempt to help solve it. One major problem with this assumption is that they forget their actions take the control away from the person they are attempting to help. If the issue relates to another person, they no longer control the timing of a potential difficult conversation and may be blindsided when confronted. They no longer have the opportunity to proactively address an issue and may find themselves in a defensive position.

I remember confiding in a friend about a particular problem I was experiencing with a boss. He knew this person and believed he could help the situation by placing a call to convey some “helpful” advice. He had great intentions, but his actions only served to put me in a confrontational situation before I was ready. I was preparing for an opportunity to address the issue on my terms. Rather, I was blind-sided and had to defend myself about both the issue I was struggling with and the fact that a trust was violated. A relatively minor issue was blown out of proportion and my plans for a constructive conversation became laced with accusatory and threatening language. This also gave the boss more reason to continue his bad behavior and avoid taking responsibility for the core issue. This experienced happened years ago, but I think these types interactions continue every day between friends, bosses, and co-workers.

I hope my personal vulnerability will cause you to take a look at your personal confidentiality policy. In your desire to help others, you may want to consider such a policy.

Here is my personal policy on confidences:

  • I cannot hold confident any information concerning actions or intent to do bodily or psychological harm to others or themselves. Reporting these instances to the proper authorities is always the right choice. Current news stories give ample evidence how important it is to report such instances regardless of one’s good intentions.
  • “It is OK as long as nobody else gets hurt” is a lie. Someone always gets hurt and this argument typically rationalizes bad behavior. I simply point out who is being hurt.
  • I always encourage personal responsibility. If a friend needs to address an issue, it is always best to initiate a corrective or reconciling step rather than wait for the unknown “moment of truth.”

In an effort to be helpful, it is tempting to take matters into our own hands even if it means violating confidences. Building and maintain trust is critical to success in today’s complex world. Violating confidence is the quickest way to destroy it.

What would you add to a personal confidentiality policy?

Trying to Help or Violating Trust