Why Don’t People Tell Their Bosses the Truth?

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

(#9 in The Energy Bar series)

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There is one major reason why people don’t tell you the truth: they aren’t idiots. (You might want to write that down.)

A senior manager in a small privately-owned company told me they would warn new hires to never criticize the owner’s ideas in a meeting. But, some enthusiastic newbies didn’t listen. They wanted to make their mark, show their worth, and that was pretty much the last anyone ever saw of them.

Even if you’re different than that boss, stories like that tend to be deeply embedded into the survival portion of our brains. That part of the brain dredges up our parents admonition — better safe than sorry.

The legendary film producer, Samuel Goldwyn once said, “I want people to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.”  Even when people believe you are sincere in wanting to hear the truth, they still think, “It’s better to be safe.” They may not believe they will get fired, but they might imagine a career of mind-numbing assignments in dreadful locations.

Let’s say that you truly do want to hear the truth.  Here are a couple of things you can do.

  1. Use The Energy Bar with your own team, and discuss a key stakeholder such as that department down the hall that you find challenging. Since you are talking about people who are NOT in the room, it will probably be easier for all of you to speak more openly. C’mon, isn’t it easy to talk about people when they can’t hear us? Admit it, it’s fun – and it’s easy.

Two important things can happen if you follow the steps in applying The Energy Bar. First, you will probably begin to see ways that you and your team can work more effectively with those people down that hall.

But the second reason may be even more important. Your team is watching you. You are being tested. They look for your reactions – level of snark, furrowed brow, smiles, interest and curiosity in the ideas of others, and so on. If they like what they see, they are likely to put a toe in the water next week. And, if they don’t hear the theme music from Jaws, they might go in even deeper next time.

  1. Use The Energy Bar to discuss a topic that is important to you and your team. Ask people on your own team to imagine that the Energy Bar extends across the room. Ask each person – including yourself – to stand on a spot that marks the level of energy needed to make this project a success. Discuss your individual choices. (Remember, you are still being tested.)

Then, each person moves to where his or her own energy is today with regard to that particular project.

Discuss this. During the discussion, listen deeply, and try to understand what they are telling you without trouncing on their opinions. Hard to do, I know, but it will begin to make it easier for people to talk candidly with you.

Here is a link to the 3-minute animated video that describes The Energy Bar and a few steps that can help you put it into action today.

 

I wish you well.

PS Do you need convincing that seeking people’s truth (as they see it)? Please read Hal Gregersen’s piece Make It OK for Employees to Challenges Your Idea in the BHR blog.

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