Life & Work

Truth at workplace builds ties...try it


We live in a complex world of interpersonal relationships. Unless we live alone in the bush without consuming any modern products or services, then likely we must interact with other people every day, week, and month.

Part of interpersonal interactions includes verbal and non-verbal communication. In the maze of challenging decisions on how to interact with everyone in our lives from colleagues to friends to families to strangers, we must decide what information to share and what not to share.

Do we share that we are struggling through a difficult divorce, grieving the loss of a loved one, or desperately searching for a new job? Who do we tell such personal information and who do we keep in the dark?

Even more difficult comes the challenge of how we respond to the dilemmas of others. If a colleague asks us our opinion of how they conducted their presentation to the board of directors, would we lie and say they did well, or be honest and highlight how atrocious they did along with giving tips for better performance next time?

The majority of individuals would decide to hide their true opinions and instead give varnished feedback to make the receiver feel good.

Double standards

Such decision-making processes often cause psychological dissonance in that we hold double standards. We embrace one type of expectation for how we communicate and then a whole different standard for how others should communicate with us.

In terms of our world views and preferences, we value honesty. We crave openness and candor from those who interact with us. We do not want a boss to give us false praise one month and then fire us the next. We revile at the thought of a colleague flattering us that would give us a false sense of skill attainment only to instead be laughed at behind our backs.

Yet despite our yearning for honesty towards us, we often avoid being honest with others. People fear that speaking the truth will seriously harm interpersonal relationships.

One of the biggest reasons we fail to tell the truth to others involves the fear that others would feel offended, get hurt, or become angry. So, it leads us to a constant revolving door of telling lies and receiving lies back. It threatens the values that underpin our well-being and the foundation of our communities.

Unexpected benefits

However, the Business Daily readers should take heart from researchers Emma Levine and Taya Cohen who conducted a series of experiments about how people react when being confronted with the truth. Surprisingly, people drastically mispredict the consequences of being honest. Communicators overestimate how negatively other people will react to them being honest.

Honestly sharing negative feedback makes the receiver increase their levels of trust, improves their perceptions of the communicator’s reliability, and builds stronger bonds between the two individuals.

Further, when individuals focus on being honest in all interpersonal communications for as short as three days, they find unexpected benefits such as more pleasurable communications, socially connecting, and improved mental health.

So, stop exaggerating your daily task accomplishments. Stop making up excuses for why you are late for work. Stop changing topics and giving misdirection to avoid answering uncomfortable questions. Stop lying to give false hopes to your colleagues.

Give real meaningful answers and provide truthful reliable feedback. Some of the benefits of honesty go beyond mere authenticity in our daily lives, but also improve our mental well-being by increasing our life satisfaction joy, and deeper connections.

Then, strive to make your organisations truthful places in how they communicate to internal and external stakeholders. How many employees feel that our workplaces communicate with us honestly? Do our firms really hire the most qualified individuals and give honest reasons for it?

Did our firms reduce salaries in the pandemic but fail to raise them back to pre-Covid levels once profits stabilised? Whatever the magnitude of mistruth, a lie is a lie.

So, try the honesty challenge for ourselves and our firms. Even in just three days, you start to feel the internal and interpersonal rewards of truthfulness.

Dr Bellows is an Assistant Professor of Management at USIU

Have a management or leadership issue, question, or challenge? Reach out to Dr. Scott through @ScottProfessor on Twitter or on email [email protected]