Transparency—we give lip service to how important it is in building relationships. But let’s take a quick assessment of how much lip service we provide and how much is actual transparency.
If we think we’re being transparent when beginning to build a collaborative relationship of any kind, we might consider asking ourselves this question: “If I were playing bridge—and could share my cards–how many have I actually shown to my prospective partner?” If I show an ace high or a two low, that would give my partner little to no information. I’m hiding far more than I’m showing. She has little idea what to do with that information.
If I show a pair of aces, that’s more information. If the best she has is a pair of anything less than aces, she knows we’ve likely got our opponents beat. Suppose I show three of a kind or a straight or garbage. Now I’ve given even more information for her to know how to play.
The question is, what difference might it make if we could show our full hand and then play? Trained negotiators say the one thing we should never do is to share our Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). Your BATNA is your optimal path should a partnership not materialize. Traditional negotiators tell you to always hide your BATNA because it is your ace in the hole. You’re defenseless without hiding it in your hand.
But consider this: If I’m trying to build a trust relationship with a partner, why would I treat that prospective partner like an opponent and hold out on her? Remember, we’re not playing poker, we’re playing bridge—a team game. We are playing bridge against another team. Then such sharing of what’s in our hand—if we could– would be invaluable for our partner. She could map a strategy based on whatever information we share because we are, in truth, a “we:” we’re on the same team and acting like it!
So, wouldn’t this also be true the case if I’m on a path with this company as my partner-to-be? Rather than framing this as a poker game, I’m actually playing bridge and trying to ensure we both make the best decisions and don’t end up bidding against each other.
Business advisory groups like 3to5 Clubs have confidentiality agreements in place so that they can provide a place where members have the safety to say, “I don’t know” and get help. These agreements create a place where members can openly share what they need from one another.
Want to get the most from participation in that group? Take a risk.
Take a risk: share enough information about your business to help a prospective partner (lumberjack) make optimal decisions as they consider working with you. You may be challenged to share more information and to share it more quickly than you’re accustomed to or are comfortable doing. Ask yourself
1. Is my firm willing to share
- organizational goals,
- financial forecasts and projections,
- strategic initiatives,
- potential concerns and problems,
- changes in policy/personnel?
2. Which of the above items will build trust?
3. Will this information foster transparency and better decision-making?
4. Does your partner have appropriate confidentiality practices to ensure information will be used appropriately?
5. Is there anyone else I should consult before sharing this information?
6. Am I willing to share my BATNA? This might be the ultimate test of transparency.
Research has shown that when two parties fail to choose a well-balanced agreement–choose an action that takes into account the best alternative (BATNA) of the other–it is because they fail to share enough information to get to the best option . Game theorists know this as a Nash Equilibrium: another more optimal decision cannot be made than one for which each person’s optimal decision takes into account the other’s BATNA.
So without sharing information up to and including your BATNA, you’re playing poker, not bridge, with your prospective partner.
Which game and which outcome would you rather pursue?
Some of you may be part of a mastermind group or 3to5 Club. Do you want to improve the experience for yourself and all participants? Try taking these steps with those you are developing partnerships with.
a. Get clarity about your own BATNA before you begin to explore a partnership.
b. Be sure all parties understand the value of the mutual confidentiality agreement.
c. Determine their trustworthiness.
d. Share one another’s BATNA.
e. Determine next steps to build your trust and transparency.
f. Check out next week’s blog on testing for cultural fit.
1 Jeanette Nyden‘s Getting to We, p. 44.