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  • Writer's pictureNICOLETTE STENGER

The Importance of Consent and Transparency in Building Relationships

Establishing trust and safety is crucial for any relationship to succeed, whether it's personal or professional. Consent and transparency are two vital components in building this foundation.

Consent involves willingly and knowingly agreeing to participate in an interaction. It’s an informed decision. And in order to make that decision, we need context, details, opportunity to ask questions, and an understanding of our options. How do we get those needs met? Through transparency.

Transparency involves being open and honest about the information we consider relevant. It welcomes sharing and questioning. It is direct, collaborative, and genuine. Essentially, transparency provides the context for informed consent.

Why is Consent and Transparency Important in Relationships?

Lack of consent and transparency can lead to negative consequences in relationships. For example, in personal relationships, lack of transparency can lead to misunderstandings, mistrust, and emotional pain. In professional relationships, lack of transparency can lead to a toxic work environment, low morale, and high employee turnover rates.

On the other hand, practicing consent and transparency can lead to positive outcomes in relationships. It promotes trust, respect, and open communication. It also allows individuals to make informed decisions and establish healthy boundaries. Ultimately, it leads to feelings of safety.

As a therapist, practicing transparency and gaining consent regularly is crucial in my work. They are the building blocks of trusting relationships. I am open about my background, experience, and approach. This leads to clients learning early if we’re a good fit, and it allows them to make an informed decision. In some cases, I may also choose to share details about my personal life. For example, I am a parent of an infant which may impact my ability to attend scheduled sessions. By being transparent about this, I give my clients the opportunity to decide if they can work with me based on their comfort levels and boundaries. I am up front about this when consulting with a potential client.

As a thought exercise, consider how different it would feel as my client to receive a text the morning of our scheduled session stating I need to cancel if I hadn’t informed you in the beginning that this might occur. Would you feel disappointed, angry, rejected? Now consider you’ve known this was a possibility from the beginning and you know why - does this change how you feel?

How does this impact personal relationships?

In personal relationships, it's important to respect each other's boundaries and communicate openly and honestly with each other. Sharing openly in your personal relationships about your feelings, wants, and needs builds trust. And communicating this information in a way that is clear and honest can help to avoid misunderstandings. When we engage in a back and forth of sharing this kind of information with our friends and loved ones, we’re also building safety which allows us to build intimacy. Building this foundation of trust and safety can lead to increased well being, sense of autonomy, and connection with others.

A common example is when one person tells their partner that they need space and time to themselves. The person might explain that they need this time to recharge and take care of their mental health, and that it's not a reflection of their feelings towards their partner. They might also explain that it would feel good and boost their confidence if their partner respected their boundaries and didn't take their need for space personally. Without this kind of communication, someone taking space for themselves could be interpreted a variety of ways which could lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

What about professional relationships?

Now let’s apply this to your career. Consent and transparency lead to safety and security in professional relationships, allowing us to engage fully with our shared mission or purpose. Without this foundation, we may struggle with anxiety, avoidance, loneliness, and feeling unsupported in our passions, missions, and careers.

One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make that leads to toxic work environments and high turnover is not creating a culture of psychological safety. When employees don't feel safe to speak up, share ideas, or ask for help without fear of retribution or negative consequences, they can become disengaged, demotivated, and ultimately leave the organization.

Employers need to provide the necessary information for employees to feel competent and secure, while employees should be open about how they can contribute to the organization's mission.

Some examples: A transparent employee onboarding process helps employees understand what is expected of them in their role, their responsibilities, and the company's values. Consistent, trauma-informed, and transparent communication between managers and employees helps build trust and fosters a positive work environment. Consensual and transparent performance reviews with a focus on helping employees understand how they are contributing to the organization's mission, identifying areas for improvement, and setting goals for their future lead to more employee engagement. Transparency around diversity and inclusion initiatives is essential to creating a culture of belonging and respect. Regular feedback and recognition can help employees feel valued and appreciated.

