Transparency: - easier said than done

Apr 18 2011 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "transparent" as: free from pretense or deceit; easily seen through; readily understood; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information, especially concerning business practices.

Google "transparency in the market" and you'll get almost 31 million results. "Transparency in the workplace" returns nearly six million pages. So transparency is certainly something that is widely-discussed. But why is being transparent easier said than done?

Transparency is a quality built on truth, openness, honest and sincerity. The essence of telling the truth is being comfortable in one's own skin. Transparency is the "secret sauce" of trust. Conscious, healthy relationships thrive on trust, integrity and transparency.

Being transparent in the way we speak, act and think allows others to see us as being in alignment with who we say we are. This alignment lead to win-win, trusting and psycho-emotionally healthy relationships.

The reverse is also true. If we lack transparency, others relate to us from an arm's length, viewing us suspiciously and feeling unsafe around us. When we're not transparent we're seen as lacking credibility, dependability and trustworthiness. Transparency - it seems so simple, but, for many, it's not easy.

The challenging question is: if transparency is a behavior in high demand, why are so many unable or unwilling to behave transparently – at work, at home, in their relationships, friendships and acquaintanceships?

Having transparency and losing it

Very early on in life, most children are truly transparent. We share our thoughts; we engage in lively, free expression; we openly and honestly disclose how we feel. We trust and are trusting. But not long after, we are often met with resistance, first, from our parents or immediate care givers, then from extended family, teachers, clergy, so-called friends and others. The push-back we experience is often expressed in ways like these:

  • "You think you're so smart!" (with a negative edge)
  • "Little boys/girls should be seen and not heard!" (you're an irritant)
  • "That's the craziest thing I've ever heard!" (you're stupid)
  • "What do you know!" (with a negative dismissal)
  • "Who told you that?!" (skepticism; disbelief)
  • "Don't say/do such a thing" (how can you say/do such a thing!)
  • "I don't believe you." (you're lying)
  • "That's not true." (you are lacking or deficient)
  • "You don't make any sense!" (you're stupid)
  • "You don't think straight!" (you're unintelligent)
  • "What makes you think that way!" (your approach/ideas are weird)
  • "You don't have half a brain!" (you're stupid)
  • "For someone so smart, you're really stupid!" (you lack intelligence)
  • "You'll only cause trouble." (you're not mainstream; you're not 'like me')

When we have been hammered and attacked again and again, we start to believe that what we say, think and do is not "good enough", or that we are "bad" or "wrong." We begin to shut down or otherwise hide our essence, our openness, our "being who we are."

Loss of self-value and worth

The belief – "transparency is not a good thing;" "transparency is bad;" "I'm bad" - becomes an imprint, hard-wired on our brain, in our unconscious, and we then carry this belief into adolescence and eventually into adulthood.

This belief is translated into, "What I think/say/do and feel doesn't have value" and we feel "I don't have value." And, "If I don't have value, then I better change the way I am in order to have value and worth" to garner the love, recognition, acknowledgement, approval, acceptance and all the other "goodies" that will only come to me if I contract, shut down and become opaque - anything but transparent.

So we create a self-image, an identity, that I am not credible, I'm not smart, or intelligent. And in order to be heard, seen, and "met," we give up our voice; we believe we have to hide our truth, our intelligence, ideas, emotions and feelings, and squash our True and Real Self. We defer, become quiet and passive. We learn to lie, deceive, cheat and blame - to avoid being transparent. We morph into "good little boys and girls" – quiet, afraid, passive and fake.

In the workplace

In the workplace, where transparency is a hot topic, it is important to remember that we bring our "family" - our biography and our biology - with us when we go to work. In interactions at work (as elsewhere), we can feel like a child – across from others who unconsciously remind us of the reactive, judgmental, critical parent or other authority figure who criticized us when being transparent as a child.

Some questions for self-reflection

  • Are others clear about the motives underneath your thoughts, words and actions. Are you?
  • Would you describe leaders and managers in your workplace as transparent? Why/why not?
  • Would you describe yourself and your spouse/partner as transparent?
  • Do you demand transparency from others while being opaque yourself? Are you a trustworthy?
  • Transparent? What would your friends and colleagues say? D
  • Does the standard of transparency by which you measure yourself differ from the standard of transparency by which you measure others? How so?
  • What stories do you use to rationalize and justify your lack of transparency?
  • Can you admit when you don't know what or how, or don't have an answer, or feel afraid or uncomfortable?
  • What was the principle of transparency like when you were growing up?
  • Have you ever been "found out" in some way, shape or form? What was that like?
  • Can you envision a life where transparency is an everyday operating principle?

So, we hold back, defer, shut down, resist disclosing and become opaque so we can feel seen, heard and accepted. Transparency becomes a scary proposition.

For example, we're reluctant to discuss our motives and feelings about our plans, policies, processes, procedures with colleagues or clients. We're reluctant to be up-front with customers, vendors, suppliers and other stakeholders. We're afraid to disclose how and what we really think and feel, and why. We're opaque.

The antidote to this opaqueness is clarity and light.

As we become more self-aware - emotionally and spiritually mature - we're able to show up authentically, allow our voice, our wisdom, our thoughts, our motives and be who we really are.

When, with clarity about who we really are - our Essential Self - being transparent, and allowing our voice, feelings, emotions, honesty and openness, we transform (back) into our authentic self, alive and, once again feeling secure in our own skins; we're not afraid to cultivate relationships that are transparent healthy, conscious, and trusting - leading to real connection, collegiality and collaboration.

From this place, we access the courage, strength, will and steadfastness to speak "our truth" and not be concerned or caught up in what others think or believe about us.

Transparency supports us to know and be who we are. If we're not open and transparent to others, we cannot be open and transparent to ourselves. If we're not aware, open and transparent to ourselves, we cannot mature and become fully self-actualized.

"You are the lens in the beam. You can only receive, give, and possess the light as the lens does. If you seek yourself, you rob the lens of its transparency. You will know life and be acknowledged by it according to your degree of transparency, your capacity, that is, to vanish as an end, and remain purely as a means." [Dag Hammarskjold]

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.