I have been waiting months to write these blog posts, but this felt like a good time to talk about “radical transparency.” What is radical transparency? Wikipedia has its’ own definition, but mine is a bit more squishy. For me, it means every interaction not only exposes facts, but whys, and even feelings, no matter how uncomfortable. It is my core belief this is a key to success, in everything we do. That doesn’t mean broadcasting everything on Social Media (we are not talking about Dave Eggers’ The Circle, here), but it does mean striving for honesty with every exchange. It means making yourself vulnerable and putting yourself out there in ways you may have never considered. I know what I am suggesting may sound new age and some may even call me naive or idealistic, but I hope you will agree.
When we lie, obfuscate or withhold, we don’t honor ourselves and our personal relationships. Cue radical transparency. Part 1 is about my best friend and I. I love her like my sister but we were not gelling recently. Things felt off and I wasn’t sure why. I was determined to find out what was happening and figure out why I was feeling so disconnected. I thought about my own commitment to radical transparency and how I wasn’t buying what I was selling, at home.
She came to visit and I was anxious about the trip. I was worried she would want to do all these things I didn’t. In other words, I made a whole bunch of assumptions about what she was thinking and feeling, without any regard for what she was actually thinking and feeling. Being the intuitive and sensing person she is, she could feel the tension. It was at that moment I held my breath and decided to be radically transparent, not sure what would come next. I told her exactly what I had been observing and what I had been feeling. I even told her about the assumptions I had been making all weekend.
Let’s switch gears for a second. How many know the Abilene Paradox? It was “introduced by management expert Jerry B. Harvey in his 1974 article, ‘The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement,’” according to Wikipedia, but John McAvoy and Tom Butler describe it as “a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many (or all) of the individuals in the group,” in their book, The Impact of the Abilene Paradox on Double-Loop Learning as an Agile Team. In the case of my best friend, I was operating on my belief she wanted to do all the things, but she was complying because she thought I wanted to do all the things. The paradox operates with selfless intent and desires happiness of others, but results in unhappiness among many, if not all. So how does this relate to radical transparency?
Had I been radically transparent with her when she arrived, I would have told her I wanted to hang out and do nothing and but I was willing to do all the things she desired, because I wanted her to be happy. That even included standing in line for three hours for brunch on Sunday morning, which really needs a new name like “queueing” instead of brunching, since only about 9 minutes of that three hours is actually spent eating, but I digress. Radical transparency also means not assuming, or voicing my assumptions, at a minimum. More importantly, I wasn’t even radically transparent with myself and my own truth. If I had said exactly what I wanted, why and how I was feeling, I would discover she wanted and felt the same exact thing. Instead, in an effort to satisfy what I assumed she wanted, we found ourselves within our own Abilene Paradox.
Fast forward to the end of our visit. She trepidatiously opened the door to an honest and open conversation about our friendship, and I was able to tell her everything I should have before. I even told her I suspected we were trapped on our own drive to Abilene. We laughed about what a nerd I was for bringing up management concepts when all we should have been doing were yoga, turmeric tea and mimosas all weekend. Ultimately, the radical transparency we both gave each other was absolutely freeing and our relationship is now stronger than ever.
In part two, I will tackle personal relationships at work and how they can benefit from radical transparency. I bet you have your own experience about how radical transparency has helped you. Be brave and share it with the rest of us.