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What personality traits should you have to be perceived as a good secret keeper?

Posted April 8, 2018

We all want to be reliable and respected friends. That typically includes keeping other people‘s secrets. But why should you be selected as an outlet for someone to tell you their secrets? Just because you seem reliable secret keeper? Scientists from University of Queensland examined who we share our secrets with.

Choosing someone to tell your secret is a very difficult task and it seems we are looking for compassion and assertiveness. Image credit: Girl Guides of Canada via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Researchers discovered that enthusiasm and politeness are not the qualities people look in secret keepers. Instead, you should be assertive and compassionate for someone to talk to you that openly. This is actually quite interesting, because people typically assume that politeness is the key to being an excellent secret keeper, but when it comes to your own personal information politeness is nowhere to be found at the top of the list. Scientists conducted five studies, involving more than 1000 participants. They were particularly interested in four personal traits which psychologists suggest make up nearly any social behaviour: compassion and politeness (agreeableness), and assertiveness and enthusiasm (extraversion).

When people were asked for what kind of personality traits they would be looking for in their potential secret keepers, they actually did underline politeness. However, when it came to actually telling secrets, people chose compassion and assertiveness over politeness pretty much every time. It is also important for us to tell our secrets to people who are caring, empathic and assertive in social interactions. Those who seemed enjoying conversation too much and were too enthusiastic to hear the secret were seen less reliable in this regard. People confine their secrets to those, who are the most caring, willing to help and motivate rather than excited to hear the story.

Another important feature of a good secret keeper is assertiveness. Why? Dr James Kirby, one of the authors of the paper, said: “We believe this to be the case because a goal of confiding is to obtain some help from the confidant – those who are assertive will help and act even in the face of obstacles. People do not just confide in those who are motivated to help, but confide in those who are more likely to have the drive to actually take action when it is needed”. But you shouldn’t rush looking for assertive and compassionate to tell all your secrets.

While people are more willing to tell their secrets to these people, it doesn’t mean that these people are the most reliable. If you really don’t want your secrets to keep spreading like wild fire, you should only confine them to those, who are devoted friends.


Source: University of Queensland

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