No Lying: We Learned it as Kids, Let’s Live it as Professionals

Toss a frog in boiling water and it’ll immediately jump out.  If, however, you put that frog into room temperature water and then bring it to a boil, it won’t try to escape.  Somehow it doesn’t register the incrementally increasing mess it’s in.

Despite evolutionary advantages, sometimes we’re not much different. 

It appears our tolerance for, and even insistence on, favorable fudging has crept to astonishing heights that no longer serves, or even shocks us.  How does a Senator get away with quoting something that’s 3% as being 90%, and then toss it off as “never meaning to be factual”?  According to Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart’s recently published Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America this blatant misrepresentation is more of a trend than anomaly.  A 4/19/11 NPR story describes the book as a collection of “anecdotal evidence from people like prosecutors who view it (lying and perjury) as an epidemic to the point where they come into work expecting to be lied to day after day.” 

How has this truth massaging trickled down into your world? 

professional advice

Ironically, while my corporate clients are often cautioned about being “too direct”, the Moms I know  increasingly call it like they see it.  The women at my daughter’s school speak up when there’s spinach in your teeth, the math program is sagging, your kid’s out of line, or even, you’re out of line. School drop off and pick up are a much needed cocktail of real information and candor.  These women wouldn’t dream of spinning anything;  there’s too much at stake.  Now if only we could infuse that same urgent frankness into business and government.

Thursday was the last day of elementary school; next year we head in different directions.  I am already missing these bold, trustworthy friends.


Another vote for conflict (resolution)

Loved this from Penelope Trunk’s blog:

“…most of life is about conflict resolution. It’s either internal conflict or external conflict,  but if you don’t have conflict then you are probably not trying to do something interesting with your life.”

Thanks to wordpress, widgets, plugins etc. my life is now exceptionally rich and interesting.


Use a Big Mop and Get Every Drop

One of the little people in my life once confessed to having done something at school that wasn’t so nice. She felt terrible about the mess she’d made but didn’t know what to do.

I told her that relationship messes weren’t much different from other types of messes, like when you spill milk.  You have to clean them up.  If ignored, things get stinky.

spilled milk

I asked her:

  • Who was directly affected by what you did?
  • What do you need to do/say to clean it up?
  • When will you do that?

Just having a plan helped her feel better and she was looking forward to following through the next day. She thought we were done.  Addressing only the main spill, however, still leaves lots of little sticky spatters on the edge.

She now needed to consider:

  • Who else was affected?
  • How so?
  • How can you make things right with these people too?

We’re so used to spinning reality to make ourselves/products look good that this raw self-honesty and acceptance of fault can feel very uncomfortable at first.  For my little friend it was more cleaning up than she’d expected, but worth the effort.  Relationships are mended and trust is restored – leaving no residual awkwardness or resentment.


Find Yourself a Dragon

I’m big on transparency and authenticity in communication; it cuts out a lot of second-guessing and off-track interpretation.  By transparency, I mean speak and act in a way that makes it easy for others to know what you’re thinking while respecting professional norms.  (I shouldn’t even have to say that, but there are still those who roll their eyes in meetings.)

Transparency is an especially important tool for introverts who often host a party of ideas in their head, but may appear impenetrable to others.  In the absence of obvious clues, colleagues tend to infuse the “no-response” response  with their own meaning – often incorrectly.  (Maybe I should write another article for these Guessers called If You Don’t Know, Ask: A Guide for Improving Communication Until You Perfect Telepathy.)

To be more transparent:

  • Verbalize your thought process. Don’t wait until your cerebral ducks are in a row, share imperfect but promising ideas: “I haven’t worked out the details, but I’d like to toss out Huge Great Idea and get some feedback.”
  • Let people know when you’re unsure about something. Tell them what you need. “Candidly, I’m caught off guard by this sudden change.  Can you walk me through your thinking?” or “May we regroup tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to sleep on it?”
  • Express emotions to demonstrate commitment and professional concern. I’ve seen lots of misinterpretation as outwardly expressive types assume everyone conveys passion the same way they do – exuberantly , spontaneously, and verbally.  Clue them in by saying things like “I’m so dedicated to this project and feel frustrated by the minimal attention it’s receiving.”

If transparency were a formula, it’d be:

“What’s the conversation in my head now?”


“What would be useful for others to know?”


“Here’s what I need to say.”

While transparency is about being in alignment with others; authenticity focuses on being in alignment with yourself.   You’re known as being authentic when your words, actions, and values overlap to present a consistent  message about who you are and what people can trust about you.  Authentic means moving through the world according to your own compass without the magnetic pull of Shoulds and Oughttas dragging you off course.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy, especially in groups.  We facilitator types have tools to help. My favorite is a fierce dragon which I discovered with my team coaching co-leader, Tascha.  This mighty mite glowers from the center of the table, challenging particpants to seize what they need from the session.  It’s a personal talisman for courage and an ally for speaking difficult things.  The dragon may also be a symbolic request for tolerance, flagging  “I’m about to say something that’s hard for me.”

oct dragonInitially people awkwardly appreciate the cute feistiness of the little guy, but no one really anticipates “needing” to use him. Eventually, someone is compelled to say something difficult and  acknowledges the dragon, even if jokingly “Wow, I probably need the dragon for this one ha ha.”  They don’t always reach for the dragon, but the comment focuses others’ attention, curiousity and often respect as this brave colleague leads  into a deeper conversation.  By the way, we do toss the dragon to anyone who mentions it; it’s easier to say something hard with the dragon’s encouragement.  We also recommend that teams who want more candor and boldness get their own talisman.

During the off hours, Fierce Dragon sits on my book shelf glaring at me, daring me to be braver in every word I write, clearer about every prioritization (you procrastinating again?)  and more direct in the conversation I’m having.

*Originally published October 2009 in Jump In newsletter.


Stop Talking Behind Their Back

We’ve seen others do it and often do it ourselves.  We rave to colleagues and friends about a super reliable supplier, creative employee or supportive spouse without the subject ever knowing.  If only they could be a fly on the wall.  How would your words affect them?

There’s no need to guess!  Bring the conversation out from behind their back and tell it to their face.  Here’s how:

  • Notice when you share something nice about another person.
  • Clarify the details in your mind – What specifically did they do?
  • Identify what made it special.
  • Now, weave that information together and share it with them!

July cardsIn addition to your words, the way you express this acknowledgment will also affect them.  Email is certainly efficient and acceptable, but doesn’t add anything to the message.  A face to face conversation can infuse more meaning and warmth.  Handwritten notes convey greater effort and elegance while offering a lasting statement.  Personally, I like having something I can save and savor.  I keep some of my favorite cards next to my desk for added inspiration while I work.