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Tell the Truth – Part 1

This post is part of a new series that I call “Soft Skills for Hard Time; How to be Your Best When the Economy is a Mess”.  My goal is to get you to appreciate that your security comes from within and you can increase your security and value to the marketplace by investing in your soft skills.

People laugh when I say that we should tell the truth.  They say that of course you need to tell the truth.  I am not necessarily talking about telling the truth in big ways like, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”.  What I am talking about is truthfulness and integrity across all of our communications.  It also means being able to tell the truth in a way that is responsible and not mean-spirited.  And it means not leaving things out or telling only part of the truth.

I find that I really appreciate people that tell the truth.  In the movie Liar Liar, Jim Carey plays an attorney.  For a short period of time, he cannot tell a lie.  As a result, he finds that both his personal and professional life becomes untenable.  My favorite part of the movie is when he is asked to say something about each of his co-workers gathered together in a conference room.  Since he must tell the truth, he tends to say the things that everyone knows about each other but no one else is willing to say.  Everyone finds it hilarious as he goes around the large conference table saying what everyone has thought about but never said out loud.


Unless you are ready to make a job change, I suggest that you think twice before you go into work and try to do the same.  But I would contend that people that can tell the truth in a direct and responsible way are valued.  Think about your close friends and co-workers.  Do you value the ones who “tell it like it is” or always let you know where they stand?  I know I do.

Telling the truth is a key part of the emotional intelligence competence of relationship management.  Truth is critical to effective relationships.

The challenge for many of us is that we have been taught that telling the truth is not a good idea when it comes to others.  Each of us were taught some rules about what is OK to say and what is not.  Take a look at the following spoken and unspoken rules from my childhood and see if you can predict the impact that the rule had on my ability to tell the truth as an adult.

  1. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  2. Children should be seen and not heard.
  3. Respect your elders
  4. We don’t talk about things outside of our family

Look at each of these rules from a “truthfulness” point of view – do you think that these rules would tend to shape children into truth tellers?  Well, no.  In fact, my tendency in the past would have been to say nothing so that I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.  Or, I would leak out my “truth” in a very sarcastic or mean-spirted way.

If I want to be a strong leader and project manager, I need to be able to tell the truth as directly and responsibly as possible.  Tellling the truth makes me trustworthy, it attracts followers, and helps me to build strong relationships with others.  I know all that but I still find it challenging some times due to my early childhood training.

Not long ago, I was responsible for a critical IT program and I reported directly to the executive sponsor.  One day prior to a large program review, I received an email from my sponsor’s manager “Gary”, who was also a critical stakeholder.  Gary said he wanted a program update directly from me.  He said he wanted the unfiltered truth about the state of the program.

I was flattered and excited.  He wants to hear from me!  Wow, I must be important.  We had the call on a Friday morning, before a broader program review with my sponsor and other key stakeholders.   I was pretty blunt and straightforward when I shared my thoughts and recommendations with Gary.  I think I may even have quietly congratulated myself on what a good truth-teller I had become.  I did not, however, tell my sponsor about the call.

Later that day, in the middle of the broader program review, Gary dropped a bomb.  Out of nowhere he said something like “this was one of the things that I asked Anthony about when we spoke this morning”.  Ouch!  I did not see that coming.  My sponsor didn’t say anything (out loud), but his body language spoke volumes!  In fact, he did not say another word to me that day.

It was clear that he didn’t like being blindsided.  Duh!  I should have let him know I was going to talk with his boss about the program.  I went from feeling like someone important to feeling like a snitch.  I felt like a total schmuck for not telling the complete truth to my sponsor.

Later that day, I caught up with my sponsor and I apologized for not telling him about the call.  I told him that I would always let him know whenever I had any type of conversation with his boss.  He said that it was OK and I think that I repaired some of the damage, but I know that my actions that day cost me big time in terms of his trust.

So do you think you are good at telling the truth or in need of some help?  Here are some action steps to help you improve in this area.

  1. What are the spoken and unspoken messages you learned about telling the truth as you were growing up?  If you don’t remember, call your siblings and see if they do.  Dig in to see how those rules affect you and your relationships now as an adult.
  2. What are those areas where you are challenged to be entirely truthful?  What can you do to be more truthful?

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Pawel Brodzinski

    Sometimes I think honesty is considered as a wrong behavior in business which is utterly wrong for me. I can hardly find a situation when telling the truth ended up wrong in the long run. Yet somehow we often get this weird looks when we decide to describe things exactly as they are, not as we’d like them to see.

  2. Becki True

    It sounds like you and I had a similar upbringing, so we were at a bit of a disadvantage as we had to overcome dysfunctional attitudes about honest conversation. We were raised to tell the truth, but not the truth about how we feel or what we think about others.
    A good book about respectful honesty is The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. It’s a short, easy read, but covers this topic very well.

  3. Ron Holohan, MBA PMP

    I have found that communicating bad news can still be done truthfully by focusing on providing positive re-enforcement rather than stating it in negative terms. For example, if I needed to improve someone’s consistency on providing project status, rather than focusing on their inability to provide their project status on a consistent basis I try to focus on those times when they have been consistent. So, my feedback may be something like this… “Joe, when you submit your project status on Monday mornings by 9am it allows me to communicate your project’s health to my management more consistently. Thank you!” When I have provided this feedback, rather than state “I expect you to provide your status to me by Monday mornings at 9am and you haven’t delivered,” I find that the behavior is more likely to be modified appropriately.

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