Thomas Jefferson said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of Wisdom,” and, as with so many things, he was right on the mark.

Have you ever withheld your true opinion because you didn’t want to bruise a friend’s feelings?  Or how about avoiding a tough conversation with an employee because you didn’t want them to feel bad? Or not voicing your opinion when you thought your group was going in the wrong direction?

I have, and in the end, it causes more harm than good, mis-uses more resources, and consumes more time than if I had had the bravery to voice my honest opinion at the start.

During my time working in the consumer goods industry I saw a lot of new products brought to market, some skillfully, some not so. One launch I recall from several years ago involved a company that had developed a new product that would generate income for local non-profit organizations. Being community-minded and excited by this concept, I bought several of their products, brought them home, and tried them out.  The product wasn’t very good.

I later had a “private tasting” hosted by the company’s  principles.  Again, not very good, but to avoid bursting their bubble I wasn’t honest.  They got distribution, media exposure, excitement; then the consumer said “no.”  Finally, one brave individual had the integrity to say the product just didn’t taste very good. His comments spurred a reboot; everybody had known that the flavor profile was off, but nobody wanted to be the “deflator.”

In the end, the relaunch/reboot fizzled.  The obstacles of getting consumers to give the product a second try were too many.  Honesty, in the beginning, would have provided wisdom that could have saved a lot of efforts.

Honesty, used early, can prevent the pitfalls of groupthink.

How about that tough conversation with your child, your spouse, an employee, colleague, or boss?  Have you withheld your honest opinion because you were afraid of hurting them?

Life’s difficult situations never take care of themselves.  

Over the course of my personal and work life I have found that avoiding tough conversations, not addressing the toughest parts of our lives, always makes the situation worse. Lack of honesty and clarity never reduce or eliminate tension or conflict.  When we are not upfront, the bad feelings get amplified.  Always.

Some of the most difficult professional situations I have faced, especially when I was a young, new manager, were made worse because I withheld candor to protect feelings. I tried to avoid conflict, and it lead to worse conflict.  I hoped time would let things settle and the problem would go away. Time never helped, the problem never went away.

The message?  Face and defuse potential conflict with polite, supportive honesty and clarity. Have the hard conversation early, don’t let anything linger.

I think we will all be measured by what we leave behind; we will be remembered by our legacy.  As Shakespeare wrote in All’s Well That Ends Well, “No Legacy is so Rich as Honesty.”

What will be your legacy?


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on August 15, 2016

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