Honesty or verbal assassination? Are they different?

Is honesty the best policy?

Do we hide behind “I’m just being honest” as an excuse to verbally assassinate someone?

You’re in a performance review and your Manager tells you that a couple of your colleagues think your ego walks in the door two hours before you do.  It’s ok though… He’s “just being honest”.

You’re having a discussion with a colleague and she raises her voice, points her finger and lets you know that “you should keep your mouth shut unless someone asks for your opinion”.  It’s ok though…. She’s “just being honest”.

Then there’s one of my favourites that happened to a good friend of mine once.

He just finished delivering a finely tuned presentation that he had been preparing for weeks. Afterwards, someone he knew came up to him and said; “That’s the first time you have spoken and I haven’t wanted to slap you”.  It’s ok though…. They’re “just being honest”.

Those four words: “I’m just being honest”.  They seem to give some people permission to say whatever they think.  After all, we do live in a world of free speech.  But there are consequences… serious long term ones.  Not only have the trust and respect bank been depleted, but so has the ‘discretionary effort’ bank too. We don’t want to go the extra distance for these people anymore.  Regardless of whether we are friends or work colleagues. They have hurt us.

We’ve all worked with abrasive people.  Laura Crawshaw, Founder of the US-based Boss Whispering Institute, says there are two types of abrasive leaders;

  1. those with a ‘mental disorder’
  2. those with a ‘moral disorder’

So why do people choose to grind your self esteem down to the size of a pea?  There are many reasons.  We are complicated beings.  The common ones are;

Blamers: Those that always think someone else is the problem and it is someone else that needs to change.

All about Me’ers: The “I’m right. You’re wrong. The end” kind of people.  They just need to win.

Black and White Thinkers: They jump to conclusions based on small pieces of information and sometimes none at all.  They are quick to label and quick to judge.

Catastrophisers: (Yes it’s a new word I have made up) They tend to blow things out of proportion.  Things are dramatic and the words “always” and “never” are common in their vocabulary.

Working with these types of people has a significant effect on the engagement of your people and the culture you create.

  • People will leave.
  • The good ones will go first.
  • Productivity will decrease.
  • Absenteeism will become an issue.
  • At-work accidents start increasing.

It’s our own moral compass that we need to take ownership of.  When we speak, our words can harm our colleagues and create an emotional wake… whether we like it or not.

I have learnt two very important techniques to avoid doing this.

  1. The content needs to be delivered with undisputable facts – not your opinions or feelings as these are often what causes the damage.
  2. It is not what you say but how you say it that can make the difference. The difference between something said in frustration and with accusation, versus the same thing spoken tentatively and with compassion is enormous.

I’ll finish with the three gates that Rumi (one of the most influential Persian poets of the 13th century) asks us to consider, in order to decide whether we should say what we think we need to say;

Gate 1: Is it true?

Gate 2: Is it necessary?

Gate 3: Is it kind?

So next time you start a conversation with; “Don’t take this the wrong way but…”  Think again! 

Georgia Murch can show you a better way to blend being candid with being kind and still have a strong relationship at the end of it.

To read more about how to have the ‘Tough Conversations’ grab a copy of Georgia’s book Fixing Feedback or sign up to receive her regular blogs by Staying Connected.