No one really sets out at work to be dishonest – at least no one that we’re interested in, anyway. But that doesn’t mean that honesty doesn’t sometimes take a holiday.

When it does, it’s important to remember that lack of honesty is rarely a deliberate intention. It’s just that pure honesty can be fragile and easily compromised.

To kick us off, let’s look at the 5 enemies of honesty. Because if you understand these, you can start to foster an honesty culture.

1. Pride

Be careful not to let your pride get the better of you – be open to criticism and new ideas, and be open to being wrong.Top of my list is Pride.

No one trying to do a good job likes to admit that they got it wrong, even when they know. That doesn’t mean the world is full of people refusing to admit that they got it wrong – that would be awful – but it does mean that many of us ignore the writing on the wall and keep flogging an idea or project after the point we honestly know its not working because we’re not ready to accept the failure yet.

I can certainly remember plenty of examples when deep down I knew something wasn’t right or wasn’t working, but I just wasn’t prepared to admit it – even to myself, let alone anyone else yet. In many of those cases, my pride was getting in the way of my honesty.

The result of this is that we or I kept doing things for longer than we needed to or should have. And the business suffered as a result.

2. Fear of failing

At some level, all of us fear failure. For some people, it’s the very thing that drives them forward. I both am afraid of failure and I expect failure. I accept failure as a normal part of my life and, as long as it is contained and within reason, I’m very happy with it. It’s fear of unconstrained, disastrous failure, or repeated failure, that keeps me awake at night!

One of the first things that everyone at Reward Gateway learns on their induction day is that getting things wrong is inevitable and a positive consequence of innovation. If we are afraid of failure, we cannot innovate – because innovation, doing things that are new, is always risky and the whole point of innovation is that you don’t know exactly what will happen.

If you have a culture that doesn’t embrace failure as an acceptable part of innovation, you’ll end up with a blame culture where people are frightened to be honest about what has happened and that gives you really bad business information. A blame culture is paralyzing by itself, but the poor business decisions that it informs is really damaging.

You know you’ve got a great culture when someone is so unafraid of failure that they can come into your office and say that they’ve just wasted the last two months of a project, but not to worry because they’ve learned a lot and they’re stopping the project or changing track now and that will stop us from wasting the next 2 months. That’s a real level of honesty that’s worth having. If you don’t have this in your team or organization then make a start to getting it by being honest with your team about the fact that you’d like it!

3. Fear of confrontation

It's natural to want to avoid confrontation, but don't let it get in the way of being honest and communicating openly with your team.Many of us at least sometimes try and avoid confrontation – its only natural and human. Confrontation is unpleasant, takes up brain space and makes you tired. Of course we avoid it.

Fear of confrontation, and the discomfort that comes with it, is one of the most common reasons for not being honest with members of your team. And that inhibits their growth and their development. In extreme cases, it inhibits them making changes to their work or their behavior that could get them promoted or even safeguard their job.

Fear of confrontation is the root cause between not being straight with someone when you feel that honesty will hurt them or be uncomfortable. It’s where phrases like “reading between the lines” and “beating about the bush” come from. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have spoken to a manager who is concerned about the performance of one of their team and when I say “Have you spoken to them about {whatever the performance issue is}” and the reply is ”Well, not in those words…”

It’s not just managers with staff who need to practice direct honesty, it’s all of us with our colleagues. Sometimes, departments don’t work well together, miscommunications happen and feathers get ruffled. But how often are departments really honest and straight with each other in a non-aggressive way to straighten things out and find a cure? Not often enough, and not early enough from what I see regularly.

Fortunately, you get better at managing confrontation with experience. So keep forcing yourself to do it in a gentle and thoughtful way. If you’re seen to be genuinely honest and sensitive with people for the benefit of their progress and the company, then your confrontations will go smoothly and positively.

4. Excess optimism

Some of us are in jobs where we ride a roller-coaster of ups and downs as standard. Sales is one of those areas. Sales people and sales managers need to keep optimistic, otherwise they’d drown on the difficult days. Having a positive outlook is essential in those roles, but optimism by its very nature will skew your view.

While optimism in many jobs is a good thing, an excess of optimism – like an excess of most things – is the enemy of honest, clear communications. An excess of optimism can undermine your credibility, especially if the passage of time shows that you are often off the mark.

Excess optimism is sometimes a willful refusal to see reality, and it’s important to watch yourself and be aware of when your optimism might be taking over. My advice to sales managers is always to be optimistic and inspiring to your team, to push them to achieve their best, but be pragmatic and realistic in your communication upwards to manage expectations. It’s always better to over-deliver rather than under-deliver.

5. Lack of thought

If you’re going to embrace an honesty culture and reap the rewards that that will bring, you need to be certain of the facts you’re being honest about.You might think that this one is odd, but I’ve thought a lot about it. Sometimes, because of the pressure of events, we speak or write before we think. We communicate without the full facts and without a full consideration, because we think that speed of answer or speed of action is more important than quality.

You might think I’m being harsh by categorizing this as an enemy of honesty; after all, aren’t we acting in good faith if we speak with the best facts we have at the time? Well the answer is yes, but only if you’re a politician, because that’s their “get of jail free card" for most things.

Being a manager or a leader in an organization is a responsibility, and with that responsibility, you need to develop a sense of pace and measure. And if you’re going to embrace an honesty culture and reap the rewards that that will bring, you need to be certain of the facts you’re being honest about. And sometimes, that will mean pausing for thought, research or reflection before opening your mouth.

In many of these examples, the enemies of honesty is impacting on clarity of judgement. In fact in most scenarios it’s ourselves that we’re not being honest with the most. If you can develop an almost pathological attraction to honesty, openness and transparency, you’ll develop a clarity of purpose and culture that is unbeatable.

Glenn Elliott

Founder at Reward Gateway, Employee Engagement expert and Author of "The Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement."


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