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Today I had a frustrating conversation with a colleague from another team that went back and forth. Nothing very serious, but just disagreements. After the conversation was over I just needed to talk about it with my direct manager and since my day 1 in the company he has been adamant that I should trust him and I should not accumulate frustrations to myself and he's there to alleviate the problems for me.

We didn't go on a video call as I wanted to avoid wasting more time on the matter and explaining the entire thing to him. So I just sent the screenshot of my conversation with this other colleague to him so he could judge and understand what I was talking about.

Now, a few hours later somehow I'm wondering if that was a good idea and if it's even ethical/professional to do so. Obviously the conversation was just about work matters and there was nothing personal or compromising for the other colleague, but I just have this feeling that if I was in the colleagues place and someone approached me and say "so, Bob showed me what you guys discussion about " I'd probably feel weird about it and decide that the person is not to be trusted and I have to be careful what I write to him and it would make me feel bad.

My only intention at the moment was to save time for my manager and I. My manager didn't say anything about the screenshot action itself and just went on to discuss about us solving the problem, but I'm wondering if now he sees me differently.

Am I overreacting or it is indeed something not to be done at the work place?

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  • 47
    @JoeStrazzere Do you tell your colleagues that you're going to complain to your manager about them?
    – Jack
    Sep 3 at 2:41
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    @JoeStrazzere - I am sorry, but in what world do people consider Slack conversations private? That's bizzare.
    – Davor
    Sep 3 at 11:45
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    @JoeStrazzere: Assuming a company-owned Slack environment, any communication there is not private in the sense that there is no reasonable expectation of hiding it from the environment's owner. Note the distinction between "private" in legal terms and in its informal chat usage meaning "not broadcast in a chatroom". This is no different from how your employer is perfectly allowed to monitor what you do with a company laptop or company phone.
    – Flater
    Sep 3 at 11:45
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    @Davor in the same world people consider office hallway conversation reasonably private.
    – Mavrik
    Sep 4 at 7:24
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    @Flater: There is different levels of private. Messaging conversations in open chatrooms/channels - mostly considered public, the larger the room the more public. Direct messages are by nature between you and the other colleague. They are not private as in totally non-work on your devices, but they are private as in explicitly not shared with everyone. Many countries even protect such messages IF they share private information and the company has not outlawed private messaging over their tooling. If it's professional information, it's less of an issue. But still "surprising" to the other party Sep 4 at 15:22

10 Answers 10

42

A professional conversation on some IM tool is not different from an email. There is no expectation of privacy for the most part. With an email, it would be perfectly normal to just forward it to your manager in case of disagreements, especially with an external team. With the IM, it is not as easy but for me it is the same. Of course, some people would feel a little bit annoyed (or worse) if you reported them to your manager for some reason. But the way to do so (forwarding email, screenshot) is not really that different. Needless to say that there is also CCO, which serves the very same purpose.

A key thing would be if you are hiding facts. Like, in the email, the entire chain and back and forth is forwarded; but a screenshot could be a few lines out of context. In that situation, it could easily come back at you, so if you are providing extracts, be careful of explaining the whole context in a neutral way and be ready to provide extra pieces.

To sum it up, I do not think it is a bad thing to do per se, but it is something to avoid due to practical concerns. If you have a disagreement with someone on Slack, send a follow up email and copy your manager so everyone is in a position to explain themselves. Only if they say A and then in the email say B, and somehow this escalated and became a verbal battle, you should then provide screenshots. Although you probably would prefer to be more professional about it. And of course, if the same person continuously tries to do stuff "under the radar" on Slack just to go back on their word, stop having those conversations and move them to email with CC.

