Operating Transparently

The article Is Transparency Always the Best Policy? appears this week in Harvardbusiness.org. The article is about Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the answer to the blog’s question, based on this sample of one, would appear to be a resounding ‘yes.’

In matters great and small, Levy has simply made it an operating practice to behave transparently. His great results may surprise many, but they make a great deal of common sense.

Transparency is one of the four Trust Principles I describe in my own work. The other three are other-focus, collaboration, and a medium-to-long term perspective. Here’s the business case for transparency.

If you are transparent about your activities, you are saying you have nothing to hide. If you have nothing to hide, then people trust what you do.

If you are transparent about what you say, then you don’t risk saying one thing to one person and another to another. You don’t appear to be two-faced; you appear to have integrity—you say the same thing to all persons. (And, it’s a lot easier to remember what you said if there’s only one version).

If you are transparent about what you think, then people can observe your thinking, and see that you are not editing what you say. They feel you are available to them, that you are not segmenting them off.

If you are not transparent in your actions, your words, and your thoughts, then people wonder about your motives. Why are you doing what you’re doing?

What is it you really mean when you say something? And what are you really thinking when you’re thinking?

Suspicion about motives colors ever aspect of trust—it affects your credibility, your perceived reliability, and the degree to which people confide in you. The antidote to a bad case of suspicion is transparency. It’s as true in the financial and regulatory world, in the world of negotiation, and in the world of accounting, as it is interpersonally.

With all the obvious advantages that transparency conveys—why aren’t we all more transparent more often?

There are a thousand answers, varying in particular, but with some common threads in general. At the root of it, I think, is fear.

Fear that others will take advantage of us. Fear that we will be misunderstood, or shamed. Fear that others will see the true inner “me” and thus steal the faux power we foolishly think we maintain by being opaque.

Transparency is both a result of lowered fear, and a cause of lowering fear. Sharing information with another encourages another to share with us. Disclosing information within a company—as Paul Levy did so frequently—begets teamwork and lowers suspicion.

The willingness to be transparent in negotiation helps the other party figure out what it is that you want—so the paradoxical result of taking a risk is that you increase the odds of getting what you want.

Transparency is an invitation to collaboration and connection. It lowers fear, it increases trust.

It feels like taking a risk, but it’s really risk-mitigation in disguise.

Operating transparently isn’t just a hospital procedure.


1 reply
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Charlie,

    You ask, "Why are we afraid to speak up?" Some thoughts:

    For many, early on in childhood, when some children wanted to, or attempted to, express their aliveness, their thoughts, their juiciness, their "wisdom", their True Self (opneness, honesty…), they were often met with resistance, first, from their parents or immediate care givers, then from extended family, then from their teachers, perhaps from clergy and others. This reactivity may have taken the form of:

    "You think you’re so smart!" (with a negative edge)
    "Little boys/girls should be seen and not heard"
    "That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard"
    "What do you know!!" (with a negative dismissal)
    "Not now, I’m busy (i.e., what you have to say isn’t important)
    "Who told you that?!" (skepticism)
    "Don’t say such a thing" (how can you say such a thing!)
    "I don’t believe you."
    "You better not talk like that"
    "God will punish you for saying/thinking that"
    "That’s not a nice/good/ thing to say."
    "That’s not true; you’re stupid"
    "What a crazy idea!"
    "You don’t make any sense"
    "You think you’re so smart!(sarcastically)
    "You don’t think straight"
    "You’re crazy!"
    "What makes you think that way!"
    "You don’t have half a brain"
    "For someone so smart, you’re really stupid!"
    "you’re an idiot!"

    …with the result that many folks create a belief from this thought which plays out as what we have to offer is not "good enough", or that we are "bad", or that we are "wrong"  of that is we express our truth and show our vulnerability wel’ll get "slammed" in one way or another.

    This belief becomes an imprint, hard-wired on our brain, in our unconscious, and we carry this belief into adolescence and eventually into adulthood, like so many other self-defeating and self-sabotaging beliefs we form at this age.

    So, for many people, this belief is translated the into, "What I have to say isn’t important." (read: “I’m not important").

    What we have done is to create a a self image, a self-concept, an identity, that I am not credible, or I’m not smart, or intelligent. Our belief is, "I’m the foolish (stupid, …) one." So, in order to be heard, seen, recognized, "met", accepted, acknowledged or approved, many of us feel that having our own voice is inappropriate, and that we have to show up as "not me."  So, to compensate for our sense of deficiency, we feel we have to hide our truth, our own self and just offer a facade, hold back, play it close to the vest…no disclosing my True and Real Self. . 

    Thus, many of us go through life silently, for example, remaining quiet at meetings, never writing our book, our poetry, our play, our music, deferring to others (the “experts"), and we remain fear-based, feeling insignificant, stupid, and frustrated, silently or overtly angry because we don’t feel "heard", because we feel we don’t "know enough" or "have the right information." We squash our transparency, our real-ness.

    So, mired in a state of insecurity, feeling small, invisible, irrelevant, and insignificant, adults often go through life "quietly" and afraid, playing like "good little boys and girls". The underlying belief is that I can’t stand (be, do) alone, that I can’t think for my self, I can’t be myself and if I did, I would be wrong, ridicled, etc.

    It’s also important to remember that we bring our "family" to work, our biography and our biology. Often in interactions at work, at home, at play, in relationships, if we are self-aware and conscious, we can sense we feel like a child, young, in the face of another person across from us. This other, in some way, often unconsciously, reminds us of the reactive, judgmental, critical parent or other authority figure who criticized us when we were young. So, we defer or else we feel we need to hold back, in order to feel seen, heard and accepted (i.e., unconsciously loved and accepted). Transparency is a scary proposition in this dynamic.

    It’s important to do the “inner work” to digest and metabolize these limiting self images and the negative energy and emotions related to them, so we can show up authentically, have our voice, our wisdom, be "adult" and be who we really are — our True, Real and authentic Self, as opposed to being the false image of "who I think I am." (i.e., the self-defeating and self-sabotaging self image, self-concept or self-representation that keeps us small, fearful, quiet, frustrated, sad, depressed, angry), voiceless.

    When we come from this place of our Essence, our True and Real Self, being “successful” and “allowing my voice” is an adventure, is a “juicy” experience” that is wrapped in curiosity, aliveness, energy….not fear.

    From this inner place, one feels courageous and strong in and of one’s Self, experiencing one’s inner capacity, heart- and soul-driven strength, courage, will, and confidence, to speak "one’s truth" and thus not be concerned or caught up in what others think about the True and Real me.

    Thanks for this post, Charlie.


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