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  • Writer's pictureMatt Stephenson

The only thing that stands up to scrutiny is the truth



Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of explanations for stuff happening that just didn't stack up?


Was it a rationale for a restructure affecting hundreds of people, or a reason for project slippage? Maybe it was a dubious explanation for an outage with a third party data centre? Whatever it was, there will have been occasions, I'm sure, where the reasons given to you simply didn't ring true?


When that happens, and you scratch the surface of the rationale it doesn’t hold water. The communicator of the message immediately loses credibility, and some of the trust in your relationship with that person or the company is lost.


What they uncover is the next layer of detail on the truth, and it fares well under examination

That’s because the only thing that stands up to scrutiny is the truth. If you tell the truth and someone decides they want to dig a bit deeper to understand better or test that you’ve thought it through, what they uncover is the next layer of detail on the truth, and it fares well under examination.


You might be thinking "sometimes there are good reasons why sharing the absolute truth is not possible, helpful or even contractually allowed". That's true, of course, but you should also remember that most of the people in your team are not stupid and many of them will smell a rat if they're being fed an untruth. In those situations I still feel that a limited, but entirely truthful explanation, or an explanation that there are some sensitivities in it that can't be shared is better than a lie if you want to avoid the risk of eroding your credibility or the trust in your relationship with your teams. Even if the message is not palatable, the message will stand up to scrutiny, and you will earn respect and maintain trust in the relationship by having avoided an elaborate lie.


Most of the people in your teams are not stupid and many of them will smell a rat if they're being fed an untruth

Another aspect to this is a related principle of "tell the truth always, but reserve the right to change your mind". In much the same way that you will have been on the receiving end of explanations for things that don't hold water, you might also have experienced the feeling of being kept in the dark about important matters until they're actually happening?


In those situations it is often because with the best of intentions your leader or business doesn't want to share something that may or may not happen, until it is a certainty. The rationale for that might be that they don't want to worry anyone unnecessarily, or communicate something that might change. This is well intentioned, but when the thing comes to pass, team members inevitably think "how long has that been on the cards, and why did nobody tell us?". Then they start to try to second guess what else might be coming along the track in the future, which breeds greater uncertainty.


This is a difficult balance to strike. I subscribe to the view that I will answer direct questions honestly, but I reserve the right to change my mind in light of new information further down the line. Of course, as in the earlier discussion, there will be occasions when you can't share the detail, and in those instances I've found that an answer of "there are some sensitivities in that that I can't discuss, but I'll talk about it as soon as I'm able to" works better than a lie.


Tell the truth, always, but reserve the right to change your mind

Reserving the right to change my mind can sometimes be misinterpreted as indecisiveness. However, allied with always trying to tell the truth, there will be traceability from one statement to a subsequent changed one, because the change will be based on more/new information or changing circumstances.


Having a reputation for being truthful, even if the truth is a difficult message, will earn you greater respect in your teams, and make for a more trusting relationship between team member, leader and company.

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