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Use Radical Transparency to Improve Your Relationships

What does it mean to be transparent? Whether it’s with your friends, significant other or family members, how transparent would you say you are with them?

There’s a trend of transparency going on in companies, a value which I believe began with the radical transparency of Everlane. Ironically, a model of transparency isn’t always the best idea for every business.

Lately, the subject of transparency has played a big role in my life when it comes to self-awareness and relationships. From my experience, transparency has only been beneficial.

There are two angles to transparency:

  1. Transparency with yourself, i.e., self-awareness
  2. Transparency with others

Self-awareness is one of the most useful skills I’ve developed because it spurs personal growth. By being transparent with myself, not making excuses and being honest with myself about my intentions, I understand how to proceed appropriately.

For example, I’ll be honest with myself when I catch myself being jealous or judging others. Instagram used to spur those emotions a lot. Everyone’s going to Vegas or traveling the world. I’m here working–wait why do I feel this way? Because sometimes I’d rather be going out and partying than grinding. It’s okay, they’re doing it now,  I’ll likely party another time in the future (say like next weekend).

I’m not going to blame anyone for making me feel or act a certain way. It’s all me. I accepted that, no matter the situation, I’m in control of how I act and react. No one’s making me do or say anything. It’s me.

I’ll admit to being irrational or irresponsible. I’ll admit to making mistakes and fucking up. I’ll admit to not being a good person at times. I’ll admit if I’m upset for whatever reason so that I can talk it out with the person I’m upset with.

Being honest and transparent myself has made it much easier to be transparent with the people around me–because I have nothing to hide.

And I’ve found that by being transparent with communication, my relationships became more powerful.

Take for example, a good friend of mine had asked me to review a case study he had written. I took a look and gave candid, honest feedback to help him improve the document. That’s one form of transparency. Because we learned to be honest and transparent with each other, I didn’t feel the urge to fluff up my feedback or give only positive criticism. And he didn’t expect that either. I tore his case study apart. He trusted me to not lie to him about his work.

A few weeks later, I asked that same friend if he would look over a piece of content I had written. However, caught up in his own pursuits, he told me it wasn’t his priority and didn’t give me any feedback.

I was stunned. I was upset, but I didn’t get mad. I understood where he was coming from.

The next level of transparency came when he again asked for a favor: to put me down as a reference. I obliged, but this time I brought up my concern.

Brace yourself–this might be a little difficult to read because of how vulnerable both of us became.

Me: It bothered me that when I asked for feedback on something that was important to me, you brushed it off because you have other priorities. While you couldn’t take the time to give me feedback, you’re now asking if you can put me down as a reference. Hopefully you see where I’m coming from. No hard feelings or anything. I’m just communicating how that makes me feel so we can avoid any potential conflicts.

Friend: Yeah. I haven’t been a good friend. I’m glad you brought it up though, because it’s been bugging me as well. I just haven’t addressed it directly. I’m sorry.

Me: No worries. It’s not that you haven’t been a good friend. You were just caught up with your own thing. Which is understandable because it’s a high priority right now. I was just bothered because, on my end, I’ll take the time to review anything you send me. So when I saw that it wasn’t reciprocated, it made me feel weird. So that’s why i brought it up.

Here’s where the third element of transparency comes in, and it has less to do with transparency.

You have to practice humility.

The conversation with my friend went smoothly, but imagine if neither of us were open to that type of communication. My friend could’ve easily defended himself,

Friend: I’m sorry. I just don’t see why you’re making it such a big deal. I have other things to worry about. You know what I’m dealing with right now. So can I use you as a reference or not?

In that situation, while he said sorry, it’s a very different sorry. It’s sorry, not sorry.

Imagine if the conversation continued down that path and I lashed out,

Me: Seriously? You don’t see the problem? I help you any way I can, yet you can’t take a moment to help me out. It’s a give a take. Don’t put me down as a reference.

Both of us would look stupid and no one would gain anything. Both of us would’ve lost.

Transparency is difficult. It’s difficult because it requires being open to vulnerability.

In that earlier conversation I said, “I’m just communicating how that makes me feel so we can avoid any potential conflicts.” Does anyone seriously like to talk about how their feelings got hurt? Of course I felt slightly ridiculous saying that but I valued the friendship and being transparent over not feeling ridiculous.

Likewise, my friend practice humility. “Yeah. I haven’t been a good friend. I’m glad you brought it up though, because its been bugging me as well. I just haven’t addressed it directly. I’m sorry.” It’s difficult to admit that you haven’t felt like a good friend. It’s difficult to say sorry. Though no one was really at fault, he took the hit because he valued the friendship more than defending himself.

Imagine the last argument you had and how it could’ve played out differently.

This could all be written off as some touchy-feely mumbo jumbo about feelings, but I’ve found that this sort of transparent communication has helped me grow as a person and further develop my relationships.

I have friends who I feel comfortable talking about everything with. Family issues, personal conflicts, money management, health issues, love life, existential crises, pooping schedules. Everything. No matter how cheesy or lame my excitement gets. No matter how embarrassed or ashamed I may feel.

Both people must be on the same page,

Hey, I’m going to be honest and I want to let you know that it’s not with any intention to hurt you or make you feel bad. I just want us to communicate clearly and honestly so we can figure things out and avoid conflict. And I hope you’re also willing to be transparent with me.

Try it. It’s difficult to be that open.

This type of communication is crucial with a significant other. From my experience, fights and arguments often occurred from a lack of communication and transparency. For sake of pride, one person refuses to admit they’re upset. The other gets frustrated. Or one person wants something and sacrfices their joy for the other and bottles up that frustration. One person may be put on the defense while the other attacks relentlessly, unwilling to listen.

It’s because we’re scared of being vulnerable. We’re scared of making the other person feel vulnerable.

With social media, you could say that people are being more transparent in their lives. But with social media comes social pressures and social expectations. If there’s anything that squashes transparency more than pressure and expectations.

So ask yourself these two questions:
  1. How transparent are you with yourself?
  2. How transparent are you with the important people in your life?

Try it out.


  • James Sunderland says:

    Great post David! Transparent communication is so important. I think Buffer does an amazing job of this. Maybe a little too much. I agree It all starts with self awareness then just putting it out there. This gets tested all the time when confounding a company. It’s so easy to fall in love with your own ideas and get resentful when other people run them over. With an environment of trust this process becomes amazing. No idea is dumb and every idea gets ran over but the good ones are still standing.

    • Thanks James! I totally agree with what you said. It’s not just transparency, but being open and trusting each others’ intent and being open to understanding each other.

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