Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Honesty has many forms
I was reading a blog post by Dr. Ada Gonzalez about effective leaders and how they have honest conversations. You can find her post here. I concur with her points, and I think there's even more to talk about regarding honesty, leadership, and relationships in general.
It does take a certain amount of courage to make yourself vulnerable and share bad news, especially when you perceive that the news will reflect badly on you. It might also require some extra intestinal fortitude to be candid with another person about something that will likely hurt their feelings. There are differences between being honest about external events, being honest about yourself, and being honest about the other person when you're talking face to face with them. Honesty is wrapped in intention, differentiating between truth and perception, and the choosing between withholding and full disclosure.
The intention behind your honesty is a salient point here. If you want to be sure that the receiver understands your intention, come out and say it. Your stated intention (as long as you're being honest about it!) can help to inoculate the person against a disproportionately negative reaction to what you've said. Some people would call this "couching" or "positioning." For example, I might say to one of my direct reports, "Harry, I think you are promotable, and I'd like to help you prepare for the next opening. I've noticed, however, that often you don't recognize the feedback that's coming from other people to you. It's resulted in some hard feelings that I think may be preventable..."
I'm not going to go through that whole conversation, but in short - Harry needs to know the behaviors that are preventing him from being promoted. Your honesty with Harry helps him to achieve his goals, and your helpful intention helps him be open to the information you're giving him.
Truth vs. Perception
Some people call honesty "telling the truth." What is the truth, anyway? You observe something, filter it through your habits of thought, and interpret it. If you want to be honest with someone you need to take your perception out of the equation, or acknowledge that it's your perception, interpreted through your lenses. Here's what I mean: I could say, "Sally, you've got weak time management skills!" or I could choose to say instead, "Sally, this is the third project you've turned in late!"
The first statement is filtered through my attitudes and is an interpretation of her behavior. The second is simply a description of the behavior. As shown here, the first statement is not as "honest" as the second, because it's my opinion. I can up the honesty quotient by representing it as such, saying, "Sally, based on my criteria you've got weak time management skills!" Sally now knows it's me talking here - not necessarily the universe. It doesn't mean that she doesn't have to comply - if I'm her boss she'd be well advised to pay attention and to ask for clarification. It demonstrates, though, that I'm owning my judgment of her.
Withholding vs. Full Disclosure
This refers back to intention. I need to think through my purpose behind sharing certain information. Does it help the other person? If it's a criticism, is it something that they are capable of changing? Is it important for them to know what's on my mind, even if they can't do anything about it?
In a relationship with another person, intimacy is built upon trust. I need to demonstrate that my intentions are sincere where they are concerned. If I want to have an ongoing beneficial two-way interaction with them, I have to earn the right to make full disclosure when my honesty is about them. And if I am placing the relationship at the top of my priority list, I do not serve the relationship well if I am operating in disguise, inauthentically.
Honesty doesn't prevent hurt feelings - it might actually precipitate them, or the might create some temporary upset of some sort. But if ultimately your goal is to be an authentic person who attracts others, you can do so better when you're not hiding, and when they know what they're getting when they relate with you.