Start by asking yourself, what do others need to know about the person or challenging situation to be able to give you helpful ideas. Others who work with the individual do not always need to know everything about that person to help. However, sometimes they do need to know certain things. Likewise, sometimes people ask for information about an individual and we need to decide whether they need to know or not. The principle of need to know applies to both the person asking for help and the person offering help.

Your decision whether to tell a piece of personal information about the individual which has not been shared with you in confidence should be based on the need of the person to know that fact in order to give advice that improves or maintains the individual’s well-being. For instance, your supervisor needs to know about significant events that will affect the types of services provided and how they are delivered. Others who can give helpful advice do not need to take any action and may not need those details. If the person you ask for help asks for personal details about the individual, you should ask them, “Why do you need to know this?” Based on the answer, you can decide if you agree that your advisor indeed “needs to know.” It is sometimes a tough decision to make.

If you are being asked for helpful ideas by another person and you feel you need a piece of personal information to give good advice, always explain why you feel you need to know that. Respect the decision of the other person as to whether to tell you what you want to know.

If possible, talk to the individual you need help with ahead of time about your need to get advice. Work out with them what they feel comfortable with you sharing in balance with what you feel you need to share for the advice to be helpful. There are also some legal and professional limits to confidentiality, like if keeping something secret puts the individual or others in danger (e.g., someone could get hurt, or the person’s illegal activity makes you an accessory after the fact).