Honesty at work

 Jul 07, 2016

Pseudo professionalism in organisations is often the rotten apple in the barrel. For some employees, it’s all about political correctness, sensitivity to others’ feelings and politeness, which may outweigh their ability to be factual and honest. In fact, Halley Bock, Fierce CEO & President, says organisations suffer from what he calls “terminal niceness”. (Why Honesty Is the Secret Ingredient of Successful Organizations Software Advice blog, The New Talent Times, June 2013)

Honesty is vital to developing trust and rapport in the workplace; this leads to greater productivity and greater transparency. The form of its delivery however, demands that it be respectful to others. It also reflects respect for oneself because matters are addressed in a timely, appropriate fashion, rather than being downplayed, ignored or suppressed.

So why do staff refrain from honesty? Is it because they have found that there are negative repercussions when they speak up? For example, if something isn’t going well, rather than admit it, they try to hide their mistakes to avoid getting in to trouble?

Have staff come to believe that the way to support and respect each other is to tell people what they want to hear? Or, to not tell them, thereby “protecting” them from bad news? Or, perhaps it’s to avoid being accused of political incorrectness?

Irrespective, encouraging honesty in the workplace, where people are able to be frank without fear of repercussions, needs a proactive approach. Staff will need to be encouraged to be honest, and be given the skills to handle these situations. Courses such as Assertiveness at Work, Advanced Communication Skills and How to Handle Difficult People are just some of the ways New Horizons is able to help.

What can we do proactively to encourage honesty at work?

  1. Consider your words because they are open to interpretation. Try to be as concrete and accurate as possible to minimise misunderstandings. This will encourage trust. For example, “Mary, you’re always late with stuff and you’re going to have to improve”. As opposed to “Mary, I’m concerned about the two deadlines you’ve missed this week. I’d like us to look at ways we can improve this.” This is honest, accurate and supportive feedback and will help employees accept responsibility for their performance.

  2. Although this is honest, it is also using positive, factual language rather than blame language. It’s helpful to tell it like it is and still focus on minimising the defensiveness of the employee.

  3. Always give people a reason for your actions or decisions. The fewer facts they are given, the more they are likely to speculate and possibly draw the wrong inference.

  4. If you feel that you have some bias, let the other person know. It will not look good or engender trust if this emerges later, and will put into question every decision or action that you have made in the past.

  5. Check their understanding around your communication. Prefer open-ended questions which encourage them to reveal their honest response by saying something like “What approach do you think you’ll use?” or “What additional support do you need?”

In conclusion, we don’t have to be either “terminally nice” on the one hand, or abrasively rude on the other; the way forward is to be appropriately honest without fear of negative consequences, while using skills that encourage open dialogue and improvement.

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About the Author:

Fee Hosking  

With over 24 years experience as a trainer, Fee is one of our most senior Professional Development trainers at New Horizons Sydney. With a professional background as a management consultant in the South African manufacturing industry, Fee brings credibility, experience and authenticity to all of the subjects that she trains. She has the ability to engage professionals from the junior to the senior level. Bringing great energy to the classroom, Fee ensures that the learning experience for all who attend is an enjoyable one, which in turn makes it a truly impactful one.

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