I remember being in elementary school like it was yesterday. I was a mischievous, talkative kid and spent a lot of time out in the hallway. And this was back when teachers took pride in making their own homemade paddles for kids like me. My favorite paddle had flowers drawn on it and the words "love pats" written on it in color. Another time my friend hid some small colored pencils in his back pocket while we waited out in the hall. He went first and the paddle cracked. Then when I got smacked, the paddle broke into pieces. I could tell it startled my second-grade teacher so I yelled and cried as loud as I could to add to our fun. My worst paddling was in tenth grade when my Algebra teacher walked in just before I attempted a three-point shot of my homework into the trash can. He called me out in front of everyone and gave me a choice...sit down and don't take the shot or take the shot and get 3 licks if I missed. I missed. He was also the tennis coach...and the baseball coach. Note to self: Don't get paddled by the man who teaches people how to swing really hard.
And a favorite habit of my teachers was to leave the room for a smoke break in the lounge and leave one of the good kids in charge of writing down the names of the bad kids while they were out of the room. I sweet talked my name off of a lot of lists just before the teacher got back to class.
And a line I remember well that was used by teachers and students alike was this, "Don't be a tattle tale." A tattle tale brand was a scarlet letter in fourth grade. No one wanted to be banned from the cool kids' lunch table, forever called a tattle tale.
Interestingly, some of those childhood traumas follow us right into our careers. Noone wants to be known as a teacher's pet, a nerd or a tattle tail.
But sadly, we often let that fear prevent us from being adults who are brave enough to do the right thing...which oddly enough is often to go and tell a leader about a problem you know about. If nobody talks, then problems just continue to grow like mold until one day they are serious issues.
So here are some examples of when it is okay to "keep it between us" or "off the record" vs when it's time to show courage and bring some other leaders into the conversation.
- "The guy I'm dating in the office is a narcissist. I'm thinking of breaking up with him." (totally okay to be a friend and keep it confidential)
- "The guy I'm dating in the office has a real temper. He actually hit me this weekend." (time to stop the train, get off and talk to a leader)
- "My leader keeps asking me out for dinner even though I've said no. I'm afraid it's going to affect my job; but please don't say anything." (fire alarm...this is harassment and leadership needs to consider this a HIGHLY urgent, highly important HR situation.) Leaders have a legal process that needs to be followed right now.
- "I've been down in the dumps lately...I plan to reach out to a counselor this week to talk about it." (this is fine to keep between friends for now...they are getting help)
- "I feel like my family would be better off if I weren't here anymore." (HIGHLY urgent to get some leaders involved to offer this person professional help, even if your friend gets angry.)
The bottom line is that too often, people operate in fear. Fear of losing a friend; fear of getting sued; or just fear of getting involved. And HR leaders and legal counsel sometimes add to the fear unnecessarily. But anytime that a person is physically or emotionally unsafe, deep down they are begging someone to care enough to step up and get involved. JG