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7. Good Boundaries: Balancing Transparency and Confidentiality

A rock wall in the English countryside

Communication done poorly is one of the most common causes of congregational conflict. Here are some practices to help your board avoid common pitfalls.

Download the Syllabus (PDF) to keep track of your progress!

 

Confidentiality and Healthy Disclosures

Balancing transparency and confidentiality can be challenging for congregational board members, staff and other leaders who have access to sensitive information. Healthy, vibrant systems need as much open communication as possible.

Confidentiality and Healthy Disclosure

Creating Healthy Communication Channels

The flow of information in an organization is a bit like the flow of water after a rain. Ideally, the information is shared evenly, and the members are able to absorb it like loamy soil. But information that triggers anxiety can be like a heavy rain. Without established channels, information will create its own channels, possible eroding trust or creating other damage.

Healthy Communication Channels

Avoiding "Parking Lot" Conversations

Healthy and transparent communications happen in accountable settings. Many local governments have "Sunshine Laws" that prevent government officials from meeting, to prevent "backroom dealing" and other covert communications the undermine transparency. In a healthy congregation, it's essential to keep communication flowing where everyone is at the table and "in covenant." Thoughts, ideas and feelings about a topic of concern should be shared in the meeting among all of the people on the board, committee or team -- not among a subset of folks who might gossip in the parking lot after the meeting. 
In the 21st Century, we have email and social media that sometimes provide a platform for similar unhealthy conversations. The board can set a tone for how healthy communications happen.

More on Unhealthy Email Communicaiton

The Peril of Anonymous Feedback

Healthy and transparent communication needs to be mutual, with all parties taking responsibility for their words. Leaders should have firm policies against accepting anonymous feedback. And yet, there are times when cultural differences or power differentials require a nuanced understanding of healthy communication.

More on Anonymous Feedback

About the Author

UUA Congregational Life Staff Group

The regional Congregational Life staff are congregations' local connection to the UUA. All of the program Congregational Life staff have expertise in most aspects of congregational life and each also has a few program areas of expertise. See the...

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.