How To Get Truth From Your Employee

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Truth is about actions as well as words but most people think it means something else-- risking your future. That's why I never compliment someone unless I really mean it. I always deliver my compliments in a one-on-one setting, and I make sure that people understand the impact of what they did. Empty praise to "keep up morale" doesn't help anyone.

Telling the truth means many different things: delivering bad news; giving a negative performance review to a subordinate; disagreeing publicly with a colleague. What everyone wants to know is, Can I tell the truth without jeopardizing my career, name, life, friend or business? My honest answer is, you never know until you try but the more you avoid the truth, the steeper the price that you are likely to pay in terms of wasted effort, frustration, and even cynicism. It's a vicious cycle.

Of course, for leaders, the flip side of telling the truth is hearing the truth. How can you make the right decision if you can't get accurate information and honest opinions? 93% of American workers admitted to lying regularly at work. Here are a few ways for your workers to break it.

Face the truth about the truth. Be honest with yourself about how good (or, more likely, how bad) you are at having difficult conversations. That's the first step to getting better at them.

Have sympathy for the devil. Encourage people to play devil's advocate. Even good ideas can be improved through critical, truthful give-and-take.

Don't ask for what you don't want to hear. If you invite people to offer a "warts and all" version of events, then you'd better listen. If messengers of bad news wind up stacked like cordwood outside your door, survivors will learn to censor themselves.

Honesty requires subtlety. Speaking and hearing the truth are acquired skills. Blunt questions can force people into corners where they feel compelled to shade things - even to lie. Instead of asking, "Are you in favor of this project?" you should ask, "How can we improve it?"

Maintain an informal network. Use this network as a source of authentic feedback. Hold it up as a mirror to yourself.

Find gentle ways to discuss hard truths. Leaders don't always face pleasant choices. Find non threatening techniques (one of my favorites is scenario analysis) to sort through the options.

In the end, just do it. People respect decisive leadership, even when they disagree with a particular course of action. The more that you show a bias for action, the more likely the people around you will be to tell you the truth.

The bottom line:

I once told the truth about my friend to my boss! It hurt - but I felt such relief. The pain soon went away. And now my friendship with my former colleague is back on track without retaliation. It was the right decision for everyone.

Information is power. This wrongheaded adebt leadership cliché leads too much of the deceit that you see in organizations and governments today. It encourages people to hoard information--to use it as a weapon against colleagues rather than as a way to solve problems. Never tell a lie! The truth shall set you free.

 

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