I recently heard of a comment one couple has used with their children. They live in an area frequented by those “ice cream trucks” that come around a couple times each day trying to entice parents into buying ice cream and other treats for their children playing outside. Amazingly, it seems these trucks always come around just before mealtime. Anyway, this couple fends off this temptation for the kids by telling them, “When the ice cream truck is playing music, that means that the truck is out of ice cream. If you ever see it not playing music, that means it has plenty and we might get some.” Of course, no one has ever seen an ice cream truck NOT playing that irritating carnival music!
In the US, we have entered an election cycle where many public positions are being contested in upcoming elections. Candidates work tirelessly to say what they think the voters want to hear. They “spin” their stories to attempt to entice support. What is spin?
Spin is an effort to turn a negative situation into a positive one by embellishing, manipulating, or twisting the truth.
In my example above, the parents want to avoid a difficult conversation (that is, they don’t have the courage to just say “no”) by twisting the truth (or, in this case, lying).
Do we see “spin” in the workplace or in life? Sure, let’s look at a few examples:
- “Though I didn’t accomplish the specific goals set aside for me this year, the things I did do were done in an amazingly outstanding manner. Thus, I deserve an ‘exceeds’ rating…” – Using spin to explain why you didn’t accomplish required tasks is a way of trying to manipulate the system for your own benefit
- “Yes, our team did not perform as well as we intended or even did last year; however, we are excited that our declining results give us a chance to improve even more next year…” – Shame on anyone using spin to attempt to turn poor results into “good news”
- “We failed to accomplish the required task, but our results were better than most other teams…” – Attempting to shift the focus from your own performance to that of others is a form of “spin” that should be easily detected by an astute member of management
- “We were on track to have a break-out year, but our efforts were derailed because the new xyz system implementation was late…” – Shifting the blame to someone else is a form of “spin” that fails to accept accountability for results
- “Though I failed to achieve several key results, my historical stellar performance should highlight that this year was an aberration that can be dismissed…” – Attempting to rest of your laurels or historical performance to dismiss poor results is a form of “spin” that, again, illustrates lack of accountability
We could probably look at a number of other examples of “spin” in the workplace. However, turning “spin” into truth requires courage. I believe there are three key things that, if done consistently, can change how you are viewed by others (that is, instead of being viewed as a “spin-master”, you would be viewed as one that consistently demonstrates good character):
- Hold yourself accountable – Don’t use “spin’ to make your performance appear to be something it was not. When you failed to achieve a desired result, say so. Being open and transparent builds and exudes character that will pay off in the long run for you and others.
- Be bold about the truth – Some fear being the bearer of bad news. This should not be the case. Be open about what happened and why without offering excuses. Help the hearer understand the impact of the results and what actions are being taken to mitigate negative consequences. Often times, being bold about the truth actually works to your advantage. Certainly, it helps the company face up to problems that otherwise might have been swept under the carpet.
- Ask probing questions of others that offer you “spin” – When faced with potential “spin” from others, call them on it. Ask probing questions about what actually occurred or what could have been avoided and why it was not. “Help” others to be accountable for the results they are responsible for achieving.
- Be clear about what you could control and what you could not control – It is OK to put results into proper context. For example, when explaining negative results, it is certainly acceptable to offer the rationale behind the results. Of course, conditions may change over time that make achieving desired results impossible. But, when you do, be sure that you don’t twist the truth by mixing those things you could control with those you could not.
- Do what you say you will do – Develop a reputation of someone that will always do what they say. And, if you ever find yourself in jeopardy of missing a target, early and open communication is a must.
In short, no one truly cares to hear “spin” – especially from those they should expect to be open and truthful. Let’s resolve to execute our work spin-free. Let’s help each other understand the truth about that ice cream truck!
This could be it… our very best day yet! There is still that chance! Watch for it!