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:
- Workplace Politics vs. Integrity
- A reader wrote recently of wanting to learn "to effectively participate in office politics without
compromising my integrity." It sometimes seems that those who succeed in workplace politics must
know how to descend to the blackest depths, and still sleep at night. Must we abandon our integrity
to participate in workplace politics?
- Extrasensory Deception: I
- Negotiation skills are increasingly essential in problem-solving workplaces. When incentives are strong,
or pressure is high, deception is tempting. Here are some of the deceptions popular among negotiators.
- On the Appearance of Impropriety
- Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a frequent basis of business decisions. What does this mean,
what are the consequences of such avoiding, and when is it an appropriate choice?
- 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.
- On Reporting Workplace Malpractice
- Reporting workplace malpractice can be the right thing to do. And it's often career-dangerous. Here
are some risks to ponder before reporting what you know.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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