Ignoring Unpleasant Truths is Often Encouraged

We can’t Handle the Truth

Unfortunately, the proverbial “kill the messenger” is alive and well in American business. People who speak the truth are often labeled as a non-team player, a disrupter, a trouble maker or the current tag of being “not a good fit”.

It doesn’t take much to see that the truth can get watered down, altered or hidden entirely inside a company, especially as it moves vertically up the ladder. We may believe, at least in the short term, that this is the best way considering the risk, political correctness and social politeness but at what cost?

What I have seen is truth is not valued much. I’m interested in creating improvement. I thought people would be driven by data and possible strategies to improve. But I have found that just isn’t often true.

So, from my experience, the strategy to improve means not distracting people with many of the truths. Try to fix the system and convince others to fix the system as you can. If some efforts are resisted try to adjust. Sometimes try a different strategy to get improvement. Sometimes I just drop trying to improve that particular thing. There are usually so many options for improvement it isn’t tough to find plenty of others that may be more successfully tackled.

I am someone who find it frustrating that many don’t seem interested in really understanding what the system is producing and where weaknesses exist. But, at least for me, trying to have things work the way I want (where an open exploration of the truth was the focus) isn’t the priority. I have figured it is better to give up on that desire and work within the reality that exists.

I can’t stop myself though from pointing out things far more often than people want. I have no doubt it has annoyed people and gotten me in trouble. But nothing that wasn’t manageable, I just make things a bit more difficult for myself.

One, very visible, sign of people avoiding the truth is if people say very different things in meetings and outside of them. It is amazing to me how much less likely it is for anything that could be seen as a complaint or criticism to be voiced in a meeting versus in the hallway. It isn’t so surprising if you understand human psychology (the tendency to blame those who voice a problem).

People figure this out and keep their mouth shut. But to their friends they understand they can point out the problems and not be blamed (so in the hallways, you get a much more honest view of what people think). This is a bad sign. If your organization trains people to ignore unpleasant truths it makes managing more difficult and results in poorer performance.

Related: The difference between respect and disrespect is not avoiding avoiding criticismInformation Technology and Business Process SupportHow to ImproveFind the Root Cause Instead of the Person to BlameInformation Technology and ManagementRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyBring Me Problems, and Solutions if You Have ThemBetter MeetingsPeople are Our Most Important Asset

6 thoughts on “Ignoring Unpleasant Truths is Often Encouraged

  1. Interesting observations. I think an underestimated problem is that managers must deal with diplomacy and negotiation much more often than the regular coworker realizes. There may be an obvious solution seen from one perspective, but that solution may conflict with somebody else’s aspirations. Therefore, I think that real decision making is only partially rational from a system perspective, and more often a compromise between data, emotions, diplomacy, and negotiation.

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