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    I would consider an IM conversation to be closer to a private in-person conversation than an email (with the obvious caveat that there isn't an explicit record of in-person conversations, usually). Although I can certainly imagine some people treating emails as equivalent to private conversations as well. Sharing something someone told you in confidence in a private conversation is a huge violation of their trust (unless you have a very good reason to share it). Sep 3 at 11:18
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    +1 for the second paragraph alone, and it's why I'm often distrustful of the sharing of screenshots. They are rarely a complete form of information and, consciously or not, people tend to share what makes them look justified and omit things that don't fit the narrative they're trying to present. Influencing a colleague/boss's bias like this before they are able to get the full picture IMO is pretty poor form. Sep 3 at 15:04
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    Are you sure you're not mixing up legalese definition of "expectation of privacy" and social norms about expectation of privacy? Because most people will consider Slack DM conversations on about the same level as a hallway conversation and will not expect you to run to their boss with a transcript. Despite legally "not being able to expect privacy on company ground". They will still consider this a massive breach of social norms and will brand you as an office snitch that can't be trusted with candid conversation. It's all very legal and it'll all still hurt you.
    – Mavrik
    Sep 4 at 7:15
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    "A professional conversation on some IM tool is not different from an email. There is no expectation of privacy for the most part." : [citation needed] Sep 4 at 12:12
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    For an email that contains private information the expectation is that the other party has enough common sense to not just forward that to everyone. There isn't a universal rule saying that any email is free to be shared with anyone. Otherwise no HR person would send anything confidential through mail and they do all the time (unfortunately for other security reasons, but not for trusting the colleague to not share the contents with the whole company). In short it depends in both cases on the contents and context of the message. Sep 4 at 15:41
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That largely depends.

If you shared a screenshot of me presenting entirely neutral information, yes, make a copy, send it to third parties. For example if I posted you a list of bullet points on how to install that driver we all need in the company, take a screencap and share it with someone.

If I overstepped some boundary where you need to report me for a violation of some kind, yes, share a copy. Should I ever come under investigation for something, I want it about hard facts, not hearsay.

If you are explicitly asked by a superior to share a copy, that's okay. It sucks, but I won't hold it against you.

But if you share a copy of the opinions I expressed with third parties without my consent, I will just stop talking to you about this and our further communication will be either "yes", "no" or "call me". You will never again get me to talk to you "in private". You sharing a screencap of our conversation on a tool for work is absolutely legal and I have no legal right to privacy there. The same way I have no right to privacy if I tell you something over a coffee in the canteen. But if you turn around on the spot, run to your boss and tell them what I said over coffee in the canteen verbatim, I will stop having those talks with you immediately.

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    Anybody who was not in the original discussion (whether that was a phone call, email chain or slack channel) is by definition a third party.
    – nvoigt
    Sep 3 at 9:47
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    @nvoigt - company management is every Slack conversation.
    – Davor
    Sep 3 at 11:46
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    @nvoigt - management aka account owner can see all Slack conversations. Your "private" message is merely a technicality.
    – Davor
    Sep 3 at 13:25
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    It's not about who can technically or legally see the conversation. Those people can do so on their own. But they didn't. It is about the person voluntarily sharing it.
    – nvoigt
    Sep 3 at 13:30
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    @Davor With your definition of "private", nothing would be private because it can all be read by IT-admin/google/apple/huawei/NSA/... With great power comes great responsibility, so the admin for example really should think twice before they read private messages, and the employees could perfectly expect some kind of privacy, as long they are not doing anything illegal, in slack 1 on 1 messages. Sep 4 at 10:27
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Now, a few hours later somehow I'm wondering if that was a good idea

No it wasn't.

The main issue here is NOT the confidentiality concern, but how you treated your boss.

  1. You "didn't want to waste any more of YOUR time", but your fine wasting your boss's time by expecting him to wade through the whole transcript. It would have been better to give him a short high level summary and provide more detail only if asked.
  2. Apparently you were just ranting and looking for "judgement and understanding" but you had no specific actionable goals.

and if it's even ethical/professional to do so.

It wasn't professional for the reasons mentioned above. You should be at least as respectful for your boss's time as are of your own. If you need to rant or vent, talk to a parking meter: they are great listeners and you can pay them by the minute.

Sharing the whole conversation WITHOUT being asked to do so, is bad form. It's much better to initially try to keep things quick and simple.

There is no breach of confidentiality here. Any information exchanged and/or stored using company property is the company's.

