I recently attended a bonfire and ended up sitting at a table with some high school youth who I knew enjoying a hot chocolate. The conversation turned to Christmas, and of course favorite treats. I mentioned my homemade fudge and Olivia asked if I used marshmallow cream like her grandmother uses. I smiled and said, “It’s a secret recipe, I can’t tell you.” Madison quickly chimed in, “Dale’s gatekeeping”. My puzzled face told the story, I didn’t understand their phrase. The kids around the table laughed at my lack of understanding (they do that to me) and then explained the phrase. My new understanding of gatekeeping is when you have information others might want or need, but you don’t share it. Or as Emily explained it, “Imagine you have a prom dress you love and don’t want to show up and find others wearing your dress, you keep where you found it to yourself. You’re gatekeeping.”
While it’s not what I would have called it, I’ve certainly experienced gatekeeping many times with others and yes, I’ll admit I’ve done it too.
Gatekeeping is appropriate in externally competitive environments. As an example, your employer won’t share its trade secrets with their competitors. A football team will protect the signals it uses during a game for defense and offense from the other team to retain a competitive advantage.
Gatekeeping is necessary when someone shares something with you that is confidential. They need to know you can keep it to yourself and not share.
Gatekeeping is problematic, frustrating, and hurtful when information that helps is withheld, especially with people who are ON THE SAME TEAM! Withholding is intentional because you decide to share or not share, which hurts even more.
Why do we gatekeep from our teammates? We’re competitive beings and want to “get ahead”. If I have information no one else has, I have power. The more power I have, the better chance I have of getting ahead of my competitors, even when we work in the same organization.
Here are some situations where gatekeeping isn’t good.
If they don’t ask, I won’t need to tell – Instead of being up front, sharing what is needed to make a good decision, we sit back and wait for them to ask because if I offer, and share completely, it’ll impact me negatively.
Failure to help when you know help is needed – You’re in a meeting and someone is getting reamed out by others. It’s uncomfortable to watch. You know it’s because no one has the full picture, it’s based on partial information which you have. Sharing will be a lifeline for the person, but in doing so, you know the spotlight will shift to you and your responsibilities. It will then be uncomfortable for you.
The Blind Spot – A very talented co-worker has a big blind spot and it’s a problem for them, keeping them from receiving new opportunities. That’s good for you because the opportunities are coming to you and other co-workers. If you tell them and they fix it, some of those great opportunities, the key to advancement, will go to them.
Integrity is about doing the right thing. Don’t be a gatekeeper when you know sharing is the right thing to do.
These are the things you should do: Speak the truth to one another. In the courts give real justice—the kind that brings peace. Zechariah 8:16 GNT