The Art of Truth Telling

The kindest thing you can do for someone is tell the truth. Most every person has a shortage of truth tellers willing to say what no one else will.  I am not necessarily talking about the kind of truth telling that says the tie does not match the shirt or acknowledging my bad hair day.  I am talking about the kind of truth that says, "I have made a decision that impacts your work, your role, your team or your future and I need to explain it to you."  

Truth telling is what emotionally healthy adults do with one another.  Work arounds are paternalistic and damages most any relationship.  Mature truth tellers have the other person's best interest at heart.

How to tell the truth:

1.  Don't mince words or confuse the recipient of your feedback by a long introduction.  The other person cannot hear what you are saying while wondering what you will say.  Get to the point and give the feedback or state your decision.

2.  Pause and listen.  Allow the person to digest your words, ask clarifying questions and even respond with an opinion.  

3.  Never assume motivation for a person's behavior.  When communicating your decisions, only give feedback about the behaviors themselves and tell the truth about the impact of those behaviors.

4.  Expect the best.  Truth telling provides critical information for someone else to make adjustments, change or even support your decision.  Many people do change as a result of thoughtful truth telling.

5.  Be prepared for the worst.  Telling the truth can end a relationship, but most of the time, it will strengthen it.  

 6.  Always show respect.  Don't editorialize the truth or belittle the recipient.  Honestly communicate the observation or the decision you have made and thank the recipient for listening to you.

 Mia was a ten-year employee who struggled to understand why she was passed over again and again for a promotion.  The truth was that Mia struggled to communicate a clear vision of her work and translate it into an actionable strategy.  These are key leadership skills that Mia lacked.  However, Mia's leader, nor anyone else, ever gave her that feedback.  Additionally, her leader did not give Mia "the last ten percent," which was that her peers felt as though she was too quick to take the credit for work that was executed as a team.    Instead of providing her with this crucial feedback, her manager hired and promoted others over her as a work around to her shortcomings in performance.  Mia believed she was a top performer and had built solid relationships. She was confused by her perceptions of herself and the actions of her leader.  Had Mia been led by a truth teller earlier in her career, her trajectory may have been different and the company would have benefitted.  

Truth telling is an investment we make in relationships -- whether personal or professional.  It takes a lot of time and thought, and sometimes, courage.  However, there is probably not another investment of time that pays a greater dividend when done well.   Most people desire to perform and achieve results.  Most people want to preserve important relationships.  

Truth telling helps people perform better and often strengthens relationships.  Likely, you will find that people thank you for telling the truth, even when they don't like it.  

Real truth tellers are rare, but so valuable in our lives.  What truth do you need to tell today?  What truth do you need hear?


Dee Ann Turner

Dee Ann Turner is the Vice President, Corporate Talent at Chick-fil-A, Inc. You can follow her on her blog or on twitter @deeannturner.


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