From The Blog

Can we be honest about honesty?

Teams often require honesty and openness when making agreements about how to work together, but is this what they really mean? ...

Whenever I work with teams, one of the ground rules that is always requested is the need for openness and honesty. As one workshop participant put it last week, ‘we don’t want to say something in the bar because we felt we couldn’t say it in this room’.

Yet the truth is that many feel there are consequences to saying what they are thinking. Another participant described it from his own experience: ‘being honest at work has never turned out well for my career, so now I just keep it to myself.’

So what is the truth? When teams ask for openness and honesty, are they really being dishonest?

In my view there are two problems with the agreement for honesty:

Firstly, complete honesty and transparency is simply an unrealistic goal. For this to happen, we would have to share all of our thought processes. Apart from bringing the agenda to a standstill, it would mean sharing everything that goes through our heads, ranging from ‘that dress really doesn’t suit you’, through to ‘if you don’t stop talking now I am going to scream!’ We are all capable of thoughts that are simply not helpful to share. Some level of filtering is required. This doesn’t mean dishonesty, but it does mean complete honesty is an unrealistic goal.

Secondly, it is much easier to be honest about the business than it is about the people within it. Too often, honest feedback becomes an attack on individuals or teams e.g. ‘the call-centre isn’t up to the job’ as opposed to specific, constructive feedback about the business – ‘our lead generation process isn’t generating the level of leads we need for our sales force to be successful’. Honest feedback about people requires careful thought and a workshop isn’t usually the best place for it!

So, when requesting honesty, perhaps the rule should be: we will be more open and honest about our business. That’s something I think most teams could sign up to with er… honesty.


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