The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Rules to ease communication

When people meet in a group, they will always assess how safe they feel in that relationship. It impacts what they will decide to talk about and how. Whenever people feel vulnerable about a subject they start to adapt what they are sharing to the anxiety they experience. It is an anxiety telling them, that sharing could have an impact on their reputation or sense of safety.

It thus has become a frequent habit to establish rules of confidentiality. However, these rules often create just as awkward situations. It makes it difficult to use information gained, even when it would be useful. It can also establish a secret about things that should be shared.

Confidentiality rules are absolute. Responsibility then is about making a yes or no choice to share information from that group. It pushes common sense away and opens the door to moralizing.

This is not to say that confidentiality doesn’t have a place in group meetings.

However, what it does say, is that rules should serve the purpose of the meeting and the interest of the group. It also says that it is worthwhile to think about alternatives and the reasoning while establishing rules for a group.

An interesting alternative to the confidentiality rule, at least in some situations, is the Chatham House Rule:

“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

This rule allows talking about opinions as shared within the community while inviting openness on critical subjects or polarizing subjects in the conversation. It allows people to voice things they sometimes would not be able to voice should it be confused with the organization they stand for, or in which they want to continue evolving.

Having no rule at all, that is none beyond social conventions, sometimes has the advantage to make it easier for people to stick to social conventions.

It is a matter of choice and purpose.


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