Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Virtue of Non-Transparency

There is a value to transparency, of actually bearing the character you outwardly appear to carry. Esse quam videre.

However, that works best if you have a noble character to display. The transparency isn't all that great if it means you can see right through the sham.

Case in point: this morning my Beloved Wife was calling a university to set up a tour for my graduating son. The admissions counsellor was very curt in manner. Melanie started by asking if there were any special requirements for homeschooled applicants, and the counsellor shot back, "No. They follow the same rules as everybody else."

Hmm, opening gambit fell flat. What about appointments for a campus visit? "The secretary handles that, I don't have any idea about it."

Financial aid? "He has to have at least 1000 math and verbal on the SAT ..." the counsellor rattled off. Melanie interrupted, "He has 1570 math and verbal."

Ah! Suddenly the entire demeanor changed, the counsellor falling all over the room, calculating within about four sentences that she can all but promise a full scholarship if he applies.

What a difference four digits makes; it even makes the Brusque into the Accommodating.

I told Melanie she should start the conversation, "Hello, my son has 1570 on the SAT, and my name is ..." but she thought that would be overbearing. Maybe so, but it would certainly cut to the chase with some people. Would that just be transparency on our part?

One of South Carolina's wealthiest industrialists was a self-made man with a fortune built on cotton-processing machinery. The story is he used to enjoy dressing in his farming clothes to browse the big car lots -- located on land which he leased to them -- and after confirming the salesmen had no interest in his business, returning in his office suit and showing the same salesmen a huge roll of currency before walking out on them, letting them know that he had already been in once before that day.

Customer service skills apply in all kinds of business, and this admissions counsellor's manner was enough to lose the college a high-scoring candidate. The transparency in her case probably told us more than the college would have liked -- or gave a message the college never intended to convey.

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