Transparency is the currency of a trust relationship

Trust is the foundation of a relationship, and transparency is the currency of trust. Transparency is the open sharing of information among parties involved. I’ll start off by saying this:

People prefer transparency in a relationship and a lack of transparency outside of that relationship. As transparency increases, trust increases, and the converse is also true.

Think about this in terms of relationships you have. Transparency with a significant other builds trust. From the first date, you are opening communications and transparency, offering information and receiving information. As you become more transparent to a significant other, trust increases, and the strength of the relationship increases. You share secrets, you share feelings, and you even share physical intimacy, which is as transparent as you can get on a physical level.

Likewise, consider what happens when a relationship sours. Often, a decline in transparency is the first indicator of trouble. “Where are you going?” “Out.” “Where were you last night?” “With friends.” As transparency declines, trust declines. In divorce court, they could easily rename “irreconcilable differences” with “lack of transparency” and 99% of the time it’d be more accurate.

Transparency outside of a relationship is bad. On a personal level, we call it airing dirty laundry. On a business or professional level, we call it a security failure. You as a customer of a financial institution want transparency with your information, but you explicitly don’t want anyone else to know what’s going on. Just as transparency inside a relationship builds trust, opacity to outsiders also builds trust. On a personal level, that’s called not kissing and telling.

We get angry as citizens at our elected officials because of a lack of transparency first and foremost. We fully and wholly acknowledge that in the digital age, our enemies have access to the same information as our allies, so keeping some information hidden (opacity outside the relationship) is to our benefit even inside the relationship. But opacity for information that’s not credible to begin with just compounds the problem. For the most part, though, for government to be trusted again to any degree, it needs to be as transparent as possible to everyone in the relationship – citizens, foreign nationals, even enemies. There’s great value in being somewhat transparent about your military abilities; the enemy knows that if you get serious, you can pop the top on a can of whoop-ass on them, and that alone might dissuade casual attacks.

Consider the reaction Chris Brogan and I got with PodCamp Boston. We went nearly 100% transparent on everything, from sponsorships (except in cases where donors requested anonymity), to event planning, to sessions, to everything. Anyone who wanted to could follow the process that we were going through, the process that the organizational team was having to deal with. Transparency was a currency we were giving away (and still are) because in this case, in the case of an UnConference, EVERYONE is in the relationship. Everyone has a place at the table, and sometimes help comes from the most unlikely places, but without transparency, they won’t know that they’re welcome to sit down and partake – and bring something of their own for everyone to share.

Here’s the beautiful part about transparency and UnConferences especially. The more transparent you are, and the more transparent you encourage people to be, the less likely it is for shady commercialization to take hold. A lot of people have said to me personally since the first PodCamp that it’s only a matter of time before businesses want in, want to monetize PodCamp, and that’s okay as long as they know that a deal will involve transparency. If they offer to pay to have someone speak, that fact will be disclosed in full. If they offer to sponsor just a segment of attendees in the hopes of currying favor with them, that will be disclosed, at least at any PodCamp I am privileged to organize.

My belief is that rather than risk the wrath of the audience they’re trying to reach and learn about, companies and monied interests in the PodCamp ecosystem will understand that they’re far better off being transparent about any business dealings they have with the new media community, which is EVERYONE, present and future rockstars alike. That transparency will then be the start of building trust, and that can lead to a beautiful relationship.

Probably not physical intimacy.

Here’s the most important point. If you’ve got a bunch of people who are in a relationship – business, social, community, personal – and they’re not thrilled with you, do a transparency check. Are you sharing information openly with the involved parties? Are you keeping that information away from uninvolved parties? More importantly, do you know who belongs on which list?

If you feel a decline in trust, check your transparency.


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  • http://www.ldpodcast.com/ Whitney

    Great post as always! I think it’s amazing how degrees of transparency are a metric for relationships of all sorts. There are times we need to respect the lines people ask us to draw regarding disclosure, but it’s also amazing where people decide to draw lines. In a current project I’m working on, there’s tension about who gets let inside the secured perimeter. I understand the need for some gate keeping, but so much more can be accomplished if you are willing to be a little more transparent, a little more open and honest, and a little less afraid of the critique that might accompany it.
    As you get more transparent, you have to get more brave, less afraid of critique, more open to ideas, and for many people, this is a process nd a hard thing to wrap their minds around.

  • http://www.ldpodcast.com Whitney

    Great post as always! I think it’s amazing how degrees of transparency are a metric for relationships of all sorts. There are times we need to respect the lines people ask us to draw regarding disclosure, but it’s also amazing where people decide to draw lines. In a current project I’m working on, there’s tension about who gets let inside the secured perimeter. I understand the need for some gate keeping, but so much more can be accomplished if you are willing to be a little more transparent, a little more open and honest, and a little less afraid of the critique that might accompany it.
    As you get more transparent, you have to get more brave, less afraid of critique, more open to ideas, and for many people, this is a process nd a hard thing to wrap their minds around.

  • http://craigcunningham.com/ Craig A. Cunningham

    I fundamentally agree with you that transparency is the currency of a relationship, but that transparency has to be mutual: too much from one side without a matching opening up from the other can overwhelm the other, and lead to a shutdown of trust. I’ve had to learn this the hard way, in new ways, in Second Life, where trust builds more quickly, but where it’s not always clear whether the other person is matching. Note to self: don’t become too transparent too quickly; wait for the other person to match, which might take real time.

  • http://craigcunningham.com Craig A. Cunningham

    I fundamentally agree with you that transparency is the currency of a relationship, but that transparency has to be mutual: too much from one side without a matching opening up from the other can overwhelm the other, and lead to a shutdown of trust. I’ve had to learn this the hard way, in new ways, in Second Life, where trust builds more quickly, but where it’s not always clear whether the other person is matching. Note to self: don’t become too transparent too quickly; wait for the other person to match, which might take real time.