Many people believe that a commitment to telling the truth isn’t a wise strategy in the business world. They figure it’s wiser to hide what you really think and to smooth things over by not telling other people what they don’t want to hear.
Yet in The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness, New York-based advertising agency owners Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval contend that honesty isn’t just a virtue but an effective way to get ahead. They argue that employees are more willing to follow a leader who tells the truth—and who doesn’t waste time managing her lies instead of building her firm. They also suggest ways to weave truth telling into your company culture:
- Make it clear that faking it doesn’t make it: In some companies, there’s an implicit belief in “fake it till you make it.” Employees are expected to use bluster and bravado to land a job or a promotion—and then try to figure out what the heck they’re doing. But you should send a different message: your managers will never criticize an employee who confesses, “I don’t know how to do this” or “I feel in over my head.” This will encourage an employee to admit early on that he’s overwhelmed instead of pretending everything’s fine even as he heads straight off a cliff.
- Tell employees to reconnect with their gut: Young children are better than adults at detecting dishonest people. That’s because their limited language skills force them to rely more on clues such as body language and tone of voice. Most grown-ups learn to rely so much on “expert advice” they stop hearing these clues. Encourage your staff to pay more attention to what their instincts are telling them about the trustworthiness of someone they’re dealing with.
- Find the virtue hidden in the flaw: It’s tough to tell an employee his misbehaviour is harming your firm. But he’s likelier to heed your criticism if you phrase it so you recognize the virtue associated with his flaw. This book’s authors had to threaten to fire a highly talented yet hot-tempered account director for routinely yelling at other staff and even clients. But they also told him they valued his perfectionism, because he brought such care to his work. And they said they saw his anger as a side effect of his perfectionism, due to his impatience with anyone he saw as slowing his drive to do impeccable work. His initial reaction was shock, because previous employers hadn’t had the nerve to tell him how disruptive he was. But he then enrolled in an anger-management course and went on to tame his temper enough to become one of the firm’s top performers.
- Focus on the benefits of doing better: When employees do something wrong, resist indulging in a righteous rant. Instead, start by letting them know the good that will come from doing what you want. When Kaplan Thaler was peeved that two of her advertising creatives had missed several meetings with a client, she refrained from venting. Instead, she told them a positive truth: that they were very important to this client, who considered their cancellations a big deal. The creatives had no idea they mattered so much to the client, and from then on never missed any meetings with someone they now knew thought so highly of them.