Business Etiquette / Managing People / Selling Skills


In 2016, @ETIQhour will concentrate on the top 15 Business Etiquette Essentials every future leader will want to know. Each fortnight a new Essential has been released: Essential #7: Privacy.

Rightly so, but these days most organisations expect employees to maintain a level of confidentiality both internally and externally when dealing with internal team units, customers, clients and business partners. Keeping proprietary information a secret is important to a company’s ability to thrive in the long run. Understanding this, and proving yourself as a trustworthy employee, helps you build a reputation for credibility, which strengthens your relationships with co-workers, supervisors and clients.


Internal confidentiality includes maintaining secrets related to inter-department communication as well as communication between managers and employees. Departments sometimes work on projects that are secretive or proprietary, and the company doesn’t want more people than necessary to know about the work. Many discussions held at the executive level in companies require managers to keep quiet on financial decisions and other matters that employees and outsiders are not supposed to know about.


Companies and employees often have access to customer information that is private and confidential. Salespeople, for instance, may work with two customers that compete with each other in a given industry. The sales staff may become aware of strategies, decisions and information vital to the success of one business. Sharing this knowledge with another company to complete a sale is highly unethical and has potential legal consequences. Some business buyers even require salespeople to sign confidentiality agreements to protect against such issues.


The ability to keep internal and external information confidential is essential to developing a reputation of credibility. When co-workers feel comfortable with your ability to keep secrets, they are more likely to share things with you. Even managers may offer you high-level insights if you prove your trustworthiness with private details. When working with customers or clients, a credible reputation makes customers more comfortable sharing information with you that helps you better sell to or service their business.


The Internet and advanced mobile technology have given rise to new dilemmas in workplace confidentiality. Sending internal and external email increases risks of private information getting out because it is written and disseminated to others. Some companies require employees to include confidentiality statements at the bottom of email noting the importance of keeping information private. Email also can be used in court if legal issues arise. Employees also need to be aware of having conversations of a private nature while in public on cell phones.

Think back: when you joined the company, did you sign a confidentiality agreement with or in conjunction to your employment contract?