I began this discussion on communication by delving into what I meant by reciprocity in my last post. I also identified (without elaborating on) a number of key factors to effective communication. In this post we will begin the discussion on those factors by discussing transparency within communication.
Among the more prominent of all lapses of communication occurs when, for one reason or another, one or more parties to an interaction withholds information from others. Often this occurs out of fear (of rejection, that they will be made to feel stupid, etc.), but it may also occur out of self-interest, a concern about what results the sharing of said information will generate, etc. This may occur in an unofficial setting such as a basic conversation between friends in which one is upset by something the other said but chooses instead of expressing these feelings to hold them in despite still being impacted by them, or one of a more official nature such as an agreement to withhold information as a stipulation to a contract or an unwritten agreement between government officials, financial interests, organization leaders, etc. Generally speaking, when one withholds information that may be pertinent to another party, problems occur. This is especially the case with emotions in the unofficial settings described above. When one's feelings towards something go unspoken, animosity tends to ensue. Often such lapses of communication can subconsciously affect how we communicate in a more official setting, and so our animosity thus begins to dictate some aspects of our professional communication. Seen on a large scale, distrust resulting from poor communication between actors playing various roles in a particular setting (an organization, a community, a municipality, the whole of society) leads to an "us versus them" mentality among members. This mentality reflects the structure of the associations we build. Whether the structure itself is what has created such lapses in communication or vice versa is a chicken and egg debate which I do not particularly care to partake in. Rather I want people to recognize that to solve this problem we need to identify it and begin fixing it by changing how we communicate. And this brings us full circle back to transparency, our initial aspect of communication that needs to be improved.
This insight has been especially key for me with building a healthy occupational relationship with the owner of the business that I help to operate. Operating within a small business, I'm blessed to work with an owner who is willing to treat me as an equal, going as far as planning to bring me on as a business partner in the near future, with whom we have each experienced tremendous growth from the life lessons we have taught each other. We have butted heads on numerous occasions and only come out stronger and with more refined communication skills as a result. As group fitness instructors, much of our interaction takes place when we sit down to do exercise program design together for the gym. This is where the majority of our conflict occurs.
When we first began programming together, we would often escalate from calm discussion to explosive screaming and it would end in my storming off. This left us both baffled as neither of us could understand why the other was upset. When one such incident occurred we decided when the situation had cooled down to sit down and discuss it. Both of us were shocked to find that we had each, without realizing it, set off a psychological trigger that the other had developed. For my partner, she had experienced years of suppression of emotion and passion from people who made her feel like the expression of such was intolerable. For myself, her passion during our conversations reminded me of the constant heightened tension and resultant psychological stress of my childhood. The crucial part of this was that neither of us had communicated with the other about how it made us feel. Now having established this line of communication, this transparency has allowed us to make a concerted effort to improve our communication and it has made all the difference. Beyond merely improving our interpersonal relations, it has restored our professional trust for one another, strengthening my desire to remain with the company and her confidence that our eventual partnership will be worthwhile.
Until my business partner and I chose to discuss our lapses of communication, neither of us had chosen to practice the dignity or integrity necessary to confront or understand the other. When we did, we found solace in understanding. It didn't resolve our disagreements, but what it did was give us a mechanism to better acknowledge and accept them.
With that said, lets discuss some ground rules for transparent communication and what transparency means in a mutualistic framework. One must first and foremost recognize their responsibility to uphold their end of the bargain. This is not a simple task but rather a process. One must recognize in themselves both dignity and integrity. They must be willing to work towards more consistently confronting others openly when they feel disregarded. On the other side of this, they must be willing to recognize the difficulty of such a task, understanding that one cannot expect transparent expression from others, and that, nonetheless, these others also have desires which need to be understood and considered. And most importantly we cannot -- whether out of social convention, fear, stigma, etc., -- allow ourselves to restrict our transparency, no matter who it is that we are interacting with.