“You are good, only, you’re not that good…yet.”. I heard myself saying. It hadn’t been easy, holding that meeting, and she had pushed me to the point where all that remained was honesty. The words just came out of my mouth.
“Well…ok…there you go.” Was the bleak answer she gave me. She looked down closing her eyes a bit, but not enough to hide that watery shine that announces tears. She didn’t cry though, and reminded me how proud and lucky I was, having her on my team.
This was a 1:1 meeting I had with a woman that worked for me, years ago. She was passionate and she was good but really strong headed and somewhat harsh when giving an opinion. She was a rising star and yet, there was a long road ahead of her she couldn’t quite see. Impressive record, check. Smart negotiator, check. Team player, not so much. Open to feedback, really not. She had had a really good year but she was struggling on her second one and she was not accepting any help.
There was a lot to work with her and I was lucky to be her manager as she would hear me out most of the times and we had gotten to that certain place all managers know: “we need to have a talk” and I’m certain she knew what was coming but even then she would present herself with all her defenses up and ready to retaliate.
Honesty, as opposed to truth, is not facts. Truth is all about what it is and what it is not. Water wets, and heat burns. White is not black, and grey doesn’t exist. The Truth is not forgiving. Honesty though, is the freedom with which you speak and give your opinion. It is a shade you put to your words and as such, it can be altered. Yes, it is based on the truth but it is more based on your perception of what that truth means and the impact you might have when being honest.
Honesty is judgement
And sometimes it is needed. We are taught not to judge and to we learn that sometimes opinions, even if free to have and share, can sometimes hurt. That has always been my biggest struggle: when is sharing your opinion safe enough not to hurt? What if you do cause some irreparable damage? As a Manager though, one does not have the luxury not to give an opinion when it’s about helping someone or correcting a certain behavior. It is part of your job and it can be really stressing sometimes.
Being honest sometimes means you need to share your opinion, which is nothing but your own perception, analysis and interpretation of the Truth. In the example I gave above, my honest feedback (that is, my perception and analysis of how this person worked, and my interpretation of these two) to this person was that she was good indeed, only not as good as she boasted she was.
I’ve heard many Managers open a speech with “In all honesty…”, but most of the times I’ve heard them say so, I cringed. It didn’t feel as if they were being honest, just stating facts or trying to relate them to some sort of version of the Truth, which was neither absolute nor clear to anyone.
As a Manager, you are expected to be honest, only nobody ever tells you what that looks like.
Honesty is sometimes used as a bridge between what the Company wants someone to do, and what the employees need to hear, which kind of invalidates the whole proposal of being honest basically because the one trying to be so ends up just saying something he or she does not really mean or even agree to.
It is also a very powerful resource for a Manager. Use it well and you’ll be able to craft the proper message for each person and situation. Spend some time learning how and when to be honest with those that work for you (or those you work for), and you’ll be amazed at the results you can get. There’s a very simple reason for it: we all want to hear some version of the Truth, yet not everyone is ready to hear the cold, blunt facts that make up that Truth so Honesty becomes a sort of translator you can use to help someone process a message.
I’ve always felt compelled to help and ever since I became a people Manager, Honesty has been a big part of it. Being Honest is always a challenge, not because I lack a sense of what’s True or what’s right but because of what being Honest sometimes implies: passing judgement (your perception) that might or no not help others. Whoever tells you they are always honest…well, they might just be lying.
What about you? Have you, in all honesty, been honest lately?
Also published on Medium.