Blog > Self Disclosure

April 4, 2008

Listening to Annette Clancy, Johnnie Moore and Matt Moore talk about confidentiality at work on their recent podcast, brought to mind the issue of self disclosure.

As facilitators we’re only EVER responsible for one half of the exchange – the participants in the group also have a responsibility for the communication, and for what happens. We can create a climate of trust and build rapport with the group, and also between group members, by paying attention to self disclosure.

Think of those times when you’ve wanted to say something – maybe in a work group, a social group, amongst your family – and for some reason it hasn’t felt safe to do so. You’re likely to clam up and say nothing or say something superficial, or even cynical. When i hear cynical comments when I’m facilitating I see that as an offer to assess whether or not I’ve created a safe environment for people to talk – to reveal some of their truths, confidences and secrets even.

John Powell, writes about self disclosure in his book Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?Here are some useful tips about self disclosure that I find useful to remember when facilitating:

Self-disclosure usually moves in small increments
Self-disclosure is reciprocal
When people share information about themselves, they expect the other person to share similar information. This cultural rule allows people to use disclosure as a strategy for gaining information and reducing uncertainty.

Self-disclosure involves risk
Once you disclose something to someone, that person can now share the information with others.

Self-disclosure involves trust
To know something personal about someone is to have power over that person. Ethics is all important: people have a right to know how and where you will use the information they give you.

Self-disclosure moves from less personal to more personal information

I think this last point is really important. We have to go through the stages – some people more quickly than others. I did hear Matt Moore refer to the importance of phatic communication in another recent podcast – that preliminary back and forth chit chat about nothing in particular at the beginning of a conversation that’s important for setting the scene for what’s to follow AND to establish some of the communication norms from which we’re operating so further communication can proceed. BTW, I hadn’t heard anyone refer to phatic communication for a long time. For some reasons it’s one of the few things that sticks in my mind from my communication degree days.

John Powell goes on to further explain the levels of communication:

Level 5: Cliché communication:
We first establish verbal contact with others by saying something that lets the other person know we acknowledge his or her presence. Standard greetings such as ‘hello’ signal the desire to initiate a relationship, even if it is a brief, superficial one.

Level 4: Facts and biographical information
After using cliché phrases and responses to establish contact, we typically next reveal non-threatening information about ourselves, such as our names, where we live, and what work we do.

Level 3: Attitudes and personal ideas:
After noting our name and other basic information, it often follows that we begin talking about more personal information such as our attitudes towards work, or other relatively safe topics. Even though the information is not too threatening, we begin to talk about our likes and dislikes.

Level 2: Personal feelings:
At this level we discuss topics and issues that are exceedingly more personal. After we’ve developed rapport with someone, we then share more intimate fears, secrets, and attitudes about other people. Increasingly, we take risks when we share this information. It also involves trust to share these personal feelings.

Level 1: Peak communication:
Powell calls this the ultimate level of disclosure that is seldom reached. Only with our most intimate friends do we reveal such personal information. Peak communication is rare because of the risk and trust involved in being so open and revealing.

This is invaluable knowledge for anyone leading a group and hoping to provide the conditions for worthwhile communication.

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