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Word’s Worth – Transparent

The words we use matter. When we speak or hear a word we make pictures and sounds in our minds, and that impacts how we feel and behave. So it’s important to be clear about what we are saying, to ourselves and others. In this series, John will explore the meaning and impact of common words we use and ask the question ‘Do we know what we’re saying?’


My reason for writing about this now is that I saw it in an article someone had written about a business going through change. I then heard it from the head of the VW group as he described what their review process going to be. That then hooked me into the many examples I have heard of this being said in and about organisations, and in that arena of Transparency, Politics.

When you hear the word it suggests, openness, honesty, integrity someone or some organisation you can trust.  For the purpose of this Words Worth I am suggesting that the minute you say it, or the minute you hear it said by someone else you are setting yourself up to lie or be lied to and to being or receiving something less than transparency.

And I say that not to judge anyone, I say it because to be transparent is not human, it is not helpful and it is not, actually, what people want to hear.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines transparent as:

“Allowing light to pass through so that objects behind it can be distinctly seen” and  “having thoughts or feelings that are easily perceived, open”

The origin is from Latin for shining through and appear.

That all sounds good and when someone says it they may mean and you may well perceive what they are saying as good……and it is……to a point.

Is it good to be transparent all the time, is it possible to be transparent all of the time?  I would suggest no on both counts. Yes it is helpful to be open as much as possible and when things are hidden it can lead to real problems, scandal, corruption etc. The resolution to such things is not transparency, it is clarity.  If you said all that you wanted to say in your job or your family for the sake of transparency would that always be good thing?  I doubt it. You only have to have the pleasure of a small child being transparent to know that is not always a good idea, cute as it is, sometimes. If you do not understand the background, the context and the thinking of all involved can you really cope with others being totally transparent?  I doubt it.  There are some things that others do not and should not know.

In any relationship with another person or people there are degrees to the amount of openness that you have, the transparency.  Some people are not capable, as a result of age, maturity, intellect or position to be helped by too much transparency.  On the other side you, as a human being, should be very careful who and to what extent you are transparent with other people.  Some can’t and some won’t treat your openness in the way you intend.

When you are tempted to use the word or hear the word said, here are a few thoughts for you to consider:

  1. If you are tempted to say it, Ask yourself, “what am I seeking to convey.” If it is an openness to ideas, hearing problems or getting to the bottom of things on the spirit of learning, resolution and moving forward, then say that instead.  People will understand that better not to mention believe you more.
  2. If you are suggesting a transparent style of management beware. There will always be things you can’t tell everyone whether that be at this moment in time or ever. Rather than set yourself up for problems, talk in terms of being open, sharing information as and when you can and is appropriate. Talk about the idea that not everything is for everyone.  Not everyone will like that or understand it, that’s life, that’s leadership.
  3. If you hear it from others then your action will be dependent on the situation. If it is a politician or the head of VW – well forget it (only joking, well….).  If it is a friend or colleague and you believe that they mean what they say ask them “what do you mean by that”?  That will help them get in touch with what they are really trying to convey.
  4. If you are a leader or manager or parent then find someone else you can trust and talk to, and be careful who you choose. Check out with them if what you are wanting to say or share is helpful in the spirit of more open or if it is oversharing, unhelpfully dumping on others or simply unhelpful.  If you are holding back from saying or sharing something check that out as well. Through that process you will get your own balance between openness and appropriateness.
  5. In general terms my suggestion is to think in terms of clarity rather than transparency.

By all means seek to be clear, be more open, share more with others as you learn how to do it and who t do it with and please keep what you want to keep to yourself to yourself.

 Beware Transparency, it is not all it appears to be.

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