It was winter break, and my son Jeffrey was ten years old. I was curled up on the couch with my computer and I let him in on a little secret: I was buying his dad, Bill, a massage table for his birthday in February. It was something Bill had coveted since we had started taking massage courses together. Jeffrey looked a little uncomfortable with this news, but when I asked him what was wrong, he sloughed me off. Since he wasn’t forthcoming, I just went ahead and pressed “place order” and didn’t give it another thought.
Two days later, a huge package showed up at our door. Impressed with Amazon’s efficiency, I stashed it away.
One week later, my January birthday arrived, and Bill was distressed. “I am so sorry. I ordered you something, but it hasn’t come yet.”
But there were flowers and a card – so I thought I had already received my gift. I was happy.
Three days later, another enormous box arrived. It was addressed to me. That’s when I started to put two and two together. I lugged out the other box. It was addressed to Bill. I was guessing that we were now the owners of two massage tables! When Bill got home and we opened both boxes, there was a lot of laughter. We wondered how much return shipping would cost!
It became clear that Jeffrey had known all along. When I asked why he didn’t tell us, he said, “You both told me not to tell.”
I see this type of scenario play out in business all the time. It’s commonplace to come upon confidential and sensitive information in the workplace. And my experience tells me that we’re ill-equipped to handle it well. We don’t talk enough about who to tell, when to tell, what to tell, and how to tell.
If harassment, discrimination, or ethics are involved, it’s your responsibility to report it! Yup, if you see something, say something. But beyond that, the waters are murky. If you’ve been taken into someone’s confidence, your role should be to support and guide that person, and always encourage them to take the appropriate steps to address the situation. It’s not your job to fix the problem or to become the spokesperson. I encourage organizations to develop policies around sensitive information.
Ultimately, in Jeffrey’s situation, he did the right thing, even though we did have to pay for return postage. What conundrums with sensitive topics have you encountered faced about sensitive topics at work?