Transparency and Trust

In yesterday’s post, I made a comment about transparency being the opposite of trust. A good friend asked for me to expand on that. And here we are.

In my experience, trust is about a belief in the reliability of of someone or something. That someone is going to do what they say, or that they will act in a way that is consistent with what you know of them. And generally, this means that you believe this in absence of any evidence at that time. That is, you’ve seen the pattern and you believe the person will adhere to that pattern with you needing to verify, that they are doing so.

Transparency is observing the steps or process or actions of someone or something without obfuscation. It’s first-hand knowledge of a pattern or process.

This is what drives my comment about transparency being the opposite of trust. If you have to personally witness or verify someone’s actions, that’s not trust. That’s the opposite of trust.

I believe you can use transparency to build trust, and I believe that’s how trust begins. You observe someones actions, and once you are convinced they will act that way all the time, you can trust them. But saying, “I trust you” and then checking up on, or in the case of the office micromanaging, someone’s actions is not trust. Demanding total transparency all the time is not trust.

If you “trust but verify” you are not trusting. And so, in the context of my last post about the stress of work, there is often a big tension, when management says “I trust you” and then acts in the opposite manner.

One thought on “Transparency and Trust

  1. Dear Chris,

    I’m not the one who asked, but that does clear up what you were trying to say yesterday.

    I’ve worked in heavily-regulated industries for almost all of my working life, and “trust but verify” is built into how everything moves in those industries, mostly because some rather tragic disasters made it clear the government/public couldn’t just trust companies. But it’s not a personal thing – it’s getting at least two pairs of eyes on every document to make sure errors don’t slip through, and automatic checks of everything possible to avoid human error.

    I worked for a few months in a job that required 100% accuracy, but had no built-in checking (either automatically or by a coworker). It was exhausting. Every mistake I made was construed as a personal flaw, rather than a gap in the system that needed fixing. After over a year spent in a different department where checking each other’s work and making changes to our systems to limit common errors was a matter of course and definitely NOT personal (if you found an error in a colleague’s work, you just returned it to them to fix, then verified the change and things moved on), it was jarring to be in a situation where I was expected to be 100% accurate with no verification by another person or system. When you’re transcribing data manually, that’s a challenging place to be.

    I tried everything I could think of – checklists to help guide me through common trouble points, suggestions for improving our data-entry interface to help avoid transposing digits, automatic calculations rather than making the estimator (that was my role) do every single calculation manually. My manager basically said “you do it my way with no changes to the system, you do it perfectly, or it’s all your fault and you’re a bad employee.”

    I started looking for a new job after 3 months.

    ~ L


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