Jun 22, 2023 - Economy

Axios Finish Line: Hard truth about truth

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The biggest lie we tell ourselves is: We crave truth.

  • Why it matters: We do desire it — in theory. In practice, we avoid it, deny it, fear it and hide from it, Jim VandeHei writes.

Let's stick to truth at work. The healthiest leaders, managers, workers and companies operate comfortably and confidently in hard truths. The unhealthy duck it.

• The truth is: The truth is hard... and uncomfortable.

Here are a few ways to confront it head-on at work.

1. Tell it. Being honest with someone is actually more respectful than holding back. If you don't really care, or aren't really invested in a relationship, you float fuzzy platitudes.

  • Be blunt yet respectful. I've said from the very beginning of Axios: A culture of candor doesn't mean you have a license to be a jerk.
  • Make your feedback actionable… respectful… fact-based rather than impressionistic or personal. That gives the person the space to process your insights or criticisms, rather than throwing up deflector shields.

2. Desire it. You need to want to hear difficult truths and accept them confidently.

  • For an organization, that means creating an environment where candor is rewarded, or at least received respectfully.
  • Defensiveness and retribution are mortal enemies of truth-telling. Humility is truth's savior.

3. Deploy it. So many leaders, managers and individual contributors hide in the fog of denial or ambiguity. They ignore problematic people or trends. They deny or fudge bad numbers or big mistakes. They delude themselves about competitors.

  • That's all wasted energy. The only way to confront tough stuff is head-on and eyes wide open.

4. Deal with it. Once you're operating in the reality of truth, you need to deal with the specific tough stuff on the same terms. What's obvious to you probably isn't obvious to others.

  • If you're their manager, someone should never be surprised about your view of them — or how they're performing vs. your expectation.
  • But they won't know if you don't tell them. It does nothing for the employee — or for your team or organization — if you simply air your gripes to other managers and don't deal with it.
  • Companies should minimize surprises, too. You hire adults, so treat them that way. Provide more visibility, more frequently.

5. Live it. Fire the problematic people. Shut down poor-performing products. Fix broken structures.

  • If you explain it forthrightly, people are far more accepting of difficult decisions than if they learn about it indirectly.
  • If you've set a culture to expect and respect the truth beforehand, bad medicine goes down even easier.

This article appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

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