We hear much about transparency in government and in business, but personal transparency is a cornerstone in communication. Why do so many people have difficulties saying what they think?
This became apparent to me during some course work based on Peter Senge’s work in the Fifth Discipline. This exercise helps us become aware of the differences between what we are thinking and what we are saying. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle to create two columns. Label the left-hand column “What I’m thinking” and label the right-hand column “What I said”. Now review a conversation you had difficulties with in the past and complete the columns as you dissect the exchange. Is there a difference between what you were thinking and what you were saying?Why didn’t you say what was in your left-hand column? What prevented you?
Because people have been taught from an early age to hide matters, they are not fully aware of what they are thinking when they have difficult conversations. This tool makes a big impact in understanding our conversations and brings to light when we are not fully transparent. It helps us reflect and think about what our intention was and what we are really trying to accomplish in the conversation. What are the disadvantages of this type of conversation? What are the advantages?
Transparent communication, from a person-centered perspective, is openly expressing what is going on within yourself, what you think and feel, at this particular moment appropriate for this particular context.It is an – optimally respectful and empathic – expression of a person’s congruence. In working relationships, a transparent person is often perceived as real, genuine, not hiding behind façades or professional fronts. This creates trust with those around them.
Transparency doesn’t mean to fully disclose every feeling or thought in every moment, but to be able to clearly communicate those if perceived as relevant. What could this imply for a business environment that is characterized by rapid change and the necessity of sound decisions? How can we ensure that we effectively inquire into the other persons left-hand column?
Revealing our left-hand columns may create opportunities for learning and a different type of dialogue. To take advantage of this in a team setting it may be best to have an outside facilitator present. They will have the skills to promote inquiry, the presence of mind to recognize subtleties at play and an independent voice that everyone else in the room will be open to listening to.