Sometimes it is difficult to tell the truth. Here’s why we often don’t do it in professional and personal settings…
Sometimes we don’t tell the truth. We don’t tell the people we manage the truth, we don’t tell our friends the truth, and we don’t tell our family the truth.
When I think about why, I feel like most of the time it is out of a desire to be kind, or perhaps not to jeopardize a relationship.
In fact, as I was thinking about why we don’t tell the truth, a simple 2 x 2 matrix came to mind. On one axis is willingness to tell the truth, and on the other is concern for others’ feelings.
Now to be clear, I don’t think that willingness to tell the truth is entirely accurate as a description of what I’m talking about. There are plenty of people who try to speak only the truth.
I’m also referring to situations when you withhold information, don’t comment, or otherwise don’t speak what you are thinking, as times when you don’t tell the truth.
Thus, I could perhaps label that axis as Speaks Mind/Tells Truth/Outspokenness.
So let’s tackle this image one quadrant at a time.
At the bottom left is the person who is inconsiderate of others’ feelings and doesn’t speak their mind. This is the nasty person who doesn’t hold the truth in high regard, and is pretty much following his own agenda.
Then at the bottom right are the “In Your Face” types. These people are always telling the truth from their perspective, whether appropriate or not and irrespective of how it might impact you.
This group reminds me of a former colleague from New York: in your face, always ready with an opinion, and utterly unconcerned with how others feel about him and his opinions.
In his system of beliefs truth trumps feelings. He was never going to make a lot of friends, but you always knew where he stood.
People like this can be great sources of information because they will always tell the truth (at least from their perspective).
(I say their perspective because we all share the truth as we see it. Often we believe our vision represents the truth yet we are blind to reality.)
If you find yourself in this quadrant, my guess is that you are running into some challenges. You may feel that people just don’t understand you. You may feel that you are the only one who sees what is really going on.
And you may wonder why you haven’t been promoted… The reason is that you ruffling feathers by not being considerate of others.
Then there are the people in the top left quadrant: they care deeply about people’s feelings yet will withhold their thoughts, feelings, etc to preserve relationships.
I call these folks the “Pleasers”.
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that this is my default position.
People who are “Pleasers” will tend to tell the truth when it doesn’t threaten a relationship and not speak up when sharing may threaten a relationship.
The plus side of this strategy is that people really like being around “Pleasers”. They tend to get along with everyone.
The problem is that they are often not very effective as leaders because they withhold necessary negative feedback and therefore don’t tell the truth. Leadership means you have to give people difficult guidance from time to time… and this can jeopardize relationships, thus “Pleasers” tend to struggle in these roles.
This transition was one of the most difficult for me in the corporate world. I tended to err on the side of being considerate rather than being honest, something I work on to this day.
When to tell the truth and when to be considerate
The point of this 2×2 is to move to the top right corner where you are both kind and honest/outspoken/speak your mind.
One might call this “Kind Honesty.” This is the place where you are honest with someone about what you see as the truth while still conveying your concern for their feelings.
For those in the “In Your Face” quadrant, the secret is to move towards being more considerate of others and how they will feel about the feedback you are providing.
For those of us in the “Pleasers” category, we need to work on regaining our voice. Often we have spent so much time focused on pleasing people that we need to start being honest about what we believe.
For a “Pleaser”, providing tough feedback is unusual, and brings great fear that a relationship will be jeopardized.
However, there are always kind ways to provide feedback that will be well received and preserve a relationship (See How to Say No).
The key is for those of us who are pleasers to take small steps… ask yourself, how can I just be a bit more honest with my colleague (wife/kids/friends) while also preserving the relationship?
When you notice yourself thinking you want something from someone and then are reluctant to ask… ask!
Practice a little bit each day and slowly you will feel more and more empowered, and as a result become a stronger leader.