Honesty in business: Let me be frank

Between political correctness and sucking up, butt-covering, politeness and advertising spin, the big and small business world is awash with meaningless conversations and wasted activity. Does honesty in business exist anymore?

For example, during a recent stint back in corporate land, a friend of mine found herself in a group hug chanting a positive mantra to start the day. It was clear that no individual in that circle thought it was a great idea. So how did it come to be?

We often drift aimlessly into dead-end projects, bad ideas, long meetings and subject ourselves to futile conversations because no one is willing to openly speak their mind. Even when their mind’s eye is rolling madly and the voice in their head’s saying “Like that’s ever going to happen!”

Let’s say a colleague or client approaches you enthusiastically to recruit you for a business project that you really can’t see working. There are several responses:

  • The politically correct and least awkward thing to say: “That is an interesting idea. Sure, let’s meet up and talk it through further.” Leads to wasted time.
  • The thing they’d like to hear: “Brilliant idea! You should put together a business plan.” Leads to wasted energy.
  • The truth: “Personally I can’t see this idea working because of x, y and z.” Leads to productive discussion.

I think people worry that speaking out – particularly to those in senior positions – will make them appear to ‘not get it’ or not be a ‘team player’. For me, the fear of causing offence or appearing rude has seen me go along with things unnecessarily for way too long.

But recently I’ve been consciously more direct in all situations. Invariably, I’ve found that people appreciate respectful honesty – in fact in most cases that’s what they’re seeking.

The goal is to peel away the layers of politics and emotion and get to the facts of the matter.

As for the group hug exercise, it may have come about like this. Head honcho says “Boost employee morale!” Head people person says “I read about hugging hormones.” Assistant people person says “You’re so smart.” Training agency says “You are a genius, here’s a quote!” Team leader says “Hugging is in the process manual, so hug dammit.”

Is honesty in business always the best policy, or does a little diplomacy go a long way? Tell us what you really think.

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