Henry David Thoreau-”It takes two to speak the truth — one to speak and another to hear.”
Some people can’t tell a lie, others can’t tell the truth and unfortunately, most people can’t tell the difference.
On a basic level, being successful on any given project relies on the people who make up your team openly sharing the truth.A simple principle, which I’m sure most people would agree with.
Yet putting it into action in the workplace is often difficult, painful and ineffective.
Why? Because we are either not clear about what the truth is or we disagree over whose truth is the most accurate in describing the situation.
The politics of truth goes beyond the reality of the situation and incorporates dynamics such as incompetence, power, fear and influence in trying to achieve a result.
The fundamental meaning of success is that we describe a specific goal, outcome or state we wish to achieve and over a specific period of time, within certain guidelines we achieve the desired result. To not achieve the desired result is failure. A common question at this point is: If we achieve the result, does it matter how we got there? My answer: Yes.
The underlying foundation of truth is that we accurately describe reality in such a way that everyone becomes clear about the situation. Once we are clear we can decide where we want to go from this point and we can begin to set goals, assign tasks and get to work making a contribution.
If we do not accurately describe reality, if we allow biases, fears, assumptions, rumours and speculation to cloud the issues, then the direction we set and the choices we make are based on flawed information. We may reach the desired result but only after making many course corrections.
Similarly, if we “spin” or manipulate the truth we may reach the end result but usually at the expense of broken relationships, low trust, and people hedging on commitments, selective communication and any of a long list of detrimental behaviours in the workplace. People sometimes withhold, spin or slant reports, especially when the implications are uncomfortable or threatening.
Building a culture of truth-telling means that people know it is acceptable and preferable to tell the truth and that it is unacceptable not to tell the truth.This culture of truth-telling positively impacts people, performance and profits. It relies on clear communication and an understanding of the impact the truth has on everyone involved. In order to do this we need to communicate with confidence and courage.
A culture that supports truth telling can be an organization’s most valuable asset.An environment that appreciates risk taking. Telling the truth can entail revealing failure. If you punish failure, or even if you recognize only success, you train people to conceal failure.
Avoid heavy-handed or coercive tactics that creates a sense of powerlessness because coercive tactics erode the sense of safety so essential to truth telling.Avoid killing the messenger, cold-shouldering the messenger, and blaming individuals for group failures.
Create a sense of safety. Punishing truth telling drives truth underground.Make truth telling a part of everyone’s job. In some organizational cultures, withholding truth is seen as loyalty. People who disclose bad news are sometimes seen as “ratting” on peers.We should all be trained in disclosure. Encourage people to support each other in uncomfortable disclosure by sharing responsibility. Group responsibility makes truth telling easier.
None of this is enough, though, unless you prepare yourself.To get to the truth of anything, we must take responsibility for accepting the truth — even a difficult truth — when we find it. And that might be the most uncomfortable
The author is a management systems analyst