Until the past two or three of decades, the term full disclosure had been mostly a legal term of art. It has since become the title of feature films, novels, episodes of television series, mailing lists, and more. Its meaning varies with its use, but in the context of conversations and reports in the knowledge oriented workplace, the term has its original legal meaning, more or less: an acknowledgment of possible unreliability of sources, or conflicts of interest on the part of the author or speaker. The general idea is that full disclosure conveys information that the recipient might wish to have to make a fair assessment of the author's or speaker's words.
Full disclosure is important in the knowledge-oriented workplace, because we need to trust each other's words and deeds, and we need to know how much to trust those words and deeds. Conflicts of interest raise questions about trustworthiness. For example, an executive known to have opposed a particular project's funding, and who later questions reports of that project's success, has a conflict of interest, because the executive's earlier opposition will be confirmed by trouble in the project, and disconfirmed by the project's success. To be fair to listeners, when raising questions about reports of the project's success, the executive would do well to say, "In full disclosure, I opposed funding this project. Still, I have what I believe are fair questions about these reports of success."
Offering full disclosure of conflicts of interest has important advantages for one's credibility. Here are three insights relating to why and how to volunteer full disclosure.
- Conflicts of interest discovered by others erode credibility
- Among the most Among the most serious threats
to one's credibility is the
discovery by others of
conflicts of interestserious threats to one's credibility is the discovery by others of conflicts of interest that one could have disclosed pre-emptively.
- The failure to disclose those conflicts is consistent with the appearance of an attempt to conceal the conflicts. Pre-emptive, voluntary full disclosure renders that interpretation less likely, increasing the speaker's credibility.
- Provide full disclosure once only
- After providing a statement of full disclosure, don't repeat it unless something has changed, or unless asked.
- Absent a change in the fact pattern, voluntary unbidden repetition of full disclosure statements is behavior consistent with anxiety about one's credibility, which others might interpret as evidence of misrepresentation.
- Correcting a previous disclosure doesn't work
- Making a statement of full disclosure that's incomplete or inaccurate is counter-productive. Be sure of your facts and disclose them accurately.
- If someone else uncovers the error, or if you try to correct it, the resulting situation will be similar to what would have resulted from intentional misrepresentation.
Most important, provide any full disclosure statements before it occurs to the recipient to ask for them. Pre-emptive disclosure increases the chance that your statement will be viewed as voluntary. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- You Have to Promise Not to Tell a Soul
- You're at lunch with one of your buddies, who's obviously upset. You ask why. "You have to promise
not to tell a soul," is the response. You promise. And there the trouble begins.
- Some Things I've Learned Along the Way
- When I have an important insight, I write it down in a little notebook. Here are some items from my
- Ethical Influence: I
- Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing
that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
- Some Truths About Lies: III
- Detecting lies by someone intent on misrepresentation is an important skill for executives, managers,
project managers, and just about anyone involved in knowledge-oriented organizations. Here's Part III
of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
- Counterproductive Knowledge Workplace Behavior: II
- In knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior takes on forms that can be rare or
unseen in other workplaces. Here's Part II of a growing catalog.
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- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.