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A Publication of WTVP

Fran worked for Careco for four years in account management, and she did a pretty good job. She was rarely late to work, always worked a full day, and did the job she had been trained to do. If that weren’t enough, she also had what she thought were good evaluations—nothing exceptional about her performance, but nothing really wrong, either.

Sure, she’d had some problems adapting to the new computer system, and she didn’t particularly like going to the training sessions, but she went, and while she wasn’t too fast on the computer, she got her work done.

Her supervisor, Val, saw things very differently. Val knew Fran certainly was dependable, but seemed uncomfortable with learning anything new. Yet Val gave Fran a pretty decent evaluation every year. Val knew, in the long term, Fran didn’t have what it would take to make the grade in the department and in the company. But somehow she just didn’t get around to giving Fran that information—or how Fran could correct her behavior.

Fran’s situation happens regularly in companies. People are surprised when they’re among the first to be laid off, demoted or fired. It’s a total shock. A major workplace challenge is to be truthful without being intentionally hurtful. The truth hurts and it can be hard to hear. Yet we all grow from the truth in the long-term, and, if we’re at all mature, we’re thankful someone cared enough to tell us the truth.

In The Pinocchio Nation, Devlin Donaldson and Steve Wamberg explored why it’s so hard in our culture to tell the truth, and why it’s so easy to lie and deceive, whether passively or impassively. If we lie to ourselves, they say, we hinder our own development and fail to build character. If we lie to others, we deny what’s necessary to build sound relationships—and not just one-on-one. "We sacrifice the common good for personal advantage," the authors declare.

Still, telling the truth doesn’t mean we use it as a weapon, or use it to our advantage. We also have to be as certain as we can our own point of view is grounded in reality of experience and observable behavior in the other person or persons before we can relate that truth to others. We also have to be willing to hear the truth as well as give it.

It would be fair for Fran to say to Val, "You were avoiding telling me what I needed to know. That’s wrong, even if I don’t like the truth you have to tell." Val could say, "Well, I didn’t want to hurt you." That’s only partially true—it’s an excuse, a rationalization. The better answer? "Yes, Fran, you’re right. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you what you needed to hear."

There’s no guarantee Val and Fran will be friends if the truth is known. Fran may have to be let go because she can’t be a team player. Fran may have trouble trusting Val, or the entire evaluation system, and for good reason. Some people subvert the truth, and performance is the poorer because of our penchant to withhold the truth. The best performance strategy is truthfulness anchored in respect for those who work with and for us. Truth always will bring out the best. IBI

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