False transparency is damaging to relationships. When an untruth is shared under the guise of being “open” and “honest” but the listener is clearly aware of contradictory information the relationship is damaged. In a world where openness is valued and transparency is respected the Internet has revolutionized these concepts. Here’s why:
In the old days it was much easier to “fool” people. It was much easier to share half-truths and slight exaggerations when the audience was unable to verify the truth of the information shared. Think about this for a minute. With companies like Google whose mission is to categorize and make all the world’s information accessible; information has never been more available. Have a question? The Internet has the answer. And here’s an important point. Not just one answer. Not just one viewpoint. The Internet has dozens, hundreds, thousands of answers and views. With the rise of the connected computer network humans have the ability to find and connect with like-minded individuals around the world. Stuck in a difficult situation? Have a perplexing question? Find solutions, recommendations, and advice from a host of others who have experienced similar situations (or identical ones).
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
What does this have to do with openness and transparency?
Simply put, companies, individuals, organizations must be vigilant and committed to being truthful. Either commit to being open or don’t. There is no place for a false transparency. Interested in launching a new ad campaign touting a specific feature or benefit which performs unlike anything else? Be sure your claims are true. Attempting to convince others of radical transparency? Your data better not be manipulated. Your statistics should be valid and backed up by others. Otherwise, it’s your audience that will feel manipulated and tricked. They will see through your attempt at openness and will interpret your communication as demeaning. It’s insulting to feel lied to by someone. Nobody likes feeling tricked or treated as stupid.
Why is this important?
Because every company wants to be known as open. Every company wants to be known as trustworthy and transparent. However wanting to be known for something and committing to the day-to-day requirements to accomplish that are two very different things. You have two choices – commit to the goal and resolve to follow through regardless of the consequences, or don’t market yourself as if you are. But that’s not the main reason way this is important. Companies want to be known as open and trustworthy so they can build relationships with their customers. Everyone knows the adage that relationships are built on trust. Relationships built on trust result in advice being followed, purchases being made, and deals being brokered. When people trust someone they value their opinion and listen to their suggestions.
Clearly relationships are important and trust is the foundation. Thus, when a situation arises and trust is lost the relationship suffers. Future conversations are filtered or scrutinized more. Advice is not readily accepted. All interactions are evaluated, judged, and validated through others. This is not the type of relationship that yields long term value (for either). That’s right, the value is not just for the company. There is also an intrinsic value to the person as well. They can find better products, improve their lives, and simplify otherwise difficult decisions. The transactions are not just for the company. Transactions involve multiple people and multiple interests. The right relationship between a brand and a customer is valuable to both of them.
What is the response?
Be open, be honest, be transparent; ultimately be truthful. Even if the truth hurts, or if the outcome is not what you think your audience wants to hear – be committed to telling the truth. This is what being open truly means. This is what will help to establish a foundation of trust and begin laying the basis for a long, healthy relationship.