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:
- Tornado Warning
- When organizations go astray ethically, and their misdeeds come to light, people feel shocked, as if
they've been swept up by a tornado. But ethical storms do have warning signs. Can you recognize them?
- Currying Favor
- The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though —
it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
- 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.
- The Costanza Matrix
- The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if
you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.
- Counterproductive Knowledge Work Behavior
- With the emergence of knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior is taking on new
forms that are rare or inherently impossible in workplaces where knowledge plays a less central role.
Here are some examples.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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