When I onboard a new teammate and talk about our values, the first value I bring up is truth. At face value… It’s like, of course. Be honest. Don’t lie. But to be truthful, I don’t just mean don’t lie. I mean something more than that.
Here I will attempt to articulate what truth means to me beyond not lying, and why being truthful is not as straightforward nor as easy as it seems.
What does it mean to not be truthful? I think it’s being nice.
To give a concrete example in our work: A research manager asks a research associate to recruit subject matter experts to fulfill a client’s request for Experts. The research associate fails to meet the expectations of the research manager. Maybe she gets the wrong experts, doesn’t get them fast enough, or fails to get anyone at all.
Outside our team (of course), a common reaction here for the “nice” research manager is to brush it off, make light of the negative impact, and then maybe do the corrective work himself. Let’s move on and keep it positive, right? You know, be nice.
Now the opposite of that is to be truthful. If the research manager is being truthful, she will tell the research associate that she relied on him to deliver, and because he did not, we as a company failed the client. He will communicate how her action or non-action violated his expectations and the negative impact that resulted from that.
To me, your being nice is not a courtesy to your colleague. Your being nice is actually a form of laziness, a failure in courage, and a practice in politics.
1/ Being nice is a form of laziness.
In the short run, it’s far easier and faster to just do the work yourself than take the time to give constructive feedback.
2/ Being nice is a failure in courage.
You couldn’t bear to bring up a difficult, emotional, truth so you chose not to say anything and just correct the mistake yourself.
3/ Being nice is practicing politics.
Instead of risking coming across as “mean” you chose instead to let your colleague think he did a good job in order to keep your reputation as nice.
You might have succeeded in being perceived as nice, but to me you are now being cruel.
Why? Well, look at the boss who prevents poor performers from knowing they are performing poorly, or teachers letting failing students move to the next grade level.
To be perceived as nice in the short run, you are choosing to give the person you are being nice to an illusion of competence. To me this is cruelty. You are destroying this person’s chance to grow in the long run, in order to look nice in the short run.
So that’s being nice. What’s being truthful?
Being truthful = expending emotional labor
Being truthful = practicing courage
Being truthful = caring for real