In this, the fourth episode in the anatomy of trust, we're exploring the concept of the vault. This is basically slang speak for keeping confidentiality. As in, what you tell me gets put in the vault and only you and I can access it.
The vault is a very important part of trust. Someone telling our secrets is the first form of betrayal most of us experience from our peers. If I were to ask you to describe an incident in which someone violated your confidentiality in a way that ended a friendship, you could no doubt point out an incident in primary school (or perhaps even before) as the first time it happened.
Violating confidentiality is a betrayal, and often we find ourselves unable to trust that person again. It shows that they value our private life and the relationship we share less than we do. Clearly, they don't respect us enough to keep our secrets.
That's pretty self-evident, to be honest. We all know how awful it feels to have some stranger casually mention something we had only told one person. But that's not the end of it – gossiping is a version of this trust-breaker.
Think about it: if that person is telling you all of someone else's juicy drama...what do they do with your stuff? Gossiping is a habit that's hard to break, and giving someone inside gossip erodes the trust they feel for us. If you gossip to someone about a third party, I guarantee you they are less likely to tell you anything sensitive in future.
Leaking confidential work details leads to being sacked, regardless of sector or industry. And yet often we (as women generally, obviously there are exceptions to this rule) put up with people breaking confidence in our personal lives. It somehow seems less important if someone leaks news of our new relationship before it's Facebook official.
But the data strongly suggest that relationships – particularly family or close personal relationships, in case anyone in the audience is related to a serial gossip – in which privacy is not respected are more likely to result in abuse. If the gossiper isn't an active abuser, it still creates a pattern in our lives that makes it easier for the jerks to fly under our radars and take advantage of us. The low-grade trust erosion of gossip acclimates us to an unhealthy norm, which leaves an open door for bigger, badder problems down the road.
Now that we're clear on ridding our lives of trust violators, how are we supposed to know if new people are respectful of privacy?
First up, listen to how they talk about other people. That's a really good indicator of how they'll talk about you when your back's turned. If they give you the latest dirt on everyone they know, walk on by without sharing any of your stuff. Even some name-dropping behaviour is included in this category – is the famous person the star of the story they're telling, and is their identity and past work relevant to the punch line (which justifies them mentioning that so-and-so was there), or are they simply peppering their stories with famous names to make themselves look well-connected?
If they don't gossip to you, start them off with small things. Pick topics that don't trigger you or others close to you, and share from those. Encourage them to share on a similar level. If they 1) remember that you told them something significant, and 2) don't gossip about you, they can be trusted with bigger things. Repeat the process until you have a friendship.
What about racers trying to figure out if they can trust journalists who request interviews? Sometimes you can think an interview went great, and discover that you've been mis-quoted and taken out of context and the internet now says you said something you never intended to say. Do a little bit of research on their work before you accept the interview, and trust your gut.
Find interviews they've done of people whose voices you're familiar with. If the voices in the interviews sound recognisably authentic – they show the same biases as in other interviews, they follow the same path of logical thought, they use the same words – the journalist has probably rendered it honestly. If you can find the source material, read the entire conversation to get the context, and check whether the rendered version sounds plausible. If it sounds too good to be true – eg. Hamilton being mis-quoted to say that there should be more women in motorsport – check for independent sources to verify the journalist's agenda.
If you're the one in the interviewer's chair, give people comfort before asking questions. If you think a topic might be a sensitive one, ask permission before asking the question, and respect their 'no' if they give you one. If possible, let people look over the transcript before it goes to print so they can edit their comments if they think they're being misrepresented. Be honest about your agenda for the interview; we all have agendas in our work, and they can decline if your agenda doesn't match theirs.
Basically, the vault comes down to respect. If we have unconditional positive regard for others, we will respect their basic human right to privacy. That right is only forfeit when someone is in violation of the law – rapists and fraudsters, for example – and telling the truth about them to the authorities is the egalitarian choice. The only other caveat is if someone tells you they want to hurt/kill themselves; then you can take them to the hospital for observation. Otherwise, the vault is bullet-proof.