Transparency Tools

The Federation for Egalitarian Communities provided a mutual aid grant that funded this incomplete work.  When it is finished it will be announced here.  Thanks to the FEC for their support of improved communication in communities and outside of them.  If you have suggestions for additional transparency tools, please comment on this post.

Draft Fingerbook on Transparency Tools and Transparency Groups [PDF version]

What is a transparency group and should I join one?

A group of people willing to share intimate information about themselves with each other, who are willing to explore their histories and emotions.  While transparency groups are not designed to be healing in nature, it is generally the case that these searches improve the lives of those who try them.


Starting up

You will need at least 3 people and it’s best if the group is fewer than a dozen. You should find a group who is willing to meet regularly, weekly is often desirable.  Frequently, the members of these groups share something in common, a hobby, a residence, a team, a job, a community, a political or spiritual group.  And transparency groups are not for everyone and often people who start out in them drop out when they find it is not their cup of tea.

Basic Tools

“If you really knew me …” is one of the most basic tools for these groups.  You complete this sentence with something which is largely not known by the group.  It could be personal, it might be significant or just interesting,  “If you really knew me you would know I had a fight with my lover this morning.: If you really knew me you would know I am afraid of heights” “I want to change jobs””…”I am doubting my faith””…”I don’t trust my boss” … “I have felt sick for days”.  You can have one or several rounds of “If you really knew…” at the start of your meeting.


Cross-talk – with many tools it is important to let people finish what they are saying or for everyone to get a chance to speak, before you add something which was inspired by the things others said.  And an important part of transparency is saying how things others have said make you feel, especially if the feelings are strong.  Cross-talk is where you respond to another person’s spoken sharing.

Suggestions for cross talk:

  • If you are hurt or angry about something said, start your cross talk with asking if they are ready and willing to hear your feelings (see withholds).

  • be concise and as specific as possible.

  • talk more about your feelings and less about what you think, use sentences starting with “I ….” rather than  “You….”

  • cross talk should be about things between you and the person you are responding to regarding things that they have just recently shared with the group

“What is hard for me to say is …” Shame, embarrassment and reservation are all targets of transparency techniques.  This simple fill in the blank exercise is a sister to “If you really knew me”.  It is also usually done in a go-round format and can be followed by cross-talk.

Withholds – if there is someone in the group who you are feeling less present with because of some unexpressed feeling or undisclosed upset, then you have a withhold (Suggestion:  if when you look around you notice there is someone you’re not feeling connected to because of some unexpressed feeling or undisclosed upset, then you have a withhold).  One of the purposes of these groups is to move through these feelings or beliefs by expressing them. Another purpose is to increase connection, and one way we block connections is by letting little upsets or fears build up. The channel between us then becomes clogged, so sharing ‘withholds’ is done in order to keep a channel clean and release a block.   Because these are sometimes hard to hear, you should ask permission of someone, the standard format is:

Chris: “Sandy, I have a withhold for you. Can I share it with you?”

[Sandy checks in with themselves to make sure they can really hear it]

Sandy: “No”

– or –

Sandy: “Yes”

If Sandy says “no” the conversation ends and it is important for Chris to not try to convince Sandy that they should be allowed to tell them anyway.  And hopefully Sandy does have space to hear the withhold. After the withhold is shared Sandy says: “Thank you”. A back and forth about the content of the withhold does not take place until 24 hours have passed.

When Chris tells Sandy the withhold, as much as possible, they talk about their distrust or judgement, rather than venting from an angry place. “I heard that you said………. and I felt upset about that. I thought you were being selfish and inconsiderate,” or, “I saw you do……. and I made it mean that you……………….. Now I worry that you will…………….”  Don’t get too hung up on the format, Chris is encouraged to express how he really feels about whatever it is Sandy did or said.

Your job when someone shares a withhold with you is to listen, and not respond. After the withhold has been expressed you say “Thank you” to the person. If you did not understand their share you can say you have a clarifying question. But if you don’t agree with what they said or you want to correct their understanding of what happened, this is not the right time for that. Usually withholds are done in clusters, as in, the entire group takes time to see who has withholds with whom and then several people take turns sharing withholds with various others, always starting with: “I have a withhold for T. Are you open to hearing it?”

