Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Little More Honesty, Please

I have worked as a Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselor for 27 years.  I am not one of those therapists who hammer my clients into being "totally honest" with everybody.  Sometimes, if you are going to be "totally honest" with someone else, only to ease your guilt, it can have a devastating effect on the other person.  In those types of situations, the possible benefit and possible consequences, to both parties, has to be weighed very carefully and the person with the secret has to make a decision.  I hope that decision is always made with the best of intentions for everybody.  However, I am not naive enough to believe this always happens.  I also believe this cannot be an excuse to continue to lie to people.

But what I want to talk about today is day-to-day honesty and how the world would work so much better if we could learn to be honest with others.  Let's start at work.

I have supervised so many people over the years who were afraid to talk to me (their supervisor) because of supervisors in the past who had yelled at them, ridiculed them or played games with them.  I have only yelled at one employee, once.  Though I'm not proud of that moment, I think it's a pretty good record.  What I have always tried to do is be honest and be straight.  "This is what I expect and these are the consequences if I don't get it."  I think a performance review should be just that, a review.  There should not be any surprises.  How many of you have had things show up on a performance review where you said, "Wow, I didn't know that was a problem?"  I certainly have.

When supervisors come to me and ask what to do about a problem employee, the issue has usually already been ignored far too long.  I always suggest that supervisor start keeping their "problem" log from the first sign of trouble.  If months go by with no more problems, you can shred the list.  But, you need to bring up problems as they happen and you need to keep your list if they continue.  Employees need concrete examples of what they are doing wrong so they can correct it.  Be honest with employees; be honest with co-workers so bad feeling don't fester and interfere with your ability to do your job.  If you make a mistake, the best thing is to tell your boss as soon as possible.  The sooner you tell him/her, the sooner they can help you fix it and the more likely you'll be forgiven.  Don't tell them, it gets worse, gets more impossible to fix and they are less likely to keep you around.  Our instinct may be to cover for people, especially if they are friends, but if they are in trouble, this is not helpful.

Personal:  just tell the truth.  Now, as I said, it is not always the best idea to "cleanse your soul" and confess a pile of past misdeeds; this has to be weighed carefully.  But, if someone is about to enter a singing competition and they can't sing, tell them.  Gently and lovingly, but tell them.  We might have a few less laughs during American Idol try-outs, but it may save them some misery.  If you don't want to do something that I ask you to do, say no.  You'll be happier and I'll be happier in the long run, because you want have a resentment festering against me. 

Business:  scams usually don't work.  If you really bought that blender six years ago, don't say it was six weeks ago.  First of all, unless you have a receipt you probably won't get a warranty honored.  Second, the person providing the warranty can tell.  If you really haven't checked with your family members about accepting your package, don't say you did.  When your daughter's signature shows up on tracking, you just look dishonest and you have wasted the company's time tracking down your package.  If you don't like something a salesperson is showing you, say so, she can move on to something else.   So, if you get poor service at a  business, please let them know.  If you got good service at a business, please let them know.  If we were all honest, businesses could get on with the business of providing good service to you, the customer.  If they can spend more time providing that good service, that keeps costs down for you, the customer.

Be nice.  My mother is not a seasoned traveler.  But once, several years ago, she saw an ad for a travel agency and decided to book her own flight to see my sister in California.  After a couple of weeks, her ticket had not been delivered via mail, as promised.  When she called, she got the run around.  So she asked me to intervene on her behalf.  I called the travel agency.  After I spoke with them, they called my mother and told her I had cursed at them over the phone.  I am proud to say, my mother told them with utmost certainty, "No she didn't, my daughter does not talk to people like that."  That was one of my proudest moments; that my mother knew me well enough to know that I would not do that.  I am not a stranger to using foul language, but I never direct it at others and I never use it when I am dealing with business.  So....
  • State the facts
  • Stay calm
  • Be pleasant
  • Tell the other person what you want
  • Tell them the consequences of not getting what you want (without threats of bodily harm)
  • No cursing, yelling, name calling
How do you think the world would be if we were all more honest with each other?  I think we'd all get more done and enjoy life to its fullest.