The Space of Trust

A while back, I promised a blog post on confidentiality, a topic I hold dear. As you may recall, I was struggling with coming across as sanctimonious. I had set a June deadline though, so here goes…

Moving home to PEI has been a great move. Personally and professionally, I am thriving and enjoying the benefits of small city living. After decades in big cities, I love all the connections I encounter every single day.

Conducting business in a smaller market presents challenges though. Maintaining confidences is one of the biggest ones.

In business and in life, I have been on the receiving end of a number of unintended slips of the tongue. The conditions that make maintaining confidentiality challenging in a small place, also make providing examples of such breaches touchy. I’ve modified some examples to illustrate what concerns me.

Picture sitting in a waiting room while you wait for medical imaging.  A former client and his wife are there as well, looking on edge. As you are brought into the imaging room, the technician mentions that they have some difficult cases to deal with that afternoon. You wonder, with some sadness, if your former client and his wife are ok.

Next you’re at a business mixer with an accounting colleague. He points out the guy in the grey suit across the room (whom you know and respect), and complains that that “grey suit guy” wasted a lot of his time and ended up hiring someone else. Until that time, you liked and respected them both. Now you’re questioning their integrity.

Your massage therapist, in the midst of treatment, mentions that your aunt was in the day before and isn’t it such a shame that her sore back is preventing her from playing golf. Isn’t it her business what ailments she has and what treatments she gets?

In all of these examples, the better course of action, in my opinion would have been to say nothing. Patients deserve confidentiality. Business people deserve confidentiality. People can reveal what they want about themselves. Gossip or unwitting slips of the tongue are rarely helpful.

As coaches, we create space for clients. The container we create offers a safe and confidential place for our clients to open up without fear of judgment or repercussions. In order to open up and sometimes dig deep, clients need to trust that their coach will hold their confidence fully and completely. There’s a strict Code of Ethics we follow to bring standards to a profession that is still not mature.

This means that you won’t ever hear me talk about whom I am coaching. Some clients have me sign a confidentiality agreement. Most don’t. I willingly sign as I know my own standards and Code of Ethics will keep me on track with or without an agreement.

Whether Montreal or Charlottetown, we live in a very connected world. I challenge us all to think twice before we share details of someone else’s life.

As Hillary Clinton has said, “We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it.”

Let us all hold each other to a high standard.

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  1. Jeff Stone on June 8, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Wow, your intro sounded so tentative but you really nailed it! Thought provoking (and not sanctimonious at all!). I appreciate the opportunity to reflect more deeply on my own practice in this area. Thank You.

  2. Angelo Pesce on June 8, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Well said. I couldn’t agree more. Confidentiality is something that as an HR professional I truly believe in. Great article.


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