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Radical Honesty in the workplace

People frequently ask us questions about how to use Radical Honesty in the workplace. “Isn’t it a bit too much for the work environment? Won’t I get fired if I speak up? Does honesty really function in a workplace? But the others are just sucking up to the boss…”

What about you? Are you ready for some honesty at work?

A few days ago, a journalist from the German magazine Neue Narrative interviewed me about Radical Honesty in the workplace. Here are a few things that came up in that exchange:

Why should we be radically honest at work in particular?

I think we are happier if we are honest and don’t withhold important information at work. We spend so much time at work and it does matter how make ourselves happy or miserable there. This is the only life we have and I think we should make the most out of it. Also, honesty and expressing our opinions and wishes clearly improves interactions with co-workers and often makes the work easier when others aren’t left trying to decipher what we mean and what we want.

Which experiences have you or your clients had with Radical Honesty at work? Which ones were great, which ones were tough?

One that comes to mind is my speaking up when I was the only one disagreeing with my boss. I worried that it would affect negatively my relationship with him and my ability to run my projects. I still kept going and was pleasantly surprised that my speaking up actually had an opposite effect: my boss said I was the only one he fully trusted, that he could count on me not to just try to appease him or sugar coat difficult matters.

I also do coaching work at jobsites and with teams. In one workplace, we have talked about the difference between active listening and giving advice. In stressful situations team members wanted to vent their tiredness or frustration and many times, in response, the listener gave advice. Both parties then often ended up angry and disappointed after the talk. After getting them to recognize this pattern, they agreed to voice to the other party at the beginning of the conversation whether the talk was for listening or for giving advice and problem solving.

Can Radical Honesty help prevent fights at work? If so, how?

I think so. When little irritations and frustrations are addressed early on (as we do when practicing Radical Honesty) they are far less likely to develop into full-blown fights. And getting both parties to separate the facts from each party’s interpretations of the facts helps greatly to get them over their anger. For example: “I heard you say you didn’t like my idea in the meeting and I felt angry. I imagine you meant I don’t have good ideas and I manage the project badly. Is that true?”

Why should I tell a colleague that I think that he or she is doing a poor job?

If nobody else is doing that and it’s affecting you or the team, then I judge you would be doing everyone a favor including the colleague to express that. Also, I judge “poor job” to be too vague of a term to use. I prefer to be very specific so the listener can better understand what I’m talking about. For example, by expressing which parts or functions of the job that I judge he/she is not doing well.

Why should I tell a colleague that I resent him or her for doing something that annoyed or hurt me?

I judge the co-workers would both benefit in order to prevent building up anger with little “annoyances” till one colleague begins to hate the other or till one of them eventually explodes enough little annoyances have accumulated. By expressing the “small” resentments or hurts as they arise, the person can more quickly get over them and then have a better/deeper connection with their colleague and enjoy one’s time while at work.

Why should I tell my boss that I think that he or she is doing a poor job?

If nobody else is doing that and it’s affecting you or the team you are doing everyone a favor including the boss. Also “poor job” is too vague to use, I prefer to be very specific so the listener actually understands what I am talking about for example which things you charge he/she is not doing well.

Why should I tell my boss that I resent him or her for doing something that annoyed or hurt me?

In order to prevent piling up anger with little things and eventually starting to hate their guts or blowing up over a small things when the pile is huge. To have good connection with the boss and enjoy your time at work. And I see no need to be different with your boss than anyone else in the organization.

What about power in general? Does honesty help to bridge difference in power, or does power hamper honesty?

Power is kind of vague and greatly an illusion / abstract thing. At work we have agreed roles and responsibilities. Someone’s role – my boss’ – is to tell me what to do and to evaluate my performance. And then there is often a person who is the boss of my boss.

I think honesty does bridge difference in power / roles. It helps us all to meet as actual real people with good and less good qualities and good and less good days. For me, the roles and power is to get shit done individually and as a team / organization and get money for it. That’s all. It’s not a big deal.

For me, motivation is important: why do I say “unpleasant” things to others? I say them in order to feel connection with them and not withhold important stuff from them and hinder our relationship by keeping secrets.

What about you? Do you tell the truth at work? If not, how do you prevent yourself from doing so? Are you willing to experiment with not withholding your true emotions and thoughts from your colleagues and employers?


Tuulia Syvänen

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