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You wrote "Transparency equals trust." and I agree.

BTW loved your "kids example". As a father (and single parent for a few years) of eight (now grown) children I could fully relate.

I would add "making small agreements and keeping them" helps to build trust.

I would also ask:

Trust within what contexts?


Trusting whom with respect to what?


Sheamus, it's like "the principle is black or white, while in practice there are some shades of grey" ;)

The two questions are kind-of-referring to what happens if you're a Mafia member... you know what and in what contexts to trust.

Hehe, and the kids, all the while there is lot of trust and transparency up front at some stage we (parents) know all to well there is now a unilateral (kids side) need to break loose and create some personal space - and therein lies our challenge, how to enable that while keeping the trust. Did I mention a dash of blind trust? (OK, OK, now the (self)manage part comes in as a grey area...) :D

Chris vLS

I think that trust is engendered by consistency. (Seems simple enough)

With sufficient consistency, you don't need to monitor, and the relevance of transparency diminishes.

Confused by the kids example . . . when I can see that my four year old is swinging a golf club in the house, that's transparent. But I don't trust him not to accidentally break something because he can consistently hit balls at something like 40 mph with that thing.

Similarly, if I sit next to a co-worker who is not qualified for his job, well, I can tell that he is working. And he is. And he may be more likely to keep working because he knows he is observed. But if he just doesn't get it, well, then I don't trust him to do his job correctly.

Indeed, systems of zero trust (think slave-driving supervisor on an assembly line) require lots of transparency, inspection, reporting and monitoring for compliance.

Your thief example says that you can trust a thief as long as you can watch his every move. In what way are you trusting him?


Chris, good point indeed!

Suspect it is a matter of how to "define" transparency, and thus how it is handled:

Just "seeing" is not enough, any bandit's strategy is 1) establish trust, 2) wham, you're taken. Same risk applies to the charming salesperson or the seemingly perfect job candidate.

The thing about humans is that we think, we scheme, we can lead astray - and more so when our interest to lead astray increases (selling, getting a job, borrowing your car) - so seeing is not enough.

Now, if I am free to "look over another's shoulder" with no limits to one type of situation (work say) and - as you say - establish a pattern, see consistency - then my trust would increase. Guess this is why we seek snippets of information unrelated to the situation at hand (work say) and probe for information from private lives, create slight provocative situations, ask others etc.

You mentioned kids, now that's easier as we know kids (at least the young ones ;)) have less tendencies nor interest to mislead by "managed" behaviour thus over time "What We See Is What We Get".

I would argue that it is still "transparency" that is important, but true transparency, not a managed transparency; a peek onto a layer of well groomed varnish.

To get there I agree to your notion of consistency which increases the chance of transparency beyond the varnish, then add access to areas, situation and times when chances of less control are higher. In fact trust often increase if we see the negatives as well - the boss who does not cover his stupid moves, shows feelings in pressure situations (nothing beats pressure and provocation to poke holes in managed behaviour!) - that increases my belief that I have som true transparency and trust increases.

Then of course, knew a Very Good Salesman once, he always said "among the positives you must always include a negative or two, otherwise they will not trust you"!

In the end, if methods for true transparency is in place then even the most cunning manager of his profile will eventually let down his guard. Managing "how others see you" and thus any ensuing trust on false premises is only possible in a semi-transparent world.


If trust equals transparency equals being fully aware of truth, what happens if the truth is more unbelievable than a lie? Whether for a logical reason (truth defies known patterns) or an emotional reason (truth goes against what the listener wants to believe).



Aha Niko, now you're moving the discussion into "what is truth"! Cheeky indeed :D

One useful definition of trust is "firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone..."

So if what I see is "completely unbelievable", well then it comes down to the reliablity of the transparency - a loopy situation if I ever saw one:
I have to trust the transparency to trust what the transparency delivers :D

But if completely transparent, and I see a flurry of proofs that this is the case indeed then I just have to trust the facts I see and hear and make out the truth to my best abilities and trust should ensue.