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  • Yep, some bosses wouldn't even bother reading it. I don't see how the OP saved the bosses time either.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 3 at 8:57
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    Feel the need to point out that there's no location tag on this question and "any information stored on company property is the property's" is not true in many countries.
    – Erik
    Sep 3 at 11:32
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    I hate phone calls (video calls even more). Quite often they are a waste of time. Sometimes a picture (or text/log file) says more than a thousand words.
    – Michael
    Sep 3 at 19:50
  • The OP does say, "So I just sent the screenshot of my conversation," which seems to imply that it was short enough to fit on a single screen. If that's the case, including the screenshot itself rather than a description of what happened may be the time-saving option.
    – cjs
    Sep 4 at 2:49
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    @cjs I agree that Hilmar argues from the wrong angle, but the argument still holds. Unless the other party sent a dickbutt or the like and that's the infraction a single snippet from a longer conversation will not help the manager to judge the situation properly. They may not even see why OP was offended in the first place, because perception in a heated discussion is different from outside perception of a 3rd party that has no emotional attachment to the topic. There are obvious exceptions but in most cases you at least will prefer the full context if you want exemplary context . Sep 4 at 15:37
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Sharing slack conversations as an image might probably sound bit weird, and others might feel that you cannot be trusted. Even though its an office environment some don't treat IMs in the same way as Email.

Given that, probably the right thing to do (IMO) in such cases is to add the other person to the group and simply share previous chat history.

5

I'd probably feel weird about it and that the person is not to be trusted and I have to be careful on what I write to him and it does make me feel bad.

You should ALWAYS be careful what you put in writing at work regardless. You just never know.

In this case I think it was a poor decision, not so much because you gave the screenshot, but because it doesn't contain anything important.

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    I witnessed an entire team get fired because they had shared inappropriate jokes and memes in their team chat. From what I heard, the HR department had an inch-thick printout of months of their chat, and went through it asking things like "So-and-so posted this image mentioning drugs. Are you aware if they are using illegal drugs on or off the clock?" ALWAYS assume EVERYTHING you type or view on your company devices is visible to your employer.
    – stannius
    Sep 3 at 14:49
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    @stannius I've seen two people get sacked for things they put in an 'Anonymous survey'
    – Kilisi
    Sep 4 at 1:49
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People present themselves differently in different contexts. They talk differently around the boss, customers, family and so on, tailoring the words they use, what they say and how they express it to the relationship they have with that person and to their goals.

You wouldn't, for example, resolve a technical disagreement in front of a customer, nor would you usually want to do this in front of a senior manager. You would want to come across as considered, competent and with a clear idea of what you're doing.

Equally, when talking to a colleague you might be more informal, more open and to discuss thoughts or opinions that aren't yet fully formed, knowing that this doesn't commit you to them too strongly. You might not want to come across has having decided everything in advance and being closed to their thoughts.

So, this is not just about facts, or about whether this or that information is privileged or secret or whatever else, it's something more personal. By taking something from one context and pasting it into another you've removed from another person their chance to control how they appear and how they relate to people.

To me, it seems rude to do this and something that will degrade trust and openness with your colleagues. Should I discuss an opinion, a possibility, an undecided technical point or my feelings about some other colleague with you? Probably not, not unless I wouldn't mind the boss listening in, too.

Of course, if you were discussing someone's problematic behaviour itself it'd be another matter. Or maybe if you've had an email from a customer and you want advice from someone more experienced on how to respond it'd be fine, too. But sometimes, even when the information is fine to reveal, if the person who wrote it has a different kind of relationship with you compared to with the person you're forwarding it to, it may be better to re-express it yourself. You should do this in a way that's tailored to the person you're talking to, and take more responsibility for it as a communication act yourself.

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It's a work conversation. It's not privileged or personal communication. But this is one of those things where the reality of the situation doesn't matter.

You admit you would feel weirded out. And you're questioning that feeling now.

Many people would just feel weirded out, and that would be the end of it. They may not come onto Stack Exchange to see if their feelings are validated.

So, it doesn't really matter how we can rationalise it or not rationalise it. It only matters how some people may feel. And you already know the answer to that question.

0

I see nothing wrong with sharing screenshots/transcripts of Slack conversations, as long as, as you say, "there [is] nothing personal or compromising for the other colleague".

For example, I once had a Slack conversation with a colleague who was being rude and difficult. I decided to send my manager a copy of the transcript of the conversation. If I had only given my manager a summary of the conversation, then perhaps he might think that I was either exaggerating or misinterpreting what my colleague had said. But with a copy of the transcript, my manager could see exactly what my colleague said, and that I wasn't exaggerating or misinterpreting anything.

