The Important Process Before Transparency

August 10, 2008

I have been thinking a lot lately about the concept of transparency.  There are projects going on, new people joining the staff, changes in policies and procedures at MPOW that require good communication and a level of transparency in order to make things go smoothly and to keep everyone as informed as they need and would like to be.  I believe that transparency in communication, decision-making, procedures and policy is ideal and I support any effort to improve in this area.

However, more and more I am starting to think that an important and essential first or pre-step needs to happen and is often overlooked.  This being: creating a climate of open communication.  What I mean by this is a work environment where people are comfortable being honest and direct, sharing their opinions, without the fear of, not retribution, but of offending people.  I know that someone will always be offended by something, I’m not that naive.  We spend a lot of time coaching people on how to communicate more effectively and how to be better at giving feedback, but we don’t spend enough time on the other side of that equation; receiving feedback.

Receiving feedback is a skill.  It takes a great deal of self-awareness, self-control, self-confidence, and self-esteem.  It is something that with practice we can improve.  I don’t have a 5 step improvement process for this, but I do have some key points that I try to keep in the back of my head.

1.  I am secure in the knowledge that I am good at what I do.  This is not conceit or arrogance.  This is recognition that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing, what makes the best use of my skills and talents, and what I enjoy doing on a daily basis.  It is reinforced by positive feedback from my staff, my colleagues, my supervisors, performance appraisals, and the fact that I still want to get up and go to work every morning.

2.  What happens in my professional life does not necessarily have much, if any, bearing on my personal life.  When I receive feedback about my work, it is just that.  It is not a remark about my soul, personality, morality, intelligence, character, or who I am at the core of my being.  If it was, I’d have a lot more issues that need to be addressed.

3.  The people I work with are my colleagues and collaborators, not my enemies. There is no hidden agenda or conspiracy to see me fail.  I consider what I am being told before I react.  Is it relevant?  Does it make a valid point?  How can I change or improve the issue?  What is the desired outcome and how do we get there?

4. I can’t please everyone.  Being a manager puts you in the undesirable position of having to hear feedback that you sometimes can’t directly address or comment upon.  You just have to hear it.  We sometimes have to make decisions when there is no time to consider all outcomes and possibilities.  A decision has to be made and we deal with the fallout later.  Sooner or later someone will disagree or be unhappy.  That is just the way it goes.

5.  9 times out of 10 it is not going to be catastrophic.  There are very few decisions or actions that cannot be reversed or modified.  We are not performing brain surgery, we are trying to help people.  We are fortunate that we have rules that can be adjusted depending on a situation.  This is not a military operation, we have many options and we can try as many as needed.

Through a lot of practice and self-improvement I have become someone who accepts and solicits feedback from my peers, colleagues and staff.  I want to know what’s going on and how things can be better.  I’m not going to be offended by what I am going to hear, no matter how bad someone thinks it is.  I can guarantee that I have thought worse about myself than what I am going to be told.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we are there yet in our work environments.  I think it has improved greatly, but I still see people getting emotional and personal about issues that are purely professional.  I recognize that sometimes people care so much about their work that it is hard for them to not identify with it, but I also think that in cases like that too much can be a bad thing.  You want to be open to what people have to say.

Another important point to consider is that not all criticism is equal.  Is it coming from someone you really admire and respect or is it coming from a person who is always negative, never has anything positive to say and never has a solution to a problem; just the list of problems?  If it is the latter, why do you care? Our most important critics are the people we admire, respect, and care about.  When they stop giving you feedback, wake up, you have a problem.

I have no answers about how to change an environment into an open one.  I think it is something that can be approached on two fronts: the first being locally, on a department or unit basis.  A manager needs to create and foster this climate and model the behavior themselves.  The second is from a top-down strategy.  An organization must commit to becoming a haven of open communication.  Everyone must practice what is preached.

10 Responses to “The Important Process Before Transparency”

  1. Lui Sieh said


    Nice post. I agree that having the environment accepting of “transparency” is critical. In my experience, this is a bit of a chicken or an egg conundrum.

