Today, I want to address a recurrent question in companies, heard and told again. Even beyond the professional sphere, it’s a concept that we were taught before we even knew how to write. Yet, it’s not an easy question to answer. Today, we’re going to tackle the question of honesty, and more precisely honesty in a company.

Saying “you mustn’t lie”, like I repeated it so many times to my daughters in kindergarten, would be simplifying the idea of honesty and would be quite unrealistic. You can’t tell your client: “in reality, our competitor has basically the same products, and they’ll charge you less” or to your boss: “I think you’re stupid, and I don’t understand how you got this job” – or rather, you can’t tell them if you’re trying to keep your job and your client.

In both your private and your professional life, trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. No one wants people to say about them: “He’s a professional, but be aware. Make sure that everything is written by email so that he can’t come back on it later.” However, this happens more often than we’d hope for.

Granted, there are some narcissistic perverts, compulsive liars, etc. in our society. However, being an optimistic person, I believe that the majority of people have a good heart. People do their best, given the circumstances, and usually act with good intentions.

Notwithstanding, as the saying goes “hell is paved with good intentions”, and the desire to satisfy others and avoid any inconvenience is human. However, by reporting an unpleasant conversation – such as telling your boss about a mistake you made or some new problem, you end up never having it. The more you wait, the bigger the problem gets, and when it explodes, it comes as a surprise to everyone. If you’d shown honesty from the beginning, measures could have been adopted, and the damage done could’ve been limited.

That’s how, without any true desire to harm, you’ve broken your collaborators’ and/or management’s trust.

So, how do you resolve this issue? Easy, be unpleasant (sometimes)!

I’m only partly joking. Trying to preserve your colleagues by not telling them the bad news only makes the problem worse.

If we tell a collaborator what his weaknesses are, we give him the opportunity to better himself. Similarly, the sooner we tell our hierarchy about a problem, the sooner we’ll get help on how to handle it, before it truly gets out of hand.

When we climb the hierarchic ladder, we may get instructions from our superiors that we disagree with and that are going to be hard to “sell” to our teams. It may be tempting to twist the truth a little. But once again, that’s not a good idea, because your teams need to be able to trust you and acknowledge you as a leader. It’s not much better to try and play the honesty card by sharing with your team your own doubts about your management’s strategy, because that’s the best way to demotivate them.

So, what’s the solution? (I know, I’m contradicting myself. So, should we be honest…or not?)

First, discuss with your management to understand what led to that decision. Often, we don’t have all the information at hand and don’t fully understand the global scope. It could also be good to understand why alternative solutions didn’t work. Normally, if you’re aligned with the company’s values, it should be enough to remove your doubts. However, if after all that, you’re still not convinced and this strategy isn’t in sync with your values, then maybe it’s the right time to ask yourself if you really want to stay in this company.

So, even if it’s hard, even if you know the talk is going to be tense, you have to show honesty at work.

The turn of phrase matters. Screaming “you suck!” isn’t a sign of honesty, it just makes you look dumb and mean. You also shouldn’t share hundreds of truths, but rather the ones that are necessary and just, in a professional way. Only say something if it makes the situation evolve positively. Not only will this allow you to win your colleagues’ trust, but it will present you as an enthusiastic and honest person, who’s not afraid of making hard decisions when needed. Thus, don’t push it back to tomorrow, stop hiding problems to others and yourself, show some courage! The moments you end up regretting are often the ones where you were a coward, not the difficult ones

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