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:
- The Power of Presuppositions
- Presuppositions are powerful tools for manipulating others. To defend yourself, know how they're used,
know how to detect them, and know how to respond.
- Extrasensory Deception: II
- In negotiating agreements, the partners who do the drafting have an ethical obligation not to exploit
the advantages of the drafting role. Some drafters don't meet that standard.
- Telephonic Deceptions: II
- Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in
the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the
art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way: IV
- When I gain an important insight, or when I learn a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my
personal collection. Example: When it comes to disputes and confusion, one person is enough.
- Online Ethics
- The array of media for exchanging our thoughts in text has created new opportunities for acting unethically.
Cyberbullying is one well-known example. But sending text is just one way to cross the line ethically.
Here are some examples of alternatives.
See also Ethics at Work and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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