I am working on a confidential research project. I'm not allowed to talk to anybody outside of the group without explicit permission. However, my colleagues from other groups are curious of what I am doing. I don't want to damage the working relationship but I just can't share too much details. Should I lie something (they won't know) or ask them to shut up?

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    Don't lie, that's wrong. – Daniel Oct 30 '15 at 14:58
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    Always relish the opportunity to drop the line, "If I told you, I'd have to kill you." – Nuclear Hoagie Oct 30 '15 at 16:00
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    @Matt I believe the original is "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you"? – Cronax Oct 30 '15 at 16:29
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    Just a note, don't try to share "just a few" of the details. It is really difficult to realize when one has to shut up while one is talking. So don't even start talking about details. – o.m. Oct 30 '15 at 19:00
  • Do what the CIA does, just say it's top secret! – user134578 Oct 31 '15 at 5:09

It is perfectly fine to say: "I am working on something, but I was told by my boss Dr Who to keep it confidential. You can ask Dr Who if you are interested."

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    If you are still concerned about your working relationship with the above statement, you could always replace it with "I wish I could tell you, but the project is confidential and I don't know how much I am allowed to say. You could try asking Dr. Who if you're curious." (not putting this as an answer since it's essentially the same as your answer) – Cronax Oct 30 '15 at 16:35
  • This is a good answer as long as Dr Who doesn't mind taking the responsibility – Kian Oct 31 '15 at 22:22
  • If Dr. Who is not willing to take responsibility for deciding how to deal with those who should not know about the contents, then the scenario is different enough to warrant approaching the situation on a case by case basis. – Cort Ammon Nov 1 '15 at 5:49

Simply tell them you are not at liberty to discuss the details of the project.

  • That particular formulation, "I'm not at liberty to say", has become such a cliché! You should be mindful of the connotations this cliché might have. OTOH, those connotations are basically exactly what you want to confer. – Jörg W Mittag Nov 1 '15 at 14:11
  • depends on the nature of the project. In a great many projects, simply giving the name of the Dr. you are working with is enough for someone to deduce the nature of the project. Answering with more could potentially open you up to legal repercussions, depending on the nature of your confidentiality agreement. – Jim B Nov 2 '15 at 7:00

The fact that you are working on a confidential research project is not the confidential part, so you are free to mention that.

  • Maybe it's so confidential that Student is not even allowed to disclose that xe is working on a condifential project. – gerrit Oct 30 '15 at 15:09
  • @gerrit Well, the student posted here, so there's that... – Tristan Oct 30 '15 at 16:08
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    @Tristan wait, aren't internet posts totally anonymous? – Mindwin Oct 30 '15 at 16:32
  • @Mindwin When since? – yo' Oct 30 '15 at 23:44

Lying is unnecessary, and has the potential to backfire. Simply reiterate that you do not have permission to speak about it.

If they persist, then they are damaging the working relationship, as they would be a nuisance.

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