When should you not be transparent when developing trust?

Clear pool of water with fish swimming near the surface

Trust is critical in a negotiation, mediation or collaboration. Trust can be defined as being straightforward, open, accepting and responsible, but when are times when you should not be open? That is the focus of this commentary.

Trust and transparency matter with employees and negotiationsIt is important to build trust at the bargaining table.  Even when working with the IRS it is important to build trust and create value. But what is trust? I like the acronym SOAR which stands for being Straightforward, Open, Accepting and Responsible.

Straightforward – operating with honesty and integrity

Open – being transparent and sharing what you can

Accepting – not jumping to judgment and being hard on the problem while being soft on the people

Responsible – under promising and overdelivering

However, there are times when developing trust caution must be used relative to transparency. Here are four areas of consideration.

1. Sensitive data

Sensitive data may include information that was given to you in confidence or that may be detrimental to another party that you clearly understood was not to be shared. Ethically this can sometimes put one in a very difficult situation. For example, you know the company is about to move this office to another state and an employee with a very sick member of the family that needs care and to stay here is trying to make a decision to take a job with another local company or stay here with you and asks you if there are any plans to move this office? You as the manager know this privileged information, but you may not share it with the employee.

2. Information that you may not share

In a negotiation you may know information about other parties to the negotiation, because they have shared this with you. That information was shared in confidence. You were not to share that information with this party. If you did the other party could use that information to structure their position in the negotiation.

3. Information that reduces your power

Sometimes when the other party appears to have been totally honest with you, there may be a tendency to be totally honest with the other party. However, when you share this information it may take away some strategic knowledge that the other party may use yet in this negotiation or in another negotiation with others. You may not have foreseen this at the time you shared that information, but keep in mind sharing certain information could come back to bite you. This is something that reduced your power that you did not have to share. Be conscious of being open, but when not to cross the line on a need to know basis.

4. Changing information

In working through a negotiation, it is important to understand the facts for a given issue as well as the emotional tie in to that issue by both parties and their interest. An acronym for this is FIFI which stands for Facts, Issue, Feelings and Interests to ask these four questions:

What are the Facts?

What are the Issues?

What are the Feelings (emotions) behind the issues?

What are the Interests for each issue?

This has been presented related to conflicts in the workplace, issues between staff members, when issues develop between family members in a family owned business, and when issues develop between practitioners and the IRS. More recently if information is changing or subject to change it may be necessary to develop a contingency clause in a negotiation to address elements that may change in the future. When information is continually changing or may change significantly in the future presenting additional risk it may not be prudent to reveal the potential negative implications. Rather than revealing it, you may choose to include language to address potential contingencies in the future.

Although there is a need to be open in a negotiation, care must also be taken to address these four areas:

  • Sensitive data
  • Information that you may not share
  • Information that reduces your power
  • Changing information

Keep these four points in mind as you work to develop trust with a third party in a negotiation.

To learn more read more on this topic see this article on When Not To Show Your Hand from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.

Contact me to speak to your group or consult with you. Check out my website, books and content. I am an international speaker. I speak on how to overcome conflict with collaboration by taking advantage of the collaboration effect TM enhancing relationships, resources and revenues. My service areas are related to helping clients resolve conflict: business to IRS, business to business and within businesses. I have written 11 books including The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions. I may be contacted directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. [Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA; MBA]