    I think I’ve come to the realization that in order to achieve transparency, that means one must practice it first – as a personal, professional, leadership style. If we believe in “authentic leadership” and being open and transparent is who we are, then practicing transparency becomes much easier. Consequently, that builds up one’s credibility to lead the change. I believe it takes a lot of courage to practice it in an hostile environment because it will leave one extremely vulnerable.

    Nevertheless, we must start out and “just do it” because most people won’t or can’t.


  2. eprahs said

    Love your thoughts on the ability to accept feedback – it does take practice!

  3. radicalibrarian said

    Wow, Mary. You’ve said so much, I don’t know where to start! I’ll start off by saying I agree. I see many organizations touting transparency long before they’ve started the long journey to making it a reality. You said that before a climate of open communication can happen one must be open to receiving feedback. I would go one step further back and say that I think your “Receiving Feedback 5 Step Improvement Process” (and more!) are necessary elements before *any* of this can happen. It’s something I work on constantly and wish more people did. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily natural or even all takes work!

    How can someone who isn’t confident, centered, rational, and professional ever create a transparent environment? Rarely I think!

    I think organizations need to start with some of the basics (like you mentioned) and go from there. It’s foolish and detrimental to the organization to continue ignoring these building blocks. Yes, yes, it’s embarrassing to start from scratch but it is time to start!

    So when/where are you offering your 5 step improvement class? 😉

  4. marycarmen said

    Thanks everyone for the prompt and positive feedback and comments. A couple of discussion points: Lui, I absolutely agree with you. Transparency has to be adopted as a personal, professional leadership style. I know a lot of us like to think that we are different people at home than we are at work, but I don’t think that is entirely true. I like to think that I am the same person, just at work the volume on some of my more “louder” personality traits is turned down some. I am very much a “what you see is what you get,” direct, honest person and I have found that it is vital for me to be exactly that at work and that I work better with people who recognize that. They don’t necessarily have to be the same way, but those who recognize that I work better with honest feedback and information, tend to be the people that I create amazingly productive and collaborative professional relationships with.

    Brandi and Lui, I also agree that we just have to get up and do it. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to do that whether you’re in a great or horrible work environment. But someone has to take the first step and make the unpopular decision, point or case. I don’t know if there is a class or whatnot that you can take to hone this skill. However, I do think a HUGE component of being able to do this has to do with whether or not you are happy in what you are doing. What I mean by this is, even if you are in a toxic or bad environment, you still love the work you do. Because if you don’t love what you are doing, you’ll never care enough to change anything.

    I don’t know…me as a self-help guru….that could be fun 😉

  5. Colleen said

    Preach it, sisterfriend! This is a really nice list, and we should all come back to it every once in awhile to make sure we’re following this. Something else to address about the whole “being afraid to offend someone” – perhaps in addition to training people to be less sensitive to constructive criticism, we should also train people that “offending” people – particularly in this case where it comes as a matter of course of providing constructive criticism – is a necessary and healthy part of a democratic society.

  6. Cathy said

    Perfectly said, and since this is Planet Cathy, just the thing I needed to read before I start my new libary job.

  7. PJ said

    I totally agree with you, being an honest, direct communicator myself. However, I am in an environment where these qualities are not valued and have actually been told not to be so forthright with my “opinion” and to learn how to schmooze and “get along” better on my performance review! How does one carry on in such an environment?

  8. Lui Sieh said

    Hi PJ,

    I understand your frustration. What’s helped me is to find the appropriate language – every organization has that “code” – which others can accept. Then translate your directness and honesty into that form and now you can be yourself and say the things that need to be said.

    Some people think that’s part of “politics” and so it is, but that’s corporate life for you. It takes time, doable but perhaps not 100%. Still better than just banging the head against the brick wall.


  9. Mary Carmen said

    Hi PJ,

    Lui beat me to it, but he makes a great point, it is all about the appropriate language. Every organization has its own culture and that culture usually becomes evident in “politics.” My advice to you would be to take some time to watch the way things work in your organization. Identify someone who really seems adept at navigating the place and who tends to get what they want and make things happen. Watch what they are doing and see if you can take some cues from their behavior and approach. If possible, sit down and talk to them, seek out advice.

    I do think it is possible to be direct and honest in every organization, the trick is figuring out the way to convey it.

  10. sandrar said

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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