Guest Articles

Trust versus transparency; close siblings or kissing cousins?

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Samantha Peters sums up her thoughts on the on-going debate of ‘Trust versus Transparency’

Join any conversation on trust and sooner or later the topic of transparency crops up. This happened to me at a recent lecture on trust and professionals.

We want to trust professionals, whether they’re drafting our wills, checking our blood pressure, or testing our eyes. But by actively promoting trust, can we undermine it?

That was a challenge thrown out at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ annual Howitt lecture.

Addressing an audience of eager accountants, speaker Roberts Phillips, author of‘Trust me PR is Dead’, spoke of trust as an outcome which requires radical honesty and radical transparency. Drawing on his years as a leading figure in public relations, Phillips pointed out the damage done by seeing trust as a message which can be managed. It’s a point well made, and I’d recommend reading the full lecture.

Put bluntly it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. People must be able to see if your words match your deeds. So, you can’t have trust without transparency.  Transparency is the sibling of trust.

But does it work the other way round? Can you have transparency without trust? Conversely yes. Trust requires transparency; but transparency doesn’t guarantee trust.  That relationship is more distant, kissing cousins maybe.

In a way this is obvious, but we place great faith in transparency’s efficacy. The views here are my own, but I see two challenges. Firstly, sharing information does not equate to meaningful exchange. Secondly, what one person wants to know, and another feels able to share, are rarely the same. These both beg a climate of mutual respect and openness.

Mother Teresa said that honesty and transparency make you vulnerable, but that you have to do it anyway.  I’m inclined to agree. Transparency may well be more likely to deliver trust with the right climate. But I guess that sometimes you have to start without this, and just trust that it will all work out.

Thanks to Samantha Peters for allowing us to cross post this article. You can read the original here


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