Part I of a two-part series.
“Can I share something with you?”
“I need to get this off my chest.”
“I need to tell you something I can’t tell anyone else.”
Depending on the context of the situation, and your personality, these questions can be either innocuous or terrifying. Let’s say it’s your closest friend and it’s just the two of you sitting in a private corner of your favorite bistro. In this case, you may think the questions are on the harmless side.
Now imagine that the person asking the question is a co-worker and it’s just the two of you on your way to a meeting. Re-read the questions in this context and note how you react, paying attention to your feelings. Startling? Awkward? Uncomfortable?
The concept of transparency is at the heart of each of the questions. We face conversations and situations involving some degree of transparency every day. The issue is, then, what level of transparency is appropriate, and when?
We find at the two ends of the transparency spectrum complete closure and total openness. Some people are open books, while others remain complete mysteries. And everything in between. Therefore, transparency may be straightforward on the one hand and more demanding on the other.
Which leads us to time and place; when and where transparency is appropriate. Let’s focus on the scenario that involves work and co-workers.
The Nature of Work and Transparency
Much writing exists about transparency character traits and leadership, particularly at work. Research tells us that “…trust must be mutual and reciprocal” (Bandsuch, Pate, Thies – 2008). Where does that leave us in today’s workplace? First, communication is critical. Although we seemingly drown in an ever-flowing river of words and information, words matter. How we use them matters more.
But where do we draw the line when it comes to being transparent in the workplace? There is an appropriate amount of information which is necessary for us to do our work as well as build trust with colleagues.
What happens when we cross the line? Many of us are familiar with the acronym TMI – too much information. You likely have experienced someone holding up their hand to stifle the conversation when they have heard more than they are comfortable hearing.
What’s Considered Inappropriate
There is such a thing as too much transparency. We tend to think of this as over-sharing. Co-author Roger worked with a colleague, Sandy, who had issues with boundaries, especially with what information was appropriate to share. Sandy shared heart-wrenching personal stories in work meetings and hallway conversations. They were stories best saved for a close friend, or in some cases, a counselor’s office.
One-on-one conversations with Sandy not to share her personal stories in open work forums were not successful. She insisted that she was being transparent. She believed it was in the scope of acceptable behavior to tell what she felt where transparency stories, even though she received explicit requests not to. She thought she was connecting and “letting others in.”
Instead of building bridges, Sandy burned them. She misunderstood the concept of transparency and failed to consider personal boundaries. She did more harm than good. Her actions came at a cost to her health and work relationships.
What’s Considered Appropriate
Consider this situation and the role transparency plays. Let’s say that you and others belong to a group and that group has a facilitator. There is an expectation that you and your fellow participants foster a culture of trust and transparency over time. It is the facilitator’s purpose to guide the group’s conversation and control the flow of ideas.
One more caveat: the facilitator is not obligated to share information about himself or herself. The facilitator administers the rules and guidelines of how the group operates. And it’s not necessarily their role to agree or disagree with a participant’s opinion.
There are two strong dynamics at play in this situation: boundaries and context. It’s natural in many cases for a facilitator to have personal role-based rules within the group. When you have a group that agrees to be transparent (like a Mastermind) and a facilitator whose role it is to abide by a different type of transparency, the participants and facilitator must agree to group boundaries and expectations.
Calls to Action
- One takeaway is to be self-aware about whom you share with and what you share with them. Be selective about what you share, and with whom you are transparent. We don’t advocate non-transparency, rather we encourage selective transparency.
- Another lesson is to be socially aware. Consider your audience. Whether it’s solely with another person or group of people. Look for signs or cues as you’re talking. Think about the effect what you’re saying has on the person or people in front of you. Also, think about occasionally asking the person or group if they’re comfortable with what you’re sharing. We all have different tolerances for what we consider appropriate and inappropriate information.
- And lastly, consider time and space. The age-old advice that “there’s a time and a place for everything” holds when it comes to being transparent. Set boundaries. When you find that you’re at a loss for reading a situation, find a trusted friend or adviser to help you navigate these situations.
The Dalai Lama says, “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” How true. The key to transparency is awareness.
This is Part I of a two-part series. See Part 2 on Sept. 24, 2019.
Stephanie Angelo helps companies attract, train and retain employees with keynotes and training focused on company culture of Traction not Transaction. She facilitates Mastermind Groups for business owners who hunger for collaboration with other business owners to scale their businesses. For company culture improvement visit www.StephanieAngelo.com Business owners learn more at www.HighStakesMastermindGroups.com
Roger Wolkoff will help you discover how emotional intelligence paired with authenticity improves communication, ups productivity, and positively influences culture. Visit https://www.rogerwolkoff.com/ to connect with Roger and work with him to help you deliver results and grow your bottom line. Roger is a keynote motivational speaker and author from Madison, Wisconsin.