Leaders should also be transparent and direct in their communication, welcoming questions and feedback from employees and promoting a collaborative and genuine environment. In addition, leaders should establish clear boundaries and respect each other's autonomy, as well as foster open communication and address problems proactively.

Leaders who create a culture of psychological safety prioritize open communication, collaboration, and feedback. They actively seek out and listen to diverse perspectives, value and respect their employees, and promote a sense of belonging and inclusion. They also recognize the importance of mental and emotional well-being and encourage their employees to take care of themselves both in and out of the workplace.

On the other hand, leaders who do not prioritize psychological safety may create a culture of fear, where employees feel hesitant to speak up or share their thoughts, and are constantly worried about making mistakes. This can lead to high levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout, which can ultimately result in employees leaving the organization.

It's important for leaders to recognize the impact of their leadership style on the culture of their organization and take proactive steps to create a positive work environment that supports employee well-being, engagement, and retention.

By prioritizing consent and transparency in professional corporate settings, leaders can create a more positive and productive work environment that benefits both employees and the company as a whole.

What can we do to improve our relationships?

Consent and transparency are powerful tools that can be used to improve personal relationships. Here are some ways you can practice them:

  1. Establish clear boundaries: Consent and transparency can help establish clear boundaries in a relationship. By openly communicating what you are and are not comfortable with, you can avoid misunderstandings and potential conflicts. When both parties understand each other's boundaries, it creates a safer and more respectful environment.

  2. Respect each other's autonomy: By asking for consent and being transparent about your intentions and desires, you show respect for each other's autonomy and agency. This promotes a sense of equality and mutual respect in the relationship.

  3. Foster open communication: Consent and transparency promote open communication, which is essential for maintaining a healthy relationship. By openly discussing your thoughts, feelings, and needs, you can build trust and intimacy with your partner.

  4. Address problems proactively: When problems arise in a relationship, addressing them proactively and transparently can help prevent them from escalating. By openly discussing issues and working together to find a solution, you can strengthen the relationship and prevent future problems.

  5. Create a safe and supportive environment: When you use consent and transparency in a relationship, you create a safe and supportive environment where both parties feel heard and respected. This promotes emotional intimacy and helps build a strong and healthy relationship.

The principles of consent and transparency when applied to professional relationships varies in some ways from that of personal relationships. Here are some ways consent and transparency benefit professional relationships:

  1. Clarifying expectations: In professional relationships, it is essential to establish clear expectations between colleagues, clients, and customers. Consent and transparency can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands what is expected of them.

  2. Respectful communication: In a professional setting, communication needs to be respectful and clear. Consent and transparency can help avoid misunderstandings or misinterpretations, particularly when dealing with sensitive or complex issues.

  3. Promoting ethical behavior: Consent and transparency are essential in promoting ethical behavior in professional relationships. By being transparent about one's actions and intentions, and seeking consent where necessary, one can help ensure that ethical boundaries are not crossed.

  4. Building trust: Like in personal relationships, trust is crucial in professional relationships. Consent and transparency can help build trust between colleagues, clients, and customers, particularly when dealing with sensitive information or confidential matters.

  5. Mitigating conflicts: In a professional setting, conflicts are often inevitable. However, by using consent and transparency, colleagues can proactively address conflicts and work together to find solutions that are mutually agreeable.

In any type of relationship, whether personal or professional, trust and safety are critical for success. Consent and transparency are key components in establishing this foundation, and lack of these can result in frequent conflict, difficult repairs to the relationship, and over time an erosion of trust and a building of resentment. On the other hand, practicing consent and transparency can lead to successful collaboration, a deeper understanding of ourselves and others, and feelings of security and autonomy. We create a more positive and productive work environment that benefits both employees and the company as a whole when we prioritize consent and transparency. By practicing consent and transparency, we can strengthen all types of relationships and foster a sense of safety, respect, and trust.


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