The ‘Illusion of Transparency’ – A Note For MSPs

The ‘Illusion of Transparency‘ refers to a cognitive bias where individuals overestimate the extent to which their internal thoughts, feelings, or emotions are apparent to others. Essentially, people mistakenly believe that their inner states are more transparent or easily perceivable to others than they actually are.

This means that they may believe that their nervousness, confidence, or emotional state is evident to everyone else, when in reality, other people may well have no awareness of their internal feelings.

For example, someone giving a presentation might feel anxious and assume that their nervousness is clearly evident to the audience, even though the audience may not be aware of anything of the sort. What makes this important is that it can lead to self-consciousness, increased social anxiety, or make people over-compensate to try and mask their feelings, which may negatively impact communications.

A Managed Service Provider might need to know about this condition and here’s why.

First and foremost, it means that your prospects and clients and prospects might automatically think you are aware of their perspectives or feelings, meaning you can miss important sales signals. But further than that, it means that they might work extra hard to mask their feelings of anxiety or confusion, meaning that technical people can’t see that they are alienating the very people they’re trying to communicate with. In other words, your clients might be smiling and nodding their heads and sounding enthusiastic but they haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about because they’re desperate not to look stupid either themselves or in front of their team-mates.

What this means is that you should default your level of technical-language or jargon to that of the weakest link in the chain if there are several people in that chain, so to speak. If you think there’s a risk your audience think you’re being patronising because you’re dumbing things down, then you need to let them have an escape route and explain this at the outset.

So, if you’re doing a presentation for example – especially to multiple people, it’s essential that you make it easy for people to show that they either understand or they don’t understand something, without the social risk of appearing stupid.

You can explain in advance that you’ll be explaining things in simple terms because you’ve found lots of people find it easier to relate to and that you’re guilty of making too many assumptions. i.e. make it obvious that any errors in understanding come from you and not them. Further to this, mention that if they start to find it a bit too basic, just to let you know and you can increase the complexity accordingly. This way, you can come across as being helpful yet not patronising and usually they’ll secretly thank you. However, if they do need things explained at a more technical level, they can ask you to ramp it up a bit – you can repeat that caveat a few times throughout your conversation but again in a non-patronising way.

The best way to avoid both ends of the spectrum of being either too basic or too complex is to research and know the people beforehand, wherever possible. Use stories wherever possible because stories can help communicate better than any jargon but still convey the essence and benefits of what you want to say in an engaging way. Lots of easy to understand visuals where necessary can help and of course adapt and adjust accordingly to any feedback you get. When you ask questions to get some kind of feedback, always, always, always give them an option to answer you without forcing them to look stupid or ignorant.

For example, when you’ve just explained something to someone, you could bluntly ask them “do you understand?” which puts them in the spotlight and forces them into a corner. One alternative could be to ask “I’ve got more information about this particular issue – would you like me to send it to you so you can pass it to your team or would you prefer I didn’t include that bit? ”  That can help give them a sense of hiding on the crowd whilst still giving you the answer you need. That’s just an example – doubtless you can think of others.

In summary, by understanding and addressing the Illusion of Transparency, MSPs can enhance communication, manage expectations, demonstrate expertise and show empathy, thereby winning more business. As always, this applies to internal communications with your own team as well.

As a final thought, when you’re doing a talk or presentation, the fact is that whatever is going on underneath for you, it’ll be a lot less obvious or even an issue for anyone else – so hopefully that’ll encourage you to do more presentations!


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Mike Knight