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Radical transparency is a hot-button topic in today’s business world. But what is it? And can it really help create a more productive workplace?

One of the biggest tragedies of mankind is people holding in their opinions in their heads.”

-Ray Dalio, Chairman of Bridgewater Associates

Dalio envisions a workplace where people can be honest with one another, especially when it comes to addressing someone’s faults and weaknesses. This culture of trust is at the root of Bridgewater Associates, the most successful hedge fund in the world. Dalio says that the business owes its success to radical transparency.

You can’t transfer Dalio’s culture of radical transparency to your own workplace overnight. However, you can incorporate it in small ways to strengthen trust among your employees. Two things need to happen if you’re interested in pursuing radical transparency: you must create the culture and learn how to give and take criticism meaningfully.


To create a culture of radical transparency, follow these guidelines.


It’s not transparency if there is a hierarchical structure where criticism only flows from top to bottom. For radical transparency to work, CEOs and managers have to practice what they preach and take criticism from everyone around them.

Encourage criticism at every level, from any level.


We all have people who encourage our ideas and support our pursuits. A support network is a crucial component of success. Equally crucial, is building a “challenge network.” These are the people who ask the hard questions, encourage you to examine your decisions more carefully, and sometimes doubt you. Believe it or not, these people can also push you to grow. A workplace that values transparency will encourage employees to build challenge networks and use them often.


Radical transparency only works when you practice criticism with kindness. When people have conversations built on criticism, emotions run high and the process can break down. It’s important to learn how to give as well as receive criticism in a way that triggers meaningful results.


It’s human nature to bristle upon hearing criticism. When we feel challenged, we react defensively. Communication research has also found that the human brain of a listener tends to mirror that of the speaker to whom they are listening. So, responding to criticism with anger and defensiveness puts a cloud of aggression over the entire exchange. If you want to receive criticism in a way that’s useful, you’ll have to check those impulse and replace them with curiosity. When someone criticizes you, learn to lean into the critique and ask for more information.


Compassion is the key to making criticism palatable for the receiver and deliverable for the speaker. If the culture values compassion and a true connection between individuals, then criticism has a context that makes sense. In the WorkLife with Adam Grant podcast, executive coach Kim Scott explains that stating the intention to be helpful is an important part of delivering meaningful criticism.


Criticism is only helpful if a change can be made. If you are delivering criticism, be as specific as possible. Tell the person what didn’t go well and what, specifically, could have gone better. This both allows the listener to create a plan of action and also gives the conversation specificity that allows for a better give-and-take.


Radical transparency is scary. After all, we are taught to strive for perfection. Accepting that flaws exist is a necessary part of moving beyond them and creating innovative accomplishments. Establishing this kind of culture takes work and requires a lot of effort to accomplish a transformative mental and cultural shift. If you’re ready to work toward a more productive and transparent workplace culture, contact us today.

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