Transforming Talk at Work | January 2015


Dear reader,

“I am not at liberty to share that information.” Have you ever heard a co-worker or supervisor utter this phrase? How did you feel? For most, there is an immediate sense of discomfort. You know something is up, and it drives you a little crazy that you don’t know what it is. Whether the delivery is explicit or thinly veiled in avoidance, the resulting message is the same: I cannot or will not trust you with this information.

When information is not readily shared in organizational life, the human brain will do its best to understand what’s missing. We invent stories to fill the voids. It’s hard not to feel like the secrecy must mean something – suspicion starts creeping in. Whether we want it to or not, the “meaning-making” mind will eventually settle on a theory that explains both why details are being withheld, and what the omissions might actually be. Bottom line: secrecy breeds distraction, encourages misinformation and corrodes relationships in the workplace.

The solution to these troubling consequences is easier than you might think: choose transparency. Whether it is with the people who report to you, stakeholder groups or your customers, transparency is the way to go. In fact, an article recently published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization found that transparent leaders generate significantly more cooperation, greater consistency from team members and even higher earnings.

Information is power – share it and watch loyalty, engagement and inspiration grow. With the advantages so great and the downsides truly negligible, why not choose transparency today?

The next time you’ve got information worth sharing, use the following steps to reverse engineer greater transparency in the workplace.


Reverse Engineer: Workplace Transparency

1. Check for consensus within your senior leadership. Are you on the same page regarding the importance and benefits of transparency? Knowing your viewpoint is held at other levels of the organization will help you proceed with confidence.
2. Understand the concerns of the audience you are communicating with. What do they care most about? What are their biggest fears? Take a moment to step into their shoes.
3. Use clear, straightforward language. Don’t mask issues in technical jargon or corporate-speak.
4. Don’t forget the finances. Sharing financial data can be very powerful in building trust and changing behavior, and will help all involved feel most comfortable with the new information.
5. Be ready for questions – they are bound to come up, and may not be what you were initially expecting. Do your best to anticipate the tough questions and prepare clear and candid responses in advance.
6. Keep the lines of communication open. A single burst of transparency can do more damage than good. When you follow up and keep people posted, you continue to build trust.


Digest This: Workplace Transparency

How to Make Transparency Part of Organizational Culture (Forbes)
Imagine building a workplace culture from the ground up, with diverse and peer-driven teams instead of hierarchical management. Think of a company whose primary belief is that, “evil creeps into companies when you hide things,” with transparency as the rule rather than an exception. Sound interesting? Read on to meet a company who is successfully putting these ideals into practice every day.

Sincerity and Transparency Are the Keys to Genuine Customer Loyalty(Entrepreneur)
Here, customer loyalty is broken down into three distinct tiers: transactional, emotional and identity. Not all companies are designed for every tier, but I bet you can guess the crucial ingredients for achieving any or all three: reciprocity, empowerment and, of course, transparency.

Why Open Leadership Has Become Essential (Huffington Post)
Comparing the open-platform World Wide Web with a guiding need for transparency in organizational leadership, this article makes a strong argument, “Adopting open leadership is the only viable path to success in the new world.” Hear, hear.


My Treat:

My Turn to Share

A couple of months ago, I entered my very own bruschetta recipe in the Minneapolis area MGM Grand Recipe Showdown – and I won! The prize was a trip to compete in the finals in Las Vegas, where I got the chance to feel like a professional chef for the day. It was quite an adventure!

In a show of my own transparency, send me an email and I’ll happily send you the award-winning bruschetta recipe.



Happy new year,

Janel Anderson, PhD
Workplace Communication Expert and CEO of Working Conversations

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