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Truth be Told….or Not?

The topic being presented here, namely telling the truth in business, can be a problematic one for many people.  Having to do so can cause fear, anxiety, or even anger, among many other emotions for individuals in that situation.  As professionals (and ultimately as upstanding people), we must never forget that it is our ethical duty to ensure that our peers, Managers, and clients are dealt with fairly and honestly.  Any legitimate issues or performance difficulties should be brought to light without hesitation.  However, the reality is that 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, Health Care, Education, Government, etc.  It becomes even more intense when it moves into the upper levels of Management, (i.e. Executives) where the bottom line is king, and many strive to maximize it no matter what.

Unfortunately this mentality 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 or unusual occurrences, it happens with far more frequency than many individuals would care to admit. Particularly in this business age where illusion, fear, and control are the hallmarks of the environment.  For example, many of the “whistle blower” legal cases and product recalls (particularly automobiles) that are prevalent in this age started off with these very issues.  Problems were ignored, hidden, or overlooked so as to not disrupt the cash flow or cause bad publicity for the given company.  These issues then proceeded to grow over time until they simply could not be avoided any longer and exploded onto the scene.

Virtually every professional today has a story regarding an occurrence of this very situation, both in their personal and business lives. Just knowing that this kind retaliation 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, what can be done about it?  Quite a bit actually. Utilizing these techniques and reminders can help business professionals (particularly Managers & Executives) maintain proper perspective:

1.  Keep your ego in check.

This is a lot tougher than it sounds.  Quite simply, don’t let your feeling of self-protection overshadow your other faculties. If this is not done, and the ego runs amok, a person runs the risk of having over emotional, explosive reactions.

Not only do those kinds of reactions make a person appear difficult to work with, but it could in turn possibly cause them to become the next viral video of someone going off kilter on YouTube. In this age of smart phones and advanced recording technology, anyone could record your reaction. That is never good for a person’s career.

So remember – when faced with a truth bearing situation, take a step back, breathe, then remove the emotional reaction from the situation. Once you have done that, you can see it for what it truly is. Then you can proceed to take the proper, positive actions.

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 often difficult, truthful news. If you wouldn’t like having to do it, chances are they don’t either. So have some empathy for that individual.

3.  Be supportive.

Nobody wants to be the harbinger of information that people are dreading.  Remember that well and take it to heart. If you are the Manager of a person faced with such a task, let them know you are in their corner.  Even a small, informal show of support can have a significant impact.  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.

This is one of the most difficult things a person will ever have to face.  The temptation and desire to inflict revenge/retribution is one of the most powerful emotions in the human spectrum.  It also becomes even more intensified if that person was directly harmed by the truth being brought to light.

To combat this, remember that telling the truth in a professional manner should never illicit punishment of any kind.  Those leaders and Managers that do inflict retribution vindictively always develop bad reputations very quickly, 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.

So, if you did something wrong and the truth of it came out, don’t hide from it, don’t blame others, or make flimsy excuses. Own up to it and resolve it.  Doing so will give a huge boost to your integrity, and give you a feeling of accomplishment.

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, and life has a very interesting way of coming full circle when a person least expects it.  If you treat people poorly, one day the tables will turn and you will be on the other side.

Maintaining a calm, balanced approach will help keep you focused on what matters. Take the time to make the right choices, and difficult situations will be overcome effectively with positive results.

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