How much do you let your walls down when interacting with colleagues, superiors and direct reports? Do you keep a stiff upper lip and only reveal the depths of your personality when necessary, or are you completely transparent? For many of us, we can make the choice, and which path you chose is important.
Minter Dial recently wrote a wonderful piece on “Should You Bring Your Whole Self to Work?,” discussing the transparency scale available to all of us, and it got me reflecting on my own history with transparency in the office. And in discussing upcoming yearly performance reviews with a colleague, some of Dial’s points really started hitting home, so I thought I’d share some of my own experiences and thoughts.
In my mind, how transparent you are in the workplace largely depends on three factors: how comfortable you are letting your guard down, where you work and who you’re interacting with. Some jobs and industries require you to be more secretive, some people can’t be trusted, and some people just can’t let loose. Simple as that.
Also, there are some topics you just probably shouldn’t be transparent about. Some people have ruined their careers by proudly voicing their politics, exposing their personal lives to those with different cultural norms, or just being a bit of a weirdo. The idea of “professionalism” often doubles as a way of keeping everyone from getting a little too weird or offensives.
But there are benefits to being as transparent as you can be. If you’re a person who’s known to openly voice their opinion in a meeting, answer any question and put a lot of your personality out there, colleagues will quickly clue in that you have everything on the table, and trust will grow.
Let’s then look at three relationships that can be helped, or hurt, by being transparent.
Transparency with your boss
Because you likely only have one boss, this work relationship may be the closest one you have in the office. Just how transparent you can be will largely depend on your superiors’ personality and what kind of relationship you’ve built, but I would generally encourage you to be as open as possible.
Coaching sessions with your boss often go beyond the metrics you need to meet, and get to the core of what drives you. That could involve discussions of your personal life, where you feel strong and where you feel weak. Open and frank discussion helps all of these matters, and can help progress this dynamic to a point where you both help each other to a much better degree. Even your own doubts about a key company strategy, if worded wisely, could help you both discuss the matter and reach a better understanding.
Of course, it’s best to keep some things to yourself. That depends on what your bosses hang ups are, but some bosses will not appreciate gossipy topics as much as your colleagues well.
Transparency with those on your level
This can be the most complicated set of relationships you have in the office. While some of your coworkers might be down to build a friendship and not betray you with something said in confidence, others will be ruthless, looking for any morsel of gossip they can use to bury you and get themselves ahead.
When I was starting out as a team manager, I asked a fellow manager with more experience on advice about coaching a difficult employee. That somehow ended up being feedback to my boss in the way of “Derek doesn’t know how to run a team.” In that case, I should have been much less transparent. Also, gossip is rarely good.
Feel people out, and determine how open you can be with them, and how open they are to you. As a general rule, if they are actively avoiding transparency for themselves, be careful how transparent you can be with them.
Transparency with your employees
Just like your relationship with your boss, you should attempt to be as open as possible with those lower on the totem pole. You need their trust so you can motivate them to achieve more, and the fastest way to do that is to be transparent with them.
This applies of course in coaching, where delivering the truth is better than sugar coating. But it also applies to how much of yourself you share, so that employees can get a sense of the person they are working for. It’s much easier to work for a boss you feel you know personally, so putting yourself out there will deliver results.
That being said, this relationship has its own reasons to be slightly opaque. Those doubts you discussed with your boss about the company’s direction? You probably want to find a way to better explain them before you start turning everyone else with you. Thoughts on a badly behaving employee? That’s not for everyone else to hear. Opinions on Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Don’t start unnecessary fights.
Find your own balance
Ultimately, as Dial notes, the best course is to find some nuance to your approach. Put as much of yourself out there as you feel comfortable with, and be mindful of how that’s working for you. There will always be risks to putting yourself out there, but opting for more transparency, rather than less, will pay returns in the long run.
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