I am blessed with the chance to spend a couple days each week with my 5-year old grandson. It is amazing how young kids learn to attempt to get their way. Recently, he said all he wanted for breakfast was some cookies and milk. I’m not normally one to judge the “goodness” of a breakfast of cookies and milk. However, for a 5-year old, I try to set a good example. I told him, “No, the milk is fine, but you need to have something else good for you for breakfast.” He said, “Just kidding.” He really had meant that he would prefer the cookies for breakfast, but used the “just kidding” statement to smooth it over with his Grandpa.
Later, I was thinking about the “just kidding” comment and realized that we almost never really mean it when we say it… even as adults. We often twist our words to justify our actions or to create our own version of the facts. For example:
- Politicians and business leaders often create a “narrative” to minimize or shift negative news (see Who needs a “narrative” when you can just as easily tell the truth?)
- Commentators (or business communicators) often “spin” the news to alter the truth
- We often alter the truth in the form of “white lies” to avoid hurting feelings
- Some leave out important details to ensure their own viewpoint is heard
- Individuals often stay silent rather than “become the bearer of bad news”
- Tragedies have occurred because individuals with critical information allowed themselves to support the prevailing opinions (e.g., group think)
- We frequently see negative consequences because an individual hesitated to “create waves by raising a concern”
Certainly, there are times when our words and actions must be filtered. For example, we typically prefer our doctors to remain positive (“This is serious, but we have a number of options that we can try”) rather than blunt (“You have no chance… you’ll probably die a miserable death”). Some balance is needed. However, what keeps us from being more open, honest, and transparent in our business dealings?
I have to admit that during my last few years working, my “filter” became much thinner than earlier in my career. During those last few years, I became much more outspoken. I sought opportunities to provide alternative ideas and raise issues. I was once termed “the King of Candor” during this time. However, rather than create problems with my own management team and others, this approach was appreciated. In fact, individuals frequently sought my thoughts in meetings and privately because they knew I would provide unfiltered thoughts. I gave up trying to appease others and the result was a greater sense of appreciation for my opinions and perspective. In retrospect, I wish I had adopted this approach much earlier in my career.
Managers need candid individuals to provide balance. All too often, we make poor decisions because we unconsciously solicit only concurrence, not the truth. We need individuals that will disagree with us and will provide alternative approaches. I am not saying that we need to become disruptive or tolerate individuals that are destructive. However, seeking (or providing) alternative opinions will only strengthen the team, the decisions made, and the ultimate performance of the organization.
So, as an individual, seeks ways to enhance your courage to be more candid. Speak up when needed. Always ensure that others have the complete story. When you disagree, respectfully say so and why. Be professional, but be honest. Seek ways to make positive things happen, not to simply identify obstacles.
As a leader, seek individuals that will provide that contrarian viewpoint. Reward open and honest dialogue. Encourage dissenters to speak up, but encourage them to also provide their rationale and potential solutions to problems. Proactively, avoid group think or individuals that merely go along to avoid waves.
So, the next time you are tempted to say, “Just kidding,” remember the words of one of the most trusted and important journalists of the 20th century:
“To be persuasive we must be believable;
to be believable we must be creditable;
to be credible we must be truthful.”
Have a great day!