Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 19, Issue 18;   May 1, 2019: Full Disclosure

Full Disclosure

by

The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility.
Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)

Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), used for assisting cardiac circulation by partially or completely replacing the function of a failing heart. Devices like this were pioneered by Dr. O.H. Frazier, who is also known for his work on total artificial hearts. In May, 2018, the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica reported that Dr. Frazier had failed to disclose in articles he authored that he received financial support from medical device manufacturers. He later amended his statements, but the damage was done. Legal action continues. Image (cc) by Blausen Medical Communications, Inc.

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 interest
serious 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Brain Clutter  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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See also Ethics at Work and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An onion, sliced and dicedComing December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, December 30, 1941And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.

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