There is a new tool called “Unsaid” which is a withhold without the 24 hour wait.  Mostly this has been used well, but I have let in quite some defensiveness in some sessions.

For the emotional strength and cohesion of the group, clearing through With-holds and unsaids are probably the most powerful tool in this set.

no one understands me

Hot Seat – This tool selects a specific person who the entire group will ask questions of – usually for a fixed period of time (between 5 and 15 minutes is recommended).  Questions should be designed to be helpful and make the focus person be self revealing or gain deeper insights. The person in the hot seat should try to help the group see them more clearly – to be transparent.  The people asking the questions should not hide from difficult topics, but their questions should come from a place of caring for the person, rather than attacking them, AND, it is okay to be critical, if this will help the person see themselves more clearly and reveal self destructive patterns.

In the last minute, the time keeper asks for ‘burning questions’ indicating that time is almost up and encouraging those people who haven’t asked their significant questions yet to no longer hold back.

I have a story about you.  In this exercise participants are encouraged to  tell stories they have about other members in the group, which are based on their assumptions or extrapolations.  “I have a story that because you just had an ugly polygamous break up. You are doubting your  commitment to poly and are wondering if you should go back to monogamy.”  The prioritized responses you are looking for are:

  1. What is true about your story that i had not said before is ____

  2. Perhaps the reason you have this story is piece of my history that you are perhaps unaware of.

  3. I have a strong emotional response to this story because _____

  4. [Non-defensively as possible] This is why i think your story might not be true _____

What are your blind spots – this could be done as part of a hot seat exercise or by itself.  What do you think are the problem areas that a member of the group is not seeing about themselves.  Are they denying something which others think are true?  People hearing about their blind spots are encouraged to start responding by saying “What feels true about what you are saying is …” Rather than responding defensively or contradicting the suggested blind spot.


Flow of Feelings –  Quick emotional cycling techniques borrowed from the emotional side of your brain.

Training: The Natural Flow of Feelings, also known as Emotional Housecleaning:

I feel angry that …                 I feel grateful that…

I feel sad that….                I feel happy that…

I feel afraid that …                I feel secure that…

I feel guilty that…                I feel proud that …

This is a method of taking some trash out. Only one person does a flow at a time, the  others only hold space and do not interrupt or comment. It’s a flushing out of the emotions. Following the order and trying each one on is an intention and an attempt to fan out the feelings, as getting in touch with things that might be obscured is thought to help us move past something. Identifying what might be affecting us is a powerful way to overcome it,  or at least  understand  it/ourselves. The sentences should be short, and simple language. Think of 5 or 6 year old language. Sentences do not have to be factual, you are encouraged to try on something even if you’re not sure- no one is taking this as truth. For example “I feel angry that my husband hates me, i feel sad he thinks i am ugly”… staying away from abstract sentences such as  “I am angry that I have a negative interpretation of my husband’s actions”, instead go for “I am angry I think this”. Also feel free to change words to represent feelings, especially encouraged with angry. To say “I hate that” or “I can’t stand that” or curse. Make it real. After you have  exhausted each one, move onto the grateful side. Repeat each sentence until you feel done. Its okay to move back and forth from angry to guilty and back to  angry, especially if stuff comes back up. Follow the general order but stuff bubbles up sometimes.

Transparency is not Consensus

While this finger-book recommends use of transparency techniques in collective decision making groups, it is not a replacement for consensus, or sociocracy, or other decision models.  These transparency tools are designed to help us better understand each other and build trust.  They are not a substitute for a formal decision process, though they usually help these processes run smoother.  What the authors of this guide recommend is that collective groups run their decision making practice and their transparency work separately.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

18 responses to “Transparency Tools”

  1. Tinaz Email! says :

    Your best post yet!! neverlandfarm Skype

  2. Amoreau says :

    The 24 hour wait period seems counter-productive. I get that it can be useful in processing a communication after the initial defensive emotions are felt (if that does come up). However, why not let the person communicate the emotions that come up and once they release those, let them respond? Or provide a more flexible format time wise. Perhaps one where both people agree on a time period of their choosing. 24 hours seems excessive.

