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Truth be Told….or Not?

by Brian Ray

The topic being presented today, namely telling the truth in difficult circumstances, can be a difficult one for many people, but it is something that needs to be discussed.  The statements made in the following post will not be what some people want to know, but it is ultimately what everyone needs to know.

As business professionals, we must never forget that it is our ethical duty to ensure that our peers, Managers, and clients are dealt with fairly and honestly.   However, while it is well known that most people in the world consider honesty a virtue, the sad fact is that many people do all they can to avoid hearing and facing the truth of many situations.

This is a behavior that permeates all levels of business (regardless of industry – Technology, Education, Government, etc).  It becomes even more intense when it moves into the upper levels of Management, where the bottom line is king, and many strive to maximize it no matter what.

Unfortunately this can lead to an even more serious problem, specifically a backlash against those who do speak the truth.  In that, speaking the truth about a given situation actually leads to a form of punishment or admonishing for the speaker.  In some cases, it has even ended the career of the person(s) who dared to speak it, even though they did nothing wrong by doing so.

How is this possible?  Well, much of the time it comes down to the ego and mentality of the Manager(s) and/or Executive(s) involved with the given situation.  Those egos that bruise easily will usually seek the most opportunistic or expeditious  form of retribution available to them.  However, others may bide their time and choose their moment to inflict retribution when the recipient least expects it, like in a performance review.

While these may seem like rare occurrences, it happens with far more frequency than many individuals would care to admit.  Virtually every business professional has a story regarding an occurrence of this very situation.  Just knowing that it could happen has caused many individuals to become very cautious and apprehensive when dealing with certain people within their respective organizations.

So, all that said, it is time to discuss what can be done about it.  If you are a Manager and/or Team Leader and your superiors issue you a reprimand for members of your staff speaking truthfully about difficult situation(s), do not take it out on your team members. Utilizing these reminders can help business professionals maintain their perspective:

1. Keep your ego in check.

Don’t let your feeling of self-importance overshadow your other faculties.  Take a step back, remove the emotional reaction from the situation, and see it for what it truly is.  Staying balanced will help keep a person focused on what matters.

2. Put yourself in their shoes.

One of the best methods is to execute a role reversal by putting yourself in the shoes of the person who has to deliver the truthful news.  If you wouldn’t like having to do it, chances are they don’t either.  So have some empathy for that individual, as one day the tables may be turned.

3. Be supportive.

Nobody wants to be the harbinger of information that no one wants to hear.  Remember that well and take it to heart.  If the person is a member of your team or department, let them know you are in their corner.  This has the added benefit of instilling more confidence in your leadership, which in turn creates a more positive environment for everyone.

4. Avoid the temptation of retribution.

Telling the truth in a professional manner should never elicit punishment of any kind.  Those leaders that do inflict retribution quickly develop bad reputations, which can have significant negative repercussions for their careers.  Quite simply, if no one ultimately wants to work for them because of their attitudes, they won’t have a career for very long.

Finally, keep in mind that what goes around does come back around.  Reputations and legacies last a long time in the memories of people.  Individuals will always remember how they were treated, no matter how many years pass.  Take the time to make the right choices, and positive effects will continue to happen.

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