Hehe, transparency of the transparency... loopy indeed...

I welcome it as another good argument to support what I said - "transparency is binary, nothing but true and complete transparency is transparent" - and as we all know, that's how trust is in real life; either/or, binary ;)


I have to disagree with binary trust. I have a friend who I trust a lot in important matters, but I know he has quite a tendency to lie when it comes to small, unimportant things. White lies are often used in situations where the truth is inconvenient and lying doesn't hurt anyone (in fact, lying can keep the truth from hurting anyone). But he lies without any obvious 'benefit' for the white lie, just out of habit, I guess. Deciding when to trust him involves a lot more fuzzy than binary logic.


Niko, "firm beliefe in reliability, truth and ability..":

Question about the truth and reliability here: Is it the "truth about him" or is it about "his truth"?

I see it as the truth being that your friend is an occasional lier, that is the level trust is on. Not on the next level of you applying your moral standard to what you see.

Knowing him you know he's reliable in the sense that you can predict in what situations he will lie and so foth.

Say you have another friend who's deeply religious following whatever faith you do not necessarily agree with. If you know him well you know the truth about him, his level of reliability and ability - still what he preaches may very well be far away from the truth according to your views.

So, the truth in the definition of the term is about access to the full information and not about the behaviour as defined by oneself. And "access to full information" and something being transparent is binary. Either you see through or it is blurred, either you know all or you know only parts...

Chris vLS

In thinking about this more, wondered about what is being trusted . . . the other person, or the system (application, organizational culture, etc.) that provides transparency.

In a system where I have complete transparency, I trust the *system* more. By providing this critical affordance, the system allows me to extend grants and privileges more expansively than I otherwise would. Even to users that I have only a moderate level of trust in (e.g. a thief).

The converse is not necessary -- that is, I may not need such a system of transparency if I have a deep level of trust already (e.g., no need to ask my spouse where she was today).


Agree to that Chris, when once built you need not use the transparency any more. But I think you'll need it to be present still, to know that transparency is there even if you never check or look...

If a person you trust suddenly shows signs of holding back, avoiding questions, in general trying to hide something the trust goes down the drain fast I would think :)

Jerome Alexander

Employees come to work with an implicit trust that their managers are always working for the best interest of the company and its employees. That trust should not and cannot ever be taken for granted. Look what is happening today. It is no longer "What's good for the company is good for the manager." It has become "What's good for the manager is good for the company." Top executives have totally lost sight of this phenomenon and are allowing managers to run amok for their own personal agendas.
Several years ago I wrote a book on the subject of workplace culture and employee morale. It is as relevant today as it was then. Employee morale is directly linked to the interaction of employees with line managers who are charged with executing the policies and strategies of companies. Unfortunately, many of these managers subvert the good intentions of the organization to meet their own personal goals and agendas at the expense of their peers and subordinates. This management subculture is the result of a corporate culture of ignorance, indifference and excuse. Better corporate level leadership is the key. Read more in "160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic."

Jerome Alexander


Jerome, agree to the "trust should not and cannot ever be taken for granted"!

Only real transparency can ensure that. Including transparency of the bonus/performance system as we're all driven by personal interest to higher or lesser degree.

That's where the whole budget thing discussed above comes in - follow the link to Earl's post under "more on budgets" above and you'll find a perfect example - how the Global Exploration Director reacted to being performance managed, cut forward looking exploration to get a nice bonus! Smart for him, really bad for the company :)

As you point to, in a corporation it is the leadership's responsibility to set the right environment. Like a boat, all oars should be facing same way and all should be able to see all - that works a tad better than the all too usual method of rafting together a fleet of dinghies flopping around in all directions!

Jerome Alexander

Couldn't agree more and this whole issue pushed me into starting my own blog, "The Corproate Cynic." Check it out.

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