Q. People often approach me, asking me to share information about projects I’m involved in. While there’s nothing superficially wrong with their requests, I’m uncomfortable sharing some of what they are asking for. How should I handle this?
— Evan, process improvement analyst
A. Consider the sources of your discomfort so you can make appropriate choices.
Think first about the people involved. Are there specific individuals who trigger your discomfort, or is it more general?
If it’s specific, think about the people in question. If they have misused information in the past, your reaction is understandable. And it may be a wise response.
However, it seems that this would be an obvious red flag to you, so my hunch is that is not the issue.
Sometimes our reactions to people are based on experiences with others in their roles, or with similar personalities. This situation is more difficult, as you may be reacting unfairly to them. It’s worth reflecting on this, rather than just acting on intuition.
Consider ways you can get more information to assess your reactions. For example, your boss or some other trusted colleague may have a perspective on dealing with these folks.
It might be about you, too. For example if you have changed roles recently and are handling new information, caution is understandable. After all, once information is out, you can’t get it back. If the information is highly strategic and there’s rational reason for concern, it’s OK to be careful. Again, your boss should be a useful adviser.
Or if you have been burned in the past, you might be overcautious. In this case, each time you are asked for something, take a breath and consider what the worst thing is that could happen. This will give you perspective on the actual risk.
Be sure you are not being an information miser. In my view, this is one of the cardinal sins in an organization. If you chronically hold onto information, if you are afraid to let anything out, or if you get a sense of importance or power from being in the know, you may have a problem.
You have likely encountered this yourself; reflect on how you feel when dealing with that, and adjust your own behavior if needed.
Then use some concrete approaches to handle requests that come your way.
Figure out what you can share. In a project role, you may be involved in some strategic initiatives that really shouldn’t be shared. Yet, organizational curiosity may be high.
This problem is likely shared by others on the project team, so work together on messages that you are comfortable sharing more broadly.
Also, there may be a more general answer you can provide that doesn’t overshare but still addresses the need. Get to this by using a consultative approach.
When people ask for information, explore the problem they are trying to solve and get a deeper understanding of their need.
Then, rather than giving a lot of information, you can give them a more targeted response.
This exposes less information to broader distribution than you’re comfortable with.
Find the sweet spot between being an open book and withholding too much, knowing that you will learn the balance through both failures and successes.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column at www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.