Is there something like “Flexible Honesty”? Why do people find it difficult to share significant bad news, when they know that it could lead to corrective action?
I don’t remember a time when tempers have not run high after I made the participants in my workshop play the prisoner’s dilemma.
Powerful emotions rise up as post-exercise discussions veer around the idea of integrity and honesty. Those who cheated, almost always get defensive and start to claim that in today’s competitive world, one must remain flexible in their level of honesty. They insist and vehemently argue that if the business demands a certain level of flexibility, it is ok to overlook, and that one does not live in an ‘ideal’ world as I may be trying to suggest.
These incredulous arguments have at times been so intense that they turn into participants raising their voices in anger and moving menacingly towards those who make such a suggestion.
You find often in organizations people get very angry whenever there is a discussion around ‘honesty and truth’. The problem is that people find themselves lying to themselves and to each other. They go through ‘cognitive dissonance’ as what they believe or value and what is expected from the role they play is often in conflict. They are stressed as they are called upon to make such calls every day of their life.
I remember the time when I started my career in the Software QA & Testing team, I was under tremendous pressure from the developers to let some of the bugs pass by as they had to meet the deadlines set by their bosses. They used to try covert and overt means to persuade me in that direction. Talking about how the release is important for the business and how we could not delay the launch of the product any longer as huge costs were involved.
Every day was painful as I had to fight the battle between honesty (the value I most dearly hold) vs. loyalty to the organization and its business goals.
Have you noticed that most of us are put in organizational structures where the need to be honest and loyal is in conflict? The fact is that at some stage it turns into a battle of loyalties. Do you remain loyal to your values or to your boss, team, or organization?
Why then do you think that ‘telling the truth’ is particularly difficult when you know that it will definitely lead to taking corrective action?
In the same prisoner’s dilemma exercise, I have seen that those who stick by their values and remain honest about their commitments made during their interactions with ‘so-called’ competing teams, get little support from their own team members. Instead of looking at what the message is, people and organizations often choose to shoot the messenger.
All those who have ever raised significant bad news in organizations would easily relate to this one. They never get much support from their own colleagues. This forces the people who stand by their values to take the burden on their shoulders and try and solve the problem all by themselves. That is an arduous task, to say the least.
When seeing and telling the truth is so integral to self-mastery, then why is it not encouraged, and bosses and organizations seem to only pay lip service?
Why do people face a lot of barriers to telling the truth?
What can you do to create conditions that reconcile loyalty and ‘truth’?
How can we ensure that people don’t get the idea that it is okay to be ‘flexible’ in their level of honesty?
*thought credit – The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge
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