“Over-promising” often occurs as a result of unqualified statements. Sometimes, those statements are made inadvertently; other times, they may be made recklessly or through ignorance. Sometimes they are harmless; other times, they can mislead and create false expectations that cannot be met.
One area in which it is always good to be wary of unqualified statements is the area of confidentiality and privacy.
For example, if as a mediator, I were to say to the parties something like:
Information you give me is confidential. I will never, in any circumstances, disclose it
I would be “over-promising”. That is because there may be circumstances where disclosure could be required or permitted by law.
Similarly, if a recruiter were to say to a candidate something like:
Information about our candidates can never, in any circumstances, be disclosed for a purpose other than finding them employment
that recruiter might be “over-promising”. Again, that is because there may be circumstances where disclosure could be required or permitted by law. You can probably think of a few of them. Some of them appear as exceptions to privacy principles. There may be other exceptions that apply at common law.
The danger in over-promising on confidentiality and privacy is that the person you’re dealing with might be misled into divulging information. Had your statement been properly qualified, they might not have willingly disclosed it to you. Consent may have been improperly obtained – not being sufficiently informed. And the information may have been obtained unfairly.
In short, “over-promising” on confidentiality and privacy crosses the boundaries of professionalism. So, it’s essential to know where the limits of confidentiality and privacy lie and to mark them out carefully.
Andrew C. Wood