When Not to Keep a Secret

September 10, 2021

As the leader of the Adizes Institute, I insist that there are no secrets, save for proprietary information pertaining to our clients, which is sacred. What happens inside the Institute has to be totally transparent. This means if Joe comes to me and tells me something about Bill (perhaps something has happened that should not have happened), or he has some criticism of Bill which he puts in an email, I immediately forward that email to Bill—to let him know what Joe said about him.
           This usually gets Joe very upset with me. I have a reputation within the Institute that I don't keep secrets. It is not that I'm immoral or not trustworthy. Rather, it is part of my philosophy that if Bill has a problem with Joe, or Joe with Bill, they should talk to each other and deal with the issue head on.       When Joe sends me a complaint about Bill and wants me to keep it a secret, what this really tells me is that the issue is not going to be solved. Joe is just passing the buck to me about the problem, which gets him out of dealing with it, and I have now to deal with Bill while keeping Joe’s as a source of the information secret.
           This behavior is toxic. People who operate in this fashion are toxic. They spread rumors and information that cannot be substantiated because it is "secret." This kind of behavior should be forbidden. Secrets should be kept sacred when disclosing and making them public does not bring any benefit—such as when disclosure does not help to solve the secret problem.  Take private and personal information, for example. Let’s say that Bill has cancer. If he wants to keep this information private and asks you not to share it with anyone, then you're obliged not to spread it. Spreading Bill’s personal information will not help his cancer, it will only make people pity him, which will increase his anguish.
           So, when you are the keeper of any type of information—the confidant—ask yourself this question: should this information be kept secret? The answer lies in what can be done about it. If something can be done which requires the cooperation of others, then the information should not be kept secret. If the information (if it were to be revealed) could not be controlled, or if it is solvable only by the individual with or from whom it was confided, then it is private;  and if the originator asks that it be kept secret, their request should be respected and followed.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes