Is Transparency Always Beneficial in Business?

Of course not. We know this from the extreme scenarios. You use your cell phone in the bathroom. Probably better not to let on where you are when you email your client from that private “office.”

Yet “transparency” is still cresting as the way to operate in business and this is worrisome. Just this fall, I have seen and experienced a few situations where it might have caused unnecessary harm. It seems that when we allow and seek transparency we run the risk of miscommunication about our intentions and abilities. And I don’t mean the obvious blooper when your employer sees a photo of you holding a bottle of vodka and dancing atop a table in a restaurant after you call in sick. I am referring to the stand-up, ethical and professionally responsible behaviors in which we engage but the virtues of which transparency can actually cloud.

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Take my weekly ritual of devoting an hour to reading up on a topic about which I know little. I have been doing this for years as “continuing education” of sorts for my ghostwriting of speeches and coaching of respondents in employment inter views. Staying abreast of ideas and trends in fields as diverse as retail, finance and education have each paid off when that email comes in with someone from that field in immediate need of my services. I have some sense of their subject matter, and combined with the intake and subsequent research, I can move expeditiously to meet their needs.

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Last month my ritual had a most direct impact on mine and my client’s success. It was positively serendipitous. On Monday afternoon I took my Wall Street Journal and my lunch to the farm where I board my horse. I set him free to graze in a field as I sat and ate and read a section of the paper called “C-SUITE” which is devoted to the “pressing issues for CEOs, chief information officers and others in the C-suite” as the Journal describes it. It was interesting reading but not nearly as interesting as the coincidence that the assistant to a CEO phoned me that very evening with an emergency request – could I help with a speech on corporate culture to be delivered that same week? Yikes! It was already Monday night. On Tuesday I teach two three-hour classes and commute from CT to NY to do so. No time for an intake until Wednesday and another client was counting on me to finish her projects that week as well. My response to her: “Absolutely. I was just thinking about this subject earlier today.” My lunch-time excursion and exercise in fact left me with my brain already parked in precisely the right lot for this assignment. But what would have happened if a fellow boarder had posted and tagged a photo of me on Monday afternoon? In other words, what would the transparency of my study habits have suggested to my client? Imagine the image: I am in jeans in the middle of the day sitting in a field reading the newspaper. Hardly looks like “work.” And it certainly could have called into question my credibility if I shared verbally the fact that my work schedule for the week was already crowded.

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These days with our digital footprints guiding much of the due diligence our business associates conduct, the risk of being misunderstood is real. Personal posts on Facebook are just a click away from our professional activities on LinkedIn. So, while transparency can indeed be valuable for the confidence it engenders and the credibility it inspires, transparency may erode both if it is not managed well. Like communication, to be effective, transparency must be timely, purposeful and mindful of the audience – today, a global one with access to quite a bit of information about our personal, professional and private lives absent context for it.

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels, in their places of worship and as keynoters. She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college-level courses on oral communication.  She has slowed down fast-talkers, turned “uhmers” into smooth-speakers and moderated accents from Brooklyn to Beijing – all to develop confident communicators.  Lisa has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and today manages Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a consulting firm that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at (203) 293-4741 or LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net and like her firm at www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.

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