On another occasion, a colleague out in the field, who didn't have the means to contact our vendor, sent me a Slack message to ask our vendor's support representative for their personal phone number so they could start a WhatsApp chat with them. I asked the support rep for it, and understandably, they refused. Then a second colleague out in the field sent me a stronger message asking for the rep's personal phone number. I knew this would greatly annoy the rep, so I just screenshotted the request and sent it to the rep so that they knew it wasn't me who was making the demand for their phone number.

-1

I would never hessitate on moral or etics grounds to forward a long email thread solely regarding work matters to a coleague equal in the hierarchy to the people involved or to someone higher up.

Chat logs are no different - except that they are written with a lot more context and are harder for third parties to comprehend.

The only consideration would be about wasting someone's time and attention. My boss' time is expensive (yes, I am one of those lucky bastards having a manager that is clever and competent).

If I can write or tell them few sentences about the matters, I would do this, instead of or before sending the whole mess for them to untangle in.

-6

There are two reasons why I would consider what you did unprofessional.

One: you shared a photo. Of text. Why didn't you simply share the text? Sharing photos of text is absolutely unforgivable. Photos cannot be read by blind people, text can. Photos cannot be read by text-to-speech software (e.g. my car has a feature where it can read emails to me while I am driving), text can. I cannot search in a photo. I cannot copy&paste sections of a photo. If I zoom into a photo, it becomes pixelated, text doesn't. I cannot change the font of text in a photo. I cannot change the text foreground and background color of text in a photo.

Do not share screenshots of text. Ever. Just share the text.

With Slack, specifically, you can just send a link to a conversation. This has many advantages: there is no doubt about whether or not the content was forged. It comes directly from the server, therefore, it can be reasonably assumed that both the content and the timestamps are completely accurate. Also, you cannot accidentally share something with somebody who does not have the right to see it – if they don't have access rights, they will not be able to see the conversation. And the recipient of the link can use their favorite browser with their favorite settings, copy relevant portions into their favorite editor with their font and color scheme, etc.

Two: you shared the conversation. Instead, you should have, in your own words, summarized the conversation, explained what you believe the problem is, explained what you have tried to solve the problem, explained why that didn't work. Most importantly, you should have provided your boss with a solution, if at all possible.

If, and only if, your boss actually needs to see every single of word of everything that was said in the entire conversation to make their decision, then, and only then, can you share the conversation in addition to what I wrote above, and in a manner that makes sense (i.e. as text or as a link to the actual conversation).

While it is true (at least in some jurisdictions) that for any work-related conversation (more precisely, communication using employer-owned devices and/or resources), there is no expectation of privacy, what most people take that to mean, is that the IT department can, if necessary, see the entire communication. You are not the IT department, and also, it was arguably not necessary. So, again, while it is true that there is no expectation of privacy for work-related communication, the fact that a co-worker shared a "private" communication between two people is at least weird, and I can understand if that colleague feels their privacy and trust were violated.

It is very likely that your boss has the rights to read your conversations anyway. However, they can decide by themselves whether or not they make use of that right. And most bosses will not. By sending the conversation, you have forced the issue.

Depending on the jurisdiction, what you have done may even have been illegal.

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    This is mostly a good answer, but your first long paragraph is completely off topic to this particular situation (unless their boss has an issue with their eyesight, which is not mentioned at all). And the idea that you would try to understand and resolve employee conflicts using text-to-speech technology while you're driving your car is totally insane to me. Please do the world a favor, respect your underlings, and pull over, or wait until you're back in an office, the next time you receive a moderately complex email when you're in your car. Sep 3 at 21:43
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    "Do not share screenshots of text. Ever." - Photos of text is the norm for informal evidence. It might be seen as harder to manipulate (even if manipulating it often isn't actually that much harder). It shows that the words shown are the actual words in the sense that you didn't (inaccurately) paraphrase or summarise in any way, and no context is missing, or at least it's obvious where context may have been excluded. I'm also fairly certain that you can't share a link to a private conversation with anyone else in Slack (likely even if they're an admin who can see conversation by themselves). Sep 7 at 9:22

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