Frank Denbow's perceptive post on honesty in startupland and how there needs to be more of it got me thinking about honesty in general. About how critical it is but how it can evade the most important of conversations.
How honest are you with…yourself? Your friends? Your co-workers? Your bosses? (be they investors, ourselves as bosses and the more traditional type)
How often do you say the hard thing? The thing you don't want to say that you know might upset the person? Or get you fired? Or put you on the edge of being fired?
How often do you ask the hard questions? You know–the ones with answers that you really may not like. The ones that elicit responses that might be tough for the person you're asking.
Let me step back and define hard questions and honesty. I'm not talking about the kind where the person ends up in fetal position clutching their throat screaming for mama. We've all been told the "hard truth" by someone who says they're just "trying to be honest." When…they're just unleashing their pent-up self hatred or frustration out on you. Honesty isn't going for someone's jugular just because you see it. That's not honesty. It might look like it but it's not. That's a power trip, needing control, narcissism, insecurity or about 10 other things that might be classified as some sort of etiology.
What the hell is it then?
From the heart. There's a tinge of kindness to it. It's real. It aims to serve, not punish or hurt. It's knowing when and how to approach the conversation. It brings the elephant lurking in the room into the light. It provides a path for the person to move forward. It gives information that gives the person a chance to assess their decisions and make different ones if needed.
What stopping you?
Fear of getting it wrong?
Not wanting to hurt someone's feelings?
Don't want to hear the answer, preferring to live in la-la land?
Do you have to change something and you don't have a flipping idea of how to do that?
Getting around those damn beliefs
I've talked about honesty with my executive clients for many years. There are so many beliefs that get in the way. One of the biggest beliefs is that it will hurt the other person or will hurt the friendship. They're right. It just might. But here's the thing. If we don't tell the truth things get murky. People take actions without all the information available to them. This can lead to bad decisions. Once the truth comes out it often hurts far worse because of the accompanying feelings of betrayal at not being told. This breaks trust which breaks relationships. And this is sad because relationships are the real juice of life. Just because you don't tell the truth doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.
Let me give you a real-life example
Many years ago, after a particularly disastrous situation I asked a friend what she thought. It turns out she knew all along that it wasn't going to work out. She didn't tell me because she thought I wasn't ready to hear the truth. I might not have been but it would have started me along the path of discovery forcing me to ask myself some hard questions. I'm not blaming her for my situation. That was due to my own lack of honesty with myself. After talking through it we both realized that not having a truthful conversation didn't serve either of us well. So, we made a pact that day to always tell the hard truth. It's made our relationship so much stronger and it's helped us make better decisions.
Time for Action
Life without honesty is just no way to live. So what's stopping you from being honest today with yourself and others? What if you did the hard thing around honesty today? Ask one hard question or tell the difficult truth about something. It's time to put on your big boy or girl pants and be honest. Just cannonball right into it. Sometimes you might just be surprised at how much easier it is than you thought it might be. Or, that something really good comes out of it. I dare you to cannonball right now.
Go do it. I'll wait. Then come back and tell me about it.