Debriefing and confidentiality
If you’re working in a position where you’ve got access to your clients’ private information it’s essential to maintain confidentiality in regard to your clients and their information.
If you are the leader or manager of a team or run your own business, you can ensure confidentiality is maintained by:
- conducting all your work either in a secure, private office or in the client’s office
- permanently deleting files – including emails attaching those files – after completing the booking and shredding any hardcopy documents
- after you’ve received or sent files via forwarding or file-sharing sites (Dropbox, WeTransfer), delete them from those sites
- requiring everyone who works for your business to sign a Confidentiality Agreement and understand maintaining confidentiality is part of their role as contractors or employees
- if you’re a small business, opt in to be covered by Australia’s Privacy Laws
- ensuring all your staff/contractors live within Australia
- ensuring your staff/contractors have extensive experience working with confidential material, and referees have verified their experience in maintaining confidentiality
- treating all information in regard to bookings and clients as confidential and not disclosing it to other parties.
Working with sensitive information
A lot of people work with sensitive subject matter as part of their work; e.g. police officers, child protection workers, doctors and teachers. Many jobs involve indirectly working with sensitive subject matter; e.g. through my scribing and editing roles I’ve sometimes worked on transcripts and publications about domestic violence, suicide, accidents, mental illness, rape and other subjects that can be disturbing; and I’ve worked with politically sensitive material that required utmost confidentiality.
Some scribes and editors don’t involve themselves in the subject matter in which they’re working and are not affected at all when those documents involve sensitive or disturbing information. But when I’m scribing or editing I allow myself to become quite engrossed in what the speaker or writer is saying. This highly concentrated listening allows you to very, very accurately transcribe what they are saying, or edit what they have said to get their message across to their audience.
When I’m working with subject where the subject matter is very sensitive, I tend to take more breaks because sensitive or disturbing material is harder to work with. As long as I take plenty of breaks, I am good at handling that type of information.
Everyone needs to debrief at times, especially when they’ve been working with sensitive subject matter. But you still need to maintain confidentiality. If you’re working with a team you would usually debrief with your supervisor or (if appropriate) a team member. But if you’re working alone there may not be a suitable person with whom it’s appropriate to debrief.
I often delegate transcript production, and sometimes delegate editing tasks, to the scribes and editors on my team. If the subject matter recordings is sensitive and potentially disturbing, I advise the team, and remind them:
- if the subject matter is upsetting them, they should let me know and ‘give back’ that task, which I would then delegate to someone else on the team or do the task myself
- if they are finding the subject matter difficult but want to complete the task themselves, they should contact me for a debriefing session at any time to share how they feel about the subject matter
- no matter how sensitive or disturbing the material is, they must not disclose any information to anyone apart from me (their supervisor) because to do so would breach their Confidentiality Agreement with On Time Typing.
Debriefing within a team
When you’re working in a large team, you can’t divulge confidential information to anyone unless they are authorised to know that information; e.g. you wouldn’t share confidential information with any staff member or fellow contractor who was working on a different project, but you may share the information with a team member who is involved in the same project. On the other hand, you may divulge confidential information about any project or client to your supervisor or employer, even if they haven’t been involved in that project, because your commitment to maintain confidentiality is to your employer.
If you’re uncomfortable or upset by the information you’ve been dealing with you should always debrief with the most appropriate person, who is generally your direct supervisor.
Debriefing when you work alone
People who work alone – e.g. freelancers and sole traders – often don’t have anyone appropriate to debrief with; e.g. there is no supervisor or boss, and it’s often not appropriate to debrief with a client. If you work alone and are upset by the confidential subject matter with which you’ve been working, you can:
- take regular breaks from working with the difficult subject matter and when you take those breaks, make sure you properly relax
- juggle the upsetting job with a different work or non-work task to give yourself a break; gardening is great for this
- when you finish work for the day, make sure you ‘switch off’ from your work no matter how disturbing the subject matter has been. Yoga, meditation or exercise can help you do this
- if you really needs to debrief with someone, why not debrief to the most confidential person in the world: yourself. Write about your emotions and thoughts in a personal journal. However, when doing this, make sure you don’t include any identifying details in your journal: rather than relating what the subject matter is all about, talk about your emotions, your thoughts, what issues are difficult to cope with and what you can learn from doing this work
- if the subject matter has really upset you, or you find yourself thinking and worrying about the subject matter outside work, you are not maintaining good mental health and should 1) advise the client you can’t continue with the work, or 2) delegate that work to someone else on your team, and 3) if you are still upset, seek professional counselling.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is especially important when you’re working with subject matter that’s sensitive or disturbing and confidential. One aspect of ensuring your life is balanced is making sure you leave work at work where it belongs, and don’t ever take it home. Read more at: Work life balance when working from home
On Time Typing maintains confidentiality in regard to other people’s private information. We respect all clients’ right to privacy. We are also legally required to maintain confidentiality because we have opted in (voluntarily) to be covered by Australia’s Privacy Laws. For more information see: Blog: Confidentiality and Australia’s Privacy Act.
My understanding of how to debrief whilst maintaining confidentiality is based on 16 years’ experience as scribe, editor and owner-operator of On Time Typing.
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