Every once in a while, something comes through cyberspace that leaves my mouth hanging open. It happened again just a few days ago. An article written by someone who calls himself “The Sales Machine” wrote a blog listing the ten best times to lie to your boss. I looked at some of them and shook my head in disbelief. And then, I read the comments to the article and thought that honesty is obviously no longer considered the best policy – even in this post Wiener era.
We’re not all going to be George Washington; and I suspect that even George had his moments of struggling with the truth. I do to. But the question did cause me to begin to think about how cultures sometimes encourage anywhere from slight embellishments of the truth to huge whoppers. And, even more amazing, is that almost every organization and individual holds truth or integrity to be a cornerstone of the personal or organizational value system.
So, how do truth and integrity make the journey from nice sounding, politically correct noise into a way of life? Here are some steps that will increase the likelihood that you, me, and the people around us will tell the truth.
1) Develop sufficient interpersonal skills to recognize that the Good to Great maxim of being brutally honest is not the only way to be honest. Develop enough empathy and rapport with others so that your honesty is filled with something other than anger and venom. It is possible to be honest without hurting someone. If you don’t currently know how to do it, find a coach, enroll in a Dale Carnegie program, or read some books (George Washington wrote a good one) on tact and diplomacy.
2) When you ask people what they truly think, show appreciation for the answer you receive – especially the one(s) you don’t want to hear. There’s a reason why the expression “don’t shoot the messenger” is still around. It’s because most of us keep shooting the messenger! Shoot enough of them, and pretty soon you always hear sunshine and lollipops from those around you.
3) Make truth tellers heroes rather than “whistle blowers”. Whistle blowers get penalized in a couple of ways. First, generally lose a job for exposing a lie, fraud, or unethical practice. Second, most of us equate “whistle blowing” with ratting someone out. Our truth tellers need to be placed on pedestals and not equated with cellar, sewer, and garbage dwellers.
4) Follow this simple bumper sticker: Truth? When in doubt, tell it. I got this from the Center for Values Research in the 1980’s. Picture yourself as someone who can be trusted to tell the truth. In fact, do it.
5) Only answer the question you’re asked. When most of us get into trouble is when we decide the person we’re with asked the wrong question and we didn’t get the opportunity to say all that was really on our mind about the question we think the person should have asked.
So, to recap: When is the best time to lie to someone? Never.