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As I stood in front of the room, I felt that if I did not share the full story with them, I would be acting unauthentically as their leader. This was about four years ago. The corporate office created a sales contest to incentivize overperformance. The year had a slow start, and the company needed to get a jolt in revenue to get back on track.

The contest was rolled out amazingly with lots of energy, and the team members really became excited. I have never seen such a high level of engagement from the team. Naturally, the performance was fantastic and way more team members than expected overperformed compared to their regular monthly execution. The company was going to have to pay out somewhere around $270K in additional bonuses to the team members because of this contest.

This was July, and they were expecting the payout in mid-August. As the time for the payout approached, there was minimal communication from the corporate office. At the same time, there were lots of questions from the team members that were excited about some great bonuses they were going to get. So one day, in the meeting, the team cornered me and wanted an answer. So here we are at the start of the story.

Standing there and pacing, I had a choice. Do I tell the team what I assume is going on, or do I tell them nothing at all and only give the limited information provided by the corporate office? I had already pushed out, giving them my opinion for a long time, and they know who I am as a person. So after careful consideration, I decided to tell them that I have the same word from the corporate office as before that things are being calculated. With that said, I had to share with them what I thought is going on. I shared that I believe the company did not expect this level of performance and did not realize this contest was going to cost so much for the bottom line. The team listened to that and understood completely and asked that I keep them updated as much as I could.

Little did I know that there have been rumors on the team how the company was going to stiff the team members and not pay out the bonus. Not too long after I heard this, the company came out with an email saying that many people that were initially qualified are now disqualified. The reasons were due to some miscalculation and possible fraud. I can’t tell you enough how fast the team dynamic was destroyed. Trust was taken out of the building after I have been trying to build it for a year. I started wondering, had I not been honest with them and shared with them my opinion, would the team have been in better shape. Was I too transparent, or was it that the company was not transparent enough? The reality is that the answer is somewhere in the middle, where all parties involved play a role in this mishap. Mind you; every team member received all their pay that was promised. It took until October and a lot of complaints by everyone, but it was done.

After that moment, I learned that transparency was not just about saying what we think. It is an artform that leaders have to master and keep polished at all times.

What Is Transparency?

Transparency lives in the balance of saying what is on your mind and ensuring that what we say creates the desired intention. It is not always positive and negative, but more importantly, it must be aligned to the outcome. People often think that being transparent is all about not having a filter, and I used to be one of those people. That is until I experienced the story mentioned above and learned my lesson. Transparency is always a two-way street, and the equation is much more complicated than the one-sided perception that many of us hold.

What Are The Key Components Of Transparency?

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When we are transparent, we have to remember that the people that we are communicating with may not be used to this level of communication. Transparency needs to be tailored to the people we are transparent with. Yes, be your authentic self, but maybe if you are going to give negative feedback, prep them for it before giving it to them. Otherwise, you may have wanted to create a positive impact and either over shared or really derailed the person’s motivation.

Setting Expectations From The Start

The way that you tailor that delivery can be by setting up expectations from the start. You can open by saying, “I have to be transparent with you, and it’s some negative feedback. I am doing this because I believe in you and know that you can grow once you hear this feedback.” It’s not about making a crap sandwich by sandwiching negative feedback in between positive. This has more to do with making your intention clear. When people are stunned by our transparency, their animal brain may get fired up. So by setting up expectations before being transparent, we help that reaction to be more subtle. Why does it all matter? Because the intention of being transparent is not just about you feeling good about it, but more about that communication is productive and not unnecessary.

The Balance Between Authenticity & Detrimental Impact On Others

To ensure that the conversation is productive and not have negative consequences, we must maintain balance. A great way to think about that balance is like the flow of water out of a hose. When we are balanced in our transparency, it is like a nice garden hose gently poring us a sip to quench our thirst. Yet when transparency is not balanced, we are like a fire hose trying to put out a house fire… good luck taking a gentle sip from that. You have values and morals. Staying true to those is key to your life success and fulfillment. If it is within you to have to share something, at least consider the damage that it may do to others when you are considering what you will share.

How To Become More Transparent

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Your Stories

Not everybody is like me and has an issue with being overly transparent. More people in the world struggle with transparency. One of the most common ways of improving anything in our personal development is to understand our stories. If you want to improve your ability to be transparent, you must become aware of the narrative that is running through your head during the moment when you feel you should be transparent. As you become aware of it, with the time, you will understand the origin of the beliefs that are holding you back from being transparent. As you begin to trace the origin, you will be engaging more of the logical brain. That brain is much more advanced than the animal brain that was keeping your stories in fear. Then through that reflection, you will change your stories. They will change your beliefs, and in turn, you will create transparent communication and action.

Your Intent & Measured Response

Irrelevant, if you are not able to be transparent or if you are overly transparent, you must align your intention of transparency with the measured response. You must ensure that the level of transparency matches the intent of the conversation. This way, you can be effective instead of just being a balloon full of air that likes to let it out from time to time. Just like the punishment must fit the crime, your response to someone’s success or failure has to come with an appropriate level of transparency. If someone was late for the first time, and you say to them, “I cannot believe that I hired you, I had my reservations from the start.” That statement is not going to be one that creates a positive impact on the other person. You may say something along the lines of, “I am upset that you are late, but I do understand things happen. Can you please let me know what happened?” You can even talk about how you have a no-tolerance policy, but mentioning that you had reservations after the interview is not a good fit there. On the other hand, I had seen people be over the top transparent when good things happened. Yet the response is so much more positive than the situation warrants typically that it makes people uncomfortable.

Culture of Transparency

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So far, we have really focused on individual transparency. It is the easier one than the one I am about to mention simply because it is our own choice. The more challenging aspect of transparency is getting others to be transparent and setting a culture that supports that within a team. A leader cannot choose for the team to be transparent as each person has to make that decision every time they are faced with the opportunity. Yet, there are proven ways that a leader can positively impact transparency culture.

2 Most Important Moments For Transparency

When working on helping others become more transparent, we have to come from a place of understanding. We have to create a safe space for people to openly share without feeling like they will be judged or punished. There are two vital moments in transparency, seeking conversation that we must pay attention to. The first moment is the setup, and the second moment is the response. The set up is how you introduce the conversation and make people feel encouraged to participate. Give them the why behind why sharing their perspective will be so vital to you and the team. Let them know that there is no wrong answer and that they are not going to overstep a boundary by being transparent. The response is what comes immediately after someone was transparent with you as the leader or someone else in the conversation. It is essential how you respond verbally, but what is even more vital is your non-verbal communication. Watch your body language. Make sure you are not in a closed-off position and instead be as open as possible. Be upright and welcoming with your gestures and tone of voice. Often people may say the right thing as if they love the feedback, but their eyebrows or their smirk is saying something different.

Transparency In All Directions

You have to make sure that your culture encourages transparency with equality in mind and in all directions of the organization. People need to be equally transparent with all demographics and not be selective with people. Remember that you can vary the delivery of how you are being transparent to custom tailor approach for the individual, but do not vary if you are transparent or not between people. We must be just with all our actions, and transparency is no different.

In conclusion, I want to leave you with a question. Last time you felt you were being transparent, what was the reason for it? Think about that this week and check out our videos on the topic on our company page. Please follow #HumanSOS to help us create a movement that impacts human sustainability within the workplace.