Mentor, coach or confidante – it can get a bit confusing with all these terms – is there a big difference in the relationships. Last week, we discussed the role of the coach or mentor, today we will talk about the role of a confidante. There are several factors to help you decide if you have someone trustworthy or are being a good confidante to someone else.

A confidant is someone who you entrust with your private information. The relationship may be personal or work related. Some confidantes are professional in nature – your doctor, counselor, priest, lawyer or psychiatrist. Experts deal with sensitive information routinely; with ethically or professionally boundaries to keep your information private.

Selecting another individual to be your confidante is a serious decision for you; it is a sign of your trust in them. Unlike a coach or mentor, a confidante can also be a co-worker or outside peer relationship. Their level of accountability to you is driven by their personal values. Their role may be to listen, provide advice or act on your behalf. Are they someone who will protect your privacy forever? It is up to you to define the relationship with them. If you assume, chances are your needs will not be met and you may get hurt in the process.

Once you share information, ultimately, whether it stays with a confidante or is passes to someone else, it is out of your control.

Assessing how reliable someone is – takes time and experience. Rarely, do we know someone is trustworthy upon our first meeting. Observe what someone does with the information you share. For example:

  • Do they say they will keep your information secret, yet infuse it in the rumor mill?
  • Have you seen them share other people’s private information?
  • Do they say “I am not suppose to share this but….” or “I know I can trust you with this…”
  • Do they use information to benefit themselves?
  • Does this person hold “power” in the organization, knowing the latest gossip?

If so, your secrets may be too tempting to keep private. Another litmus test: if you were to leave the company, would your confidante share your information after your departure with management or other employees? If so, the relationship may not be as solid as you might think. Remember – information is power and you are giving access to your golden key.

If you want to test someone on whether or not they can hold your confidential information, here are a couple of ways to do it:

  1. Share something with them that is personal, and at the same time you don’t mind if it gets out in the rumor mill
  2. Make up something which does not hurt anyone and might be of interest to the office grapevine

Wait to see if what you shared or some form of it appears in general discussion. If so, re-evaluate your opinion of how trustworthy confidant is with you.

Beware of the phone call you receive from someone who wants to share the “dirt” on other people in the organization. It is a ploy or tactic for gaining your trust. You may initially think – if they share this information, you must be a close friend or confidante to them. WRONG. It is an attempt to gain your trust so that you will voice your opinion on the subject. Invariably, your comments will provide them new content for their next call. Ask yourself, who does this call benefit?

There is a caveat to confidentiality. If the information you or someone else shares is illegal or may harm someone, the likelihood a confidante will not keep the secret. Let’s take an example in the workplace. An employee shares with a confidante that another employee is sexually harassing them. The employee does not know where to turn, so believes they can trust someone who might understand or sympathize what is happening to them.

Most employers have very clear guidelines for employees and supervisors who learn about or are experiencing this situation. The Labor and Employment Law Blog shares a wealth of information on this topic and addresses the lines of confidentiality in Harassment Allegation Confidentiality – Some Considerations for Employers. The reality is withholding this information can be not only personally damaging, but ethically or legally challenging.

Having a confidante is a great benefit when the relationship is productive and supportive. Build your alliances slowly and reap the rewards of trusting relationships. Try to reciprocate the favor.