Clarity Is Kindness: Why Transparency at Work Matters
This article was originally published on HR.com.
If there’s one certainty in our working world today, it’s that nothing is certain. As leaders, this can be a challenging time. How do you put your people at ease when you don’t have all the answers? How do you support your team when the road ahead is unknown? While the reality is that none of us really know what’s to come, approaching the uncertainty with caring transparency will make the journey ahead much smoother for all.
It can be scary to lay your cards on the table in moments when you don’t have all the answers, but transparency can also be liberating, and a great equalizer. When you are transparent, people know what is on your mind. And when you add caring to transparency, people also know what is in your heart. Caring transparency makes people feel safe. It creates an environment of trust and psychological safety, which are both paramount during these times.
When people know what they need to know and see you for who you are, things are clear. This is in contrast to when things are cloudy and opaque. When there is a lack of clarity in a work setting, it can create a culture of confusion and distrust. When we remember clarity is kindness – people like to be able to see things for what they really are – we bring more caring transparency to our leadership and culture.
It is a fundamental human need to know. Knowing is power. Knowing gives us the outlook to find our path in life and ultimately survive. Therefore, when speaking with caring transparency, we are not holding back important information out of fear of how it will be received or out of fear of how we will be perceived if we don’t have all the answers.
As leaders, we cannot overestimate the power of sharing information and creating a sense of transparency for our people. Transparency is the fairest and most humane approach to leadership, yet not easy because it often includes sharing things people don’t want to hear. Because of this, transparency is the foundation for effective communication and trusting relationships.
Clarity, transparency, and the resulting culture of psychological safety can be nurtured in many ways. The following are practical strategies for implementing a cycle of caring transparency within your organization.
Clarity is a State of Mind
If we want to bring more transparency to our leadership, we need to start with having a clear mind. When our mind is cluttered, we cannot think clearly or see clearly. Most of us spend our days rushing from meeting to meeting with brief spaces in between filled with responding to messages or putting out fires. This way of working builds a lot of mental clutter.
Taking mindful breaks throughout the day to clear the mental clutter is a great way to create more clarity for ourselves and enables us to be clearer and more transparent with others. Taking time to pause before sending a message or starting a meeting is also a way to ensure what you are sending or saying is as clear as possible.
When we clear the mental clutter, it is like clearing the room of things that can get in the way of positive human connection. When there is less clutter, you are less distracted and it is easier for people to see through you and feel more comfortable in your presence. A clear state of mind enables us to be more caring and transparent.
Seek Clarity to Enhance Clarity
It is one thing to have a goal of creating a more transparent culture where information is more freely shared. But in any exchange of information, there is a sender and one or more receivers.
And, as we all know, the information you send may or may not be the information I receive. As Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve of the United States, stated, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
As leaders, we need to remember that communication is a two-way street. We need to ensure we create mechanisms to ensure what we shared is clearly understood. This requires that we don’t make assumptions and, instead, ask questions. This willingness to make time for clarity creates space for richer and deeper conversations and relationships.
Make Time for Connection
Creating a sense of caring transparency is greatly enhanced when we are intentional about making time just to connect. When we connect as human beings, we create greater caring transparency because people see us as a whole person and feel more comfortable in our presence. Human beings have a much more difficult time connecting with people they don’t know, and it is more difficult to get to know someone we have never met in person.
In today’s virtual, remote workspace, we need to be much more intentional in making time to connect. This can take many forms, including check-ins at the beginning of meetings, informal virtual cafes, online social activities, or structured exercises facilitated online or in person.
These moments of human connection should not be underestimated. We are social beings, and we work better together and enjoy working more together when we feel connected. In our increasingly virtual workplace, we need to be intentional about creating moments for real and transparent human connection.
Most leaders will say they want people to share concerns, raise objections, and point out issues. But creating this type of environment is not easy. To encourage people to share concerns and ask questions, it needs to be part of the culture. This means that people should feel safe to disagree and have confidence that when they raise objections, they will be celebrated instead of rejected.
Ways to create a culture of dissent include being mindful of language. For example, consider the innocent question a leader may pose in a meeting: “Does everyone agree?” The unintended signal this leader is sending is that everyone should agree. So, even if the leader is genuinely open to challenge, members of the team may not feel comfortable speaking up. A better question may be, “Who would like to share why this is a bad idea?”
Through creating the right incentives, leaders who give voice to caring and motivated employees willing to share dissenting views ultimately contributes to individual and organizational wellbeing. Open and productive dissenters are often integral to business success due to a diversity of thought that drives innovation and because they tend to retain the most talented, productive, and loyal employees.
In our new book, Compassionate Leadership: How to Do Hard Things in a Human Way, Stephanie Lundquist, EVP at Target, shared a story with us. She had just started in a new leadership role during a time of significant change and disruption. “It was a challenging situation,” she said. “I was honest about what I thought I knew. But I was also transparent and honest about what I didn’t know. And it gave me a great chance to allow others to step in, collaborate, contribute, and help.” She realized that by demonstrating humility, it allowed other experts within the organization to rise up and lead. Her willingness to be transparent and humble gave others the space to grow.
Being clear and transparent about your own limitations creates safety for others to ask questions and share their own questions or concerns. When we demonstrate humility, we show that we are human. When we are comfortable with saying “I don’t know,” we show that it is okay to be wrong and to not have all the answers. And when we openly admit that we made a mistake, we create a culture where others can take risks and feel safe making mistakes.
Show Your True Self
Although for many of us, being vulnerable about what we don’t know is hard, ultimately it is a gift because it enables us to show more of our true self. When delivering tough messages, we have a tendency to put up a shield to protect ourselves from potential backlash from the recipient. Although this protective barrier is natural, it gets in the way of having a heart to- heart, human-to-human conversation. To develop caring transparency, you need to lower this barrier and allow people to see you as a human being – not as a boss or a leader, but as someone who cares.