    I was on the end of the 24 hour wait and it left me feeling very incomplete. I didn’t have any defensive emotions that needed to be worked through to fully get the communication so the wait period was unnecessary. The wait period made me feel like my self expression was being suppressed and feelings of bitterness came up that I could not also communicate and be transparent and most importantly get complete with the other person.

    On the other person’s end, if a response to the withhold is feared, all that needs be done is for them to express that they have this fear and then the fear disappears.

    • paxus says :

      Some people will not share a withhold if they dont have the protection of the 24 hour rule. It is regularly necessary to avoid a defensive response, in my never humble opinion. You can of course always challenge the withhold and ask if it can be an unsaid instead OR you can just say you are not open to the withhold.

    • newworldpractice says :

      I understand and disagree. The intention of a withhold is to get it out of one’s OWN way. So, the listener can just hold that. Often that is a wonderful opportunity for learning that one does not need to respond to something. It’s a gift of listening. Like meditation. And, being someone who once shared a withhold and then the other person just made a clarifying comment, I can tell you it SUCKS ASS. and not in a good way. The point isn’t that my feelings are valid or unnecessary, it’s just “Hey, let me reveal myself to you. And thus, be seen and create compassion for myself and honor you by letting you in.” That’s it. If I need it to be a withhold, I need that 24 hours to know the person will have the chance to just sit with it as a share, not anything requiring action. And, there is always the option of it being an unsaid if the person sharing doesn’t feel they need that protection. I’ve been using these tools for about 7 years, and many people longer, and think that though you might never want to be on the receiving end of a withhold, or need to share one, many people find it very useful. Your comment that “all that needs to be done is for them to express their fear and then it disappears” I don’t agree with either. Sure, sometimes. But in my example, I had that fear AND I expressed it and then when the person I shared with gave me more info (by responding before 24 hours, it was 1-2 hours later) I felt like the SUPER TENDER thing I had shared wasn’t seen or loved or heard for what it is. And that was such a fail in my opinion of the healing potential of that share. – marta 🙂

  3. wren says :

    very helpful and thorough post. thanks!

  4. Joshua Myrvaagnes says :

    Great to see these tools being used. The inventor of two of them–withholds and the idea of the “hotseat”–said that his inventions he was happy to have his inventions used freely as long as people mentioned his name–Victor Baranco.

  5. Paula Caplan says :

    As with most things, I feel that hard and fast rules where one size fits all is not always helpful. Many posts above touched on the power of learning that can occur when we must sit with feelings, which more times than not is incredibly valuable. Often what is most uncomfortable is just the thing we most need for our growth. So if it is difficult to sit with the unknown or feels unsettled, possibly raw and vulnerable, until the situation can be resolved, this might be just the time we need to create a loving space for self healing to occur. I have many thoughts on how this time could be spent to heal earlier wounds that, I believe, cause the foundation for most of the “acting out”, hurtful ways we interact with each other, animals, and the planet, but that would go too far afield. On the other hand, when a person has a history of being denied freedom of expression by an external force, AND both parties are truly not activated, therefore able to express and receive from an open heart, then imposing constraint may reinforce earlier wounds. Having the wisdom to identify just what is needed emotionally I feel is the best approach, but finding this balance can be difficult.

    One suggestion to address this is to help people get in touch with their undefended, authentic selves- to understand their wounds, their strengths, their temptations, their fears, their limitations, their dreams. Once we are able to suspend the ego and be deeply aware and honest with ourselves, then the individuals may be able to answer for themselves. Two examples of responses might be “I am unactivated, open and undefended and ready to take in your feedback” or “Despite my yearning to hear your response, I know this need is about my discomfort waiting or my need for reassurance, and therefore I know it is in my best and highest interest to wait until 24 hours have passed”.

    Also, establishing safety, including nonjudgmental listening, in the group is essential for this type of sharing, especially the hot seat approach. Although not new to these types of processes, I am new to this particular approach and apologize for redundancy if these concepts have already been addressed.

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