Communication training – a dirty little secret?


I am the skeleton in the closet of several large clients – their dirty little secret. I am banned from sharing that I’ve worked with them. This has nothing to do with the quality of my communication training (other companies give me great testimonials). It seems this gagging order is down to extreme confidentiality brought about by fear.

Yet clients who are scared of revealing they’ve had training or coaching are missing a trick. We live in a new era of openness and transparency, diversity and inclusion. Our society has increasing respect for those who are willing to recognise their personal development requirements and take bold steps towards self-improvement.

There is good reason why ‘transparency’ and ‘authenticity’ are contemporary business buzzwords. Successful organisations create trust and build reputation through open, candid communication.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the higher the client profile, the more likely they are to include a non-naming clause in their non-disclosure agreement. This means that even if they start to appreciate the value of transparency and authenticity as a result of training or coaching, it is already set in stone that the intervention must stay under the radar.

This is counter-productive for those moving towards a new, beneficial style of authenticity-enhanced communications. It also prohibits me from connecting clients who would otherwise benefit one another.

It’s not just me

I’m not the only one facing sanctions if I mention that I’ve worked with a hush-hush client. I’ve just carried out a survey of other trainers and coaches, and this requirement for silence appears to be a common trend.

One colleague told me that fifty percent of her clients don’t want people to know she’s coaching them. “The higher up in the organisation or the more public their position,” she told me, “the more they prefer others not know. It’s perceived as a weakness, even though they know everyone gets coaching.”

Another colleague has a client who won’t even let him state where he’s travelled for the work, “in case people put two and two together”.

It seems that while some people are open about the benefits they’ve experienced from communication training, others are ashamed of the whole process before it even begins.

I’m not advocating total transparency, of course. I would never reveal personal or commercially sensitive details, and I’ll comply absolutely with any non-naming agreement thrown my way, but it does seem rather excessive.

Benefits of ‘outing’ your communication training

Communication training is an important element of personal development, which helps to make you the best you can be. It can be liberating and inspiring to share your investment in this, as well as helping fellow executives who are struggling. (You won’t know who they are because they don’t talk about it, but believe me, there are a lot of them out there.)

Recognising that everyone has the potential to improve, and raising your head above the parapet can have very positive effects. It can engender trust and respect from staff and stakeholders, help you become perceived as an employer of choice, and raise corporate reputation as a result.

Sharing your experience externally can also increase brand awareness in markets where you might not otherwise gain exposure, while increasing goodwill with suppliers and/or contractors (like me!) who can refer you to new contacts in untapped or previously inaccessible markets.

Stand up, speak out, be proud

My call to all clients – past, present and future – is to stand up and speak out about your communication training.

Be proud of your ability to influence. Be proud of your ability to lead a thriving business through successful communication. Be proud that you had the foresight to ask for expert guidance with these abilities. Be proud that this shrewd judgement allowed you to recognise new areas for personal development and achieve more than you ever thought possible.

Be proud to be part of a truly authentic organisation that leads the conversation about the importance of communication training for businesses and the economy. Be the best that you can be. And don’t be afraid to admit that you couldn’t have done it by yourself.

(And, of course, if you’d like to publicly thank the person who helped you get there, please feel free!)