That last sentence brought silence to the room, partly because of the darkness of the news, and partly as an honor to Jack for having been brave enough to have reported it with Eileen sitting right there. As if in anticipation of an explosion, everyone turned to look at Eileen.
"First I want to commend you, Jack, for telling us so early, while we still have options," Eileen began. "Takes courage. And what do you think we ought to do now?"
Eileen has just taken two steps that will encourage people in her organization to report the truth. She has publicly recognized Jack for telling the truth, and she has rewarded him by asking for his guidance in responding to its implications.
Samuel Goldwyn once said, "I don't want any yes-men around me. Tell me the truth, even if it costs you your job." The laughable impossibility of his preference is at the core of the problem of getting to the truth. Punishing truth telling drives Truth underground.
What actions can you take to encourage people in your organization to tell the Truth?
- Appreciate 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.
- Recognize people who take reasonable risks, even if they aren't successful. Recognize failures — not all failures, but at least those that result in valuable learning.
- Avoid heavy-handed or coercive tactics
- Some tactics that managers use are coercive. By creating a sense of powerlessness, coercive tactics can 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
- One great illusion about layoffs is our denial of their long-term costs — they reduce our sense of security. The certainty that someday layoffs will happen again can cause many to withhold, spin, or varnish the truth.
- Reduce staff as a true last resort — after spending cuts, after reducing management compensation, and after reducing employee compensation.
- 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.
- Train people 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. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, "It takes two to speak the truth — one to speak and another to hear." 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 Truth about getting to the Truth. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Films Not About Project Teams: II
- Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be
about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- The Paradox of Confidence
- Most of us interpret a confident manner as evidence of competence, and a hesitant manner as evidence
of lesser ability. Recent research suggests that confidence and competence are inversely correlated.
If so, our assessments of credibility and competence are thrown into question.
- Coping with Layoff Survival
- Your company has just done another round of layoffs, and you survived yet again. This time was the most
difficult, because your best pal was laid off, and you're even more fearful for your own job security.
How can you cope with survival?
- Creating Toxic Conflict: II
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their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use
that make trouble.
- Red Flags: I
- When we finally admit to ourselves that a collaborative effort is in serious trouble, we sometimes recall
that we had noticed several "red flags" early enough to take action. Toxic conflict and voluntary
turnover are two examples.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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