In our first blog post on categories of attribution, we advised that when facing the speed, ubiquity, and mobility of modern communication tools, everyone is always on the record. Whether engaging in person or online, when in an official role or on your personal time, your standing question should be, “Do I want this to be show up somewhere else and attributed to me by name and position/title?”
If not, it’s probably best you simply do not say or post it.
But there are situations when you’ll need to say something you want to keep on the down-low. On those occasions, we recommend you say them in person – and you have two attribution categories at your disposal: general attribution (on background) and no attribution (off the record).
Today we’ll introduce general attribution, what it is, when to use it, and how to make it work for you.
General Attribution (On Background of the Chatham House Rule)
General Attribution, sometimes referred to as on background or the Chatham House Rule, can be effective when speaking to an audiene of several people or more, such as a group of professionals working together to learn about a specific issue.
It means what you say can be relayed, but not attributed to you directly by name or title/position. (Strictly speaking, the Chatham House Rule also restricts identifying a speaker by affiliation.) This can be pretty handy, particularly when engaging in an official capacity and you need to speak candidly to educate someone on a complex issue or provide context to help them better understand it.
Successfully working on background requires a couple key things. First and foremost, you should have a trusted relationship with the person or people with whom you are speaking. Second, everyone involved in the discussion needs to understand that you are talking on background.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have something you really want to say, but on the record or on background still don’t give you the discretion you need, it’s probably best to hold your tongue. But if you absolutely must go off the record, be sure to read Part 3 of this Hard NoCs series.