I recently read a Harvard Business Review blog post entitled: “Do People Really Want You To Be Honest?”
I was attracted by the title and totally fascinated by the on-line discussion that ensued. Although most of the comments indicated a belief that one should always tell the truth… there were the inevitable (and surprising to me) number of suggestions that under certain circumstances one can justify not telling the truth – usually in the name of protecting the other person and sometimes in the name of “…just simply getting the job done.” Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that many of my discussions of creating and nurturing relationships while intentionally building growth are dependent upon being a “trusted advisor” by always telling it like it is. The HBR blog motivated me to write this additional post dedicated to being a truth teller at all times.
For starters, here’s where I stand on the subject: What works best is to always tell the truth. Always! And, yes, I would love to see the world change so that everyone told the truth – all the time – even though it probably won’t happen before I leave the planet. Although I’m not attacking those with a different position, I am extremely comfortable with trumpeting my position because I always tell the truth and everyone who knows me knows that. As an example, my clients know I will tell them not to buy if my offer isn’t right for them. My wife relies on my opinion because she can count on me to tell the truth if she asks me about a new dress. My friends know they can ask me for anything because if I can’t or don’t want to, they know I’ll tell them – without adding judgement.
Is telling ”the truth, and nothing but the truth” uncomfortable some times? Yes. Is it possible to misrepresent the truth and “get away with it”? I suppose so. Do I sometimes want to squirm out of telling the truth? Yes. Does it backfire sometimes? Yes – but rarely. Am I sometimes afraid of the short-term costs and implications? Yes. But the truth is my anchor, my mission, and my brand so I always resolve in favor of telling it as it is. The payoff in long-term success is always there regardless of any potential short-term gains.
My confidence in humanity is that it’s possible for us to all be truth-tellers (and no, I don’t think I’m tilting at windmills.) As an indication of progress, it’s great when people engage in a conversation about honesty so that all 360 degrees of positions can be offered and discussed. Some people are OK with saying whatever they need to in driving towards the desired immediate result. I don’t think they are “wrong” – I’d just like them to see that there might be a better way.
In my world honesty, truth-telling, and integrity are all the same and apply whether personal or in business. The Intentional Growth blog and this post, however, are focused on business – specifically on revenue growth and sales.
It is my belief that there is only one way to tell the truth and that is tell 100% of the truth 100% of the time. For example, white lies are not the truth. Are you one of those people who think nothing of avoiding someone by saying: “tell him I’m not in” when you are, or “tell him I’m on the phone” when you are not? That sets a very low bar for you and by demonstrating a circumstance in which you are willing to lie (ooooh, that’s a harsh word, isn’t it?) also tells the people around you that you cannot be counted on to ALWAYS tell the truth. And it is never appropriate (or with integrity) to lie.
Being a truth-teller is not a thing one does from time to time – it is a place to come from and a lifestyle to lead. You simply will not be looked at as a trusted advisor in any business situation if you cannot be counted on to ALWAYS tell the truth. It is also my opinion that your effectiveness is minimized in being looked at as an equal partner, supportive boss, dependable employee, valued supplier, or useful mentor if you are not known as a truth teller.
What’s your personal brand? Are you known as someone who tells the truth under certain circumstances? Do the people you do business with — from the receptionist to your CEO to your client — know you’ll always tell them the truth or do they need to “figure it out” in every circumstance?
Or are you known as a truth-teller?
Do you agree or disagree? By all means add a comment below and join the debate.
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