The truth is that we don't tell the truth where we work. It is very rare to find any profit or non-profit organization where people tell each other the truth. And the higher you go in an organization, the rarer it becomes.
It's just not a core competency in the vast majority of organizations. Why? Because the safe havens to have real conversations are usually behind closed doors. As truth telling declines, cost, bureaucracy, redundancies, and lack of confidence in the future all rise.
The practice of embracing, honoring, and telling the truth may be the single most significant catalyst to creating positive and meaningful change. It may also be the single biggest ingredient for people to feel safe to bring the best version of themselves to the workplace.
So why don't we tell each other the truth? Why do we find it hard to authentically look in the mirror? Why do we seem to be protectors of what is, versus builders of what could be? And, possibly the biggest question, why are we more inclined to tell others what we think they want to hear versus what we truly think and feel?
The Barriers to Truth Telling
The first reason - organizations have fundamentally forgotten that "human beings work here." We have to remind ourselves that we're dealing with people who have feelings and emotions. The minute people feel they're not allowed to share what they feel, they quickly figure out how to play it safe.
The second reason - fear is often the first feeling people have when they sense change is coming. It is the impending sense of loss that can cause the chameleon-like behaviors to emerge.
There are eight common fears people tend to experience. It could be just one fear or it could be a combination of fears that people have depending on past experiences. Fears act as little voices in our heads that perpetuate limiting beliefs.
As human beings, we don't perform at our full potential; we perform at our belief level. In the face of change, fear and anxiety often conspire to drive those beliefs to lower levels.
These are the fears of change that we constantly see holding people back:
- The fear of indictment for past performance.
- The fear of being branded and punished for not being on board.
- The fear of offending a teammate/colleague.
- The fear of not being accepted by the team.
- The fear that speaking the truth will zap valuable time and energy and never be resolved anyway ("don't open that can of worms").
- The fear of not being valued if "I say what I really think."
- The general fear that it is just not safe to talk about the truth.
- The fear of letting them know you don't have it all figured out.
The antidote to this near epidemic of truthlessness at the organization, team, and individual levels is finding a way to safely have the critical conversations that most of us don't know how to have.
This, in turn, creates an environment where people can overcome fears, be vulnerable, and explore the truths with which we are creatively dissatisfied.
Humor and Visualization as the Path to Truth Telling
One way to create a safe haven for truth telling is capturing relevance, humor, vulnerability, and co-accountability in a picture.
Dilbert is a master of using humor and relevance to shine a light on those challenges many people face in their organizations but can't tackle head on. Leaders need to make it safe to talk about the issues we don't know how to talk about.
The best way to bring these fast-track change traits to our most critical conversations is to visualize the truth. By visualizing the truth in humorous sketches that succinctly focus on the issues we feel need to be discussed, people are immediately and safely drawn into the conversation.
They are validated by seeing their feelings visualized in a picture. They couldn't look away if they wanted to. Seeing it means how they feel is okay.
Our change-immune mechanisms kick in when we are given facts or figures or are talked at and told about the urgency to change. All of our defenses go down when we capture how we feel about today's realities in a visual sketch.
Change is an emotional process and visuals are powerful tools for starting and sustaining the tough conversations. Like a good Saturday Night Live skit, humor invites us not to take ourselves too seriously, to chuckle about the candor and realism, but also to realize that the essence of the good laugh is in its truth!
Next time a hard truth is staring you in the face, instead of turning away in fear, look at it head-on and create a picture - a visual representation - of your challenge. Find the humor in your truth-telling and kick down your barriers once and for all.