Whenever we have a problem with our craft or author business, one of the first things we do is turn to the Internet. It is easy to post questions to an online bulletin board or in a private Facebook group. There could be hundreds or thousands of people reading your questions and giving you advice. However, you’re posting your concern on a public forum, and you have no expectation of privacy.

As we’ve all witnessed how the social media giants have handled privacy over the past few years, it is important to realize that there is no expectation of privacy anywhere, on any social media platform. We used to believe that sending a direct message or a private message was just that, private. But data breaches and policies implemented on servers behind the scenes have made it clear that every keystroke you enter on any social media platform is potentially recorded, tracked, and sold in aggregate.

Therefore, conversations you once could consider private are not that way anymore. So what happens if you run into a situation or circumstance that requires more than just the surface-level response from a chat board or social media group? What do you do when the nature of your question is so sensitive that you don’t want it shared with the entire Internet?

Most mastermind groups, including the one I operate, function under a blanket of complete confidentiality. We discuss topics and strategies that we would not openly share on the Internet because our reasoning for doing so might be private. It is not so much a matter of hiding anything than it is a matter of protecting ourselves.

I record every mastermind session so that members who are not in attendance can watch the playback and still benefit from the interaction. But everyone within the mastermind has agreed not to share those publicly, and that anything that is said in the mastermind stays in the mastermind.

It does take some time to build trust within the group, and the person running the mastermind can play a major role in building that trust. But once everyone in the mastermind group has bought into upholding the strictest of confidence, it allows us to dig deeper and really help people who cannot get answers to their questions in any other way.

Because being in a mastermind is so much more than simply the act of writing, or marketing, or publishing, a trust can develop, even without the strict expectation of confidentiality. Once people inside the group have become friends, they begin to share concerns or successes from their personal lives, whether they be about spouses, significant others, children, pets, or even extended family. The issues that are raised on the hot seat tend to have an underlying cause, and it is this underlying cause that can be highly sensitive for many people.

Discussing these issues in a trusted group can feel like a therapy session that goes beyond the scope of our particular profession. I have had sensitive and evocative follow-up conversations with authors as a leader of a mastermind group, and also as a participant. I have exchanged emails and messages, sometimes even phone calls, with people who are either helped or who helped me in the session. These follow-up conversations are extremely valuable and heartwarming because they are usually with people who want each other to succeed.

It is not impossible to form these types of relationships in large Internet groups, but it is highly unlikely to happen unless you put forth a tremendous amount of effort and have the skill set to develop those relationships.

This idea of confidentiality is a cornerstone of the expectations I set in my mastermind groups. Not everyone will agree on everything that is discussed during the meetings. People disagree on politics, religion, and even on the most inane aspects of being a writer—such as whether or not to use the Oxford comma. But none of that matters when it comes to our mutual well-being. Participants in the mastermind groups hold that level of confidence because they’ve come to care deeply about the others in the group who have become true friends, whether they’ve ever met in real life or not.

You might already have one or two good friends who also happen to be writers. These friends might be able to provide you advice and hold your confidence. However, when you are in a mastermind group, you are benefiting from a wider range of perspectives. It doesn’t mean being in a mastermind group is better than having friends. In an ideal world, you would want to have a few close partnerships but also can pose questions or problems in front of a group with varied backgrounds and experiences, so that you know all of the options available to you before making any decisions. And without being in a mastermind group, you cannot know for certain whether your situation will be kept in confidence by anyone other than those few close friends.

Some mastermind groups I’ve participated in have required the signing of a nondisclosure agreement. Although this can seem excessive or unwarranted, it can emphasize the seriousness of keeping everything in the mastermind group confidential.

There is always the possibility of someone within the group betraying that confidence, but that is a risk we all must take in life, not just in a mastermind group.

I have always been confident in sharing things within a mastermind group that I would not say anywhere else, and in being that vulnerable and transparent with my issues, I’ve gotten significantly better advice and therefore, made significantly better decisions. In addition, I’ve built that decision-making into discipline.

Want to take your writing chops and business savvy to the next level? Check out The Author Success Mastermind group at https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/join/