Honestly not sure if this belongs here or in Meta - feel free to move if it's misplaced.

A coworker and I had an interesting discussion today. Consider a sensitive problem in the office - e.g. "Department X's Lead has just resigned, leaving everyone there disorganized and overworked. It's causing a lot of extra stress and work for the rest of the company. How do we cope with this?" This is a great question for workplace.stackexchange. The problem is, because we work as tech developers, a lot of coworkers are likely to see any question that is posted. Anyone paying attention will immediately know we're talking about Department X, which could cause trouble for any number of reasons.

Ignoring the hypothetical, the takeaway here is this: it's very easy to find yourself with a sensitive question which, if asked carelessly, could cause a lot of trouble.

In a situation where asking a question means openly identifying a person/department, what kind of etiquette/precautions can one employ to tactfully ask about a sensitive subject in the office? Are there strategies or word choices one can employ to focus on a solution, and minimize acknowledging any problems with persons or entities?

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    I'm not sure that's all that sensitive since Lead X has already resigned so everyone knows about it -- it should come as no surprise that a department that lost its lead is struggling, so pointing it out shouldn't upset anyone or be a surprise. I'd just point it out to my manager and tell him it's affecting my work since it's harder to work with Dept X now. – Johnny Jun 27 '15 at 0:26
  • What location are you asking about? I don't mean the real location, but the "location" location. – Brandin Jun 28 '15 at 17:05
  • The problem is, because we work as tech developers, a lot of coworkers are likely to see any question that is posted. - Is this just true for Stack Exchange or does this apply to every popular workplace advice web site? – BSMP Jul 1 '15 at 1:31

Always assume that people will know that it was you that posted whatever it is that you're writing if you plan to post it in a public place. If you would be really uncomfortable with that, or it will cause you more trouble than the benefit that you hope to get from posting it, don't post it.

Really sensitive topics shouldn't be hashed out in writing in public with random people. What you've written can always be taken out of context, and once it's on the Internet, it's difficult if not impossible to manage who sees it and how they interpret it.

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    And once on the Internet, assume it can not be erased. Between the Internet Archive system, caches in various search engines, etc., the only viable answer is to think before sending. – keshlam Jun 27 '15 at 1:59
  • Excellent advice, I agree 100% that anything posted on the internet should be considered permanent. I also agree that there is a lot of variability in how people might react - but there has to be some way to steer the question to mitigate the worst reactions. The difference between "Department X is rubbish" and "Department X has been changing" alone is huge. If the question just had to be posted, how would it best be approached, in your opinion? – CodeMoose Jun 28 '15 at 17:23
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    If you assume that someone you know will read it, I find that's all you really need to do to handle the wording. Read over what you've written imagining that your boss is reading it and rephrase anything that makes you cringe :) @CodeMoose – ColleenV Jun 28 '15 at 19:59

I think that as long as you don't reveal any particulars such as company name or identities of the people involved, there should be no problem at all. Just in case, check if there is an specific employee policy that states clearly that you cannot post it in sites such as this one. And, if you're really afraid to be caught, post it using your own equipment and outside the company network. Your coworkers or management may try to guess, but unless you say you did it, or someone has proof you did it, they will never know. And if they do, is really a crime to ask a bunch of strangers in the Internet for advice?

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    You don't spell it out explicitly, but of course this advice assumes that you are not using a regularly used StackExchange account which is identifiably tied to yourself. It may be best to create a new throwaway account to ask sensitive questions. – Carson63000 Jun 27 '15 at 4:00
  • Yes, but it depends. For example, if your name is John Smith, it wouldn't be necessary. On the other hand, to someone like me an alias is essential. Anyway, it's always a good decision. Thanks for pointing it out. – Trickylastname Jun 27 '15 at 23:45
  • My experience has been that folks are never as anonymous as they think they are, especially if they have reason to believe that their coworkers are very likely to see the post. You can change your username, but I am confident that if I saw a post here talking very generally about a situation in my workplace by someone I've worked closely with, I'd recognize who wrote it from their writing style and general attitude about the situation. Could I prove in court it was them? No, but it probably wouldn't matter. – ColleenV Jun 28 '15 at 3:09
  • @ColleenV I agree that coworkers could still identify a question asked about their office, but keep in mind this is an office of programmers - we aren't as attuned to each other's writing styles, we mostly keep to ourselves. I think a throwaway account could at least prevent the question asker from being identified. – CodeMoose Jun 28 '15 at 17:26
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    @CodeMoose oh it might work, but what if it doesn't? All I'm really saying is evaluate the risk before you post. If it's merely inconvenient if someone figures it out, no big deal. If it's likely to cause an HR incident, think twice. – ColleenV Jun 28 '15 at 17:58

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