Trust is paramount to the success of any organization, and it can only be achieved with open and transparent communication.
But true transparency in a multicultural, multifaceted organization is a daunting pursuit. We have to confront
- Cultural Differences: Transparency may mean different things in different cultures. In Japan, for example, the importance of preserving harmony, or 'wa', might sometimes prioritize non-confrontational communication, which may be perceived as being at odds with complete transparency.
- Individual Interpretations: Transparency requires honest communication, but individuals can interpret the same information differently. What one person views as transparency, another might see as unnecessary information sharing.
- Fear of Repercussions: We may fear that being transparent about problems or failures could result in negative consequences.
- Confidentiality: We have a duty to protect confidential information. Clients and employees. We must also be mindful about sharing strategic information because we're in a highly competitive industry. All of that conflicts with transparency.
- Time Constraints: In our competitive industry, we are constantly racing against time to deliver projects. Transparency is often a secondary priority.
Being transparent is not an on/off switch. It's a continuous spectrum between too much and not enough.
But one thing is sure.
Transparency relies on effective, meaningful communication.
What is effective communication?
Effective communication is informative.
We are problem solvers. We make decisions. To make the best decisions possible, we need to be informed. Our ability to perform as a group depends on how effectively we share information accurately and timely.
Of course, not all information is useful to everybody.
Useful information needs to be concrete and actionable, and that varies depending on our roles and positions within the organization.
Effective communication is relevant.
Without context, information is just data. To make sense of the data, we need context.
Two people communicating need a shared context to understand one another.
That is why navigating transparency becomes even more complex as we move away from daily operations or production. The closer we are to the 'ground', the more concrete and tangible the information is. It is inherently specific, relevant, and often immediately actionable. As we ascend the organizational ladder and distance ourselves from these day-to-day realities, the information becomes less concrete, less actionable, and less relatable.
Global Communication teams have the almost impossible task of making global news (i.e., something distant from our daily realities) relatable and engaging. Why is it so challenging? Because we don't share the same context.
Effective communication has low noise.
In audio recording, we use the term signal-to-noise ratio. It's a comparison between the level of desired signal, like a voice or an instrument, and the level of background noise, like computer fans or the air conditioner.
Once recorded, you can't get rid of background noise easily. If you increase the volume to hear the signal better, you will also increase the noise.
That's why audio engineers always strive to record with the highest signal-to-noise ratio possible.
Information can become noise.
When we want people to be transparent, we don't want them to share everything they know or think with us. That's way too much information. Too much noise.
We want them to share what matters to us. What may affect us. That's the desired signal.
Effective communication has a high signal-to-noise ratio.
In any large organization, a vast array of information could be shared, but not all of it will be relevant to everyone. Sharing too much can lead to an overflow of information, where essential signals are lost in a sea of noise.
Of course, sharing too little can result in information gaps and misunderstandings.
Striking the right balance is a tricky act.
How do we ensure that transparency leads to clarity rather than confusion, and that we foster a culture where everyone feels informed and included, rather than overwhelmed or excluded? It's a constant struggle of trial and error.
Communication = (Information x Context) - Noise
Effective communication makes information meaningful by giving it context and stripping it of unnecessary noise.
This is why local communication teams have a critical role to play.
- They make the information relatable and engaging by giving local context to global communication.
- They reduce the noise and increase the signal by curating information that we believe matters the most.
- They create a sense of community, belonging, and trust, through the creation of a shared context.
But they need your help to succeed. Communication only works when both parties are engaged.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw
What can you do to help them resist this illusion?
- Groups are as good as their ability to communicate. Empower people around you by sharing your perspective. Your worldview enriches the collective wisdom.
- Translate information into your own context, and exchange it with others who share your context. If you find a way to make something more relatable, please do. It is more impactful than you can imagine.
- Help them be better communicators by sharing your context with them. Only you can help them make information more meaningful and valuable to you.