Secrecy, Deception, and Making Claims

In various parts of the Art of War, Sun Tzu addresses communication in a variety of ways that can seem (especially to the uninitiated) contradictory. In the text, deception, secrecy, and establishing trust are all part of the communication puzzle. One of our new trainers, Shawn Frost, asks about this problem in this way:
I've recently ran into a minor problem in sharing my vision with people. As predicted by Sun Tzu, when I declare my intentions it seems that there are new detractors adding friction to my process. In an era when one's network determines one's net worth, how would Sun Tzu recommend we decide between telling our team the "whole story" to get buy-in versus just keeping one's plans a secret. I'm torn between a good plan today versus a perfect plan too late. When is it appropriate to share the vision (philosophy),at 60%, 80% completion?
This apparent difficulty is resolved by thinking more precisely in terms of positions and about the specific steps in advancing a position. In using Warrior's Rules, there is no concept of the "whole story." There are only positions. Each position has its own perspective. Just like there is no such thing in as "absolute" strength and weakness, there is no such thing as a "perfect" or "complete" perspective. The view is limited from every position. We discuss strength and weakeness in relative terms, comparing specific qualities among existing or possible positions. We discuss perspectives the same way. What is important is the relative merits of seeing a situation from one perspective (i.e. position) or another. This is especially important in strategy because all positions exist in multiple places at once: the external world of objective reality and subjective reality within each human mind. You must consider the effect of every move on both the objective and the subjective. Words must be weighed carefully in terms of their effect. What is traditionally translated in Sun Tzu recommendation to use "deception" is better understood a warning that everyone's actions and words can only be judged in terms of their motivations. For our own interest and the interest of others, we must manage people's perceptions to help us establish our desired position. Controlling perceptions is not deception: it is better communication. Those who offer the "whole truth" are too lazy to edit themselves. Those who claim that they don't "spin facts" elevate their own subjective viewpoint to something grander than it is. They myopically see the world from their own perspective and don't consider the perspective of their audience. Elevating your own perspective without serving your audience's perspective doesn't serve any higher objective truth. It usually has the opposite effect. In "expressing themselves," most of us usually say too much, degrading our message. I know I do. In my seminars, I always give more informationthan most can handle. Audiences find the high-bandwidth entertaining, but the practical result is information overload. Saying too much also has many other negative effects on position as well. You can create expectations that you cannot meet. You can give your opponents information that they can use against you. The best communication is sharp and well-aimed. It penetrates its target with a minimum of friction. It hits at a critical spot. Ineffective communication, of which I am all too often guilty, is like administering a pounding with a rubber duck: it flails away everywhere with little effect. Putting my chicken down: Say less. Say it more sharply. Know what you are aiming at.