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Empowerment Systems

"........When Change is the Challenge."

The Top Ten Principles for Telling the Truth in Business Relationships

Laurie Weiss, Ph.D.


Telling the truth can be risky. It is often difficult to find a balance between telling important truths and protecting the feelings and reputations of everyone involved. Not only that, but honest, well-intentioned people don't always agree about what is true. It may seem easier to keep the truth to yourself than to cause a rift in an important relationship. Understanding and using these principles will help you feel more confident about the choices you make and help you develop the skills you need to tell the truth with grace and skill.


1. Realize that your truth is not THE TRUTH, and neither is anyone else's.

You are unique. There is no one else in the world who has had exactly the same life experiences as you. Your past experiences have a profound influence upon how you see and understand your world.

Since there is always more data coming at you than you or anyone else could possibly process, your brain screens out everything that it believes is irrelevant to you. Your brain makes those instantaneous decisions based upon what it has previously learned is pleasant or painful. That means that whatever you perceive (your truth) is only a part of what is present.

Anyone who has had a different life than you have had (including your sisters, brothers, significant other, children, parents, co-workers, etc.) chooses somewhat different things to screen out. Therefore, what they perceive as true (their truth) is bound to be different than your truth.

Understanding this basic fact, shows how pointless it is to argue about what is THE TRUTH. THE TRUTH simply does not exist.


2. Know what is true for you, including the signals that you are unaware of some aspects of your own truth.

Since you are the only one who knows what you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell, it is important to pay attention to that information. You may not understand why something is attractive or repulsive to you, but knowing that you have feelings about it is one way to help you make choices, including the choice to learn more about why you feel the way you do.

When you were a child, others didn't necessarily appreciate or agree with your expressions of what you liked or hated. In the course of becoming civilized, you learned to stop paying attention to your own truths. You then learned to pay attention to what others believed instead, and to invalidate things about you that others did not like.

Many adults cover their own uncomfortable and invalidated truths by doing things to keep their attention away from their own experiences. Mindlessly watching TV, overeating, smoking, overworking, alcohol and drug abuse, are all ways of tuning out this awareness. Make a habit of using your favorite way of tuning out as a signal to check in with yourself and learn your own truth.


3. Learn to tell the difference between your observations -- what anyone else would also observe -- and your interpretations and assumptions -- the meanings you put on what you observe.

You spend your early life learning that the things you see, hear, feel, etc., mean something. You learn to interpret that a smile on someone's face means that they are pleased with you, and a frown or sharp word means that you have done something wrong.

You become so used to associating meaning to what you observe, that you carry those connections into adulthood, never realizing that the same signals may now mean different things. A smile now may be simply a social coverup to hide someone's true feelings, a frown may mean someone is concentrating, and a sharp word may mean that someone is upset with something that has no relationship to you.

A video camera might accurately record and validate what you observe, however, you can only guess (or ask the other person) whether or not your interpretations are correct.

4. Assume that, at any given moment, you and others are doing the best you can to get what you need, given the knowledge and resources available at that moment.

Only a few people learn to recognize what they want and gracefully and skillfully communicate that information to others. The rest of us just bumble along doing the best we can. Often our behavior is unskillful, and we inadvertently hurt others in our quest to take care of ourselves.

Of course, some people are belligerent, and seem to deliberately go out of their way to hurt others. Looking more deeply, you may see how they, too, do not know of any other options for themselves. You still need to take appropriate precautions in your life. However, approaching situations with this attitude will make it possible for you to examine many otherwise hidden options for creating truthful relationships.


5. Decide what you hope to accomplish by telling the truth.

It helps to remember that your truth may not be the same as somebody else's truth. Often the reason you want another to know your truth is because you want them to behave differently. Sometimes you just want to be heard and understood.

Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you design your communication more skillfully, so that you are more likely to accomplish your goal.


6. Think about how what you say will impact the other person.

Often, truth-telling is perceived as criticism. Before criticizing someone, put yourself in their shoes by answering the following questions.

* Are they in any shape to hear this?

* Have they heard it before?

* Can they do anything about it?

* Am I committed enough that I would be willing to stay overtime to work this through?

* Am I positive that this criticism is really about them and not about myself -- something I don't want to take responsibility for?

* Is it possible that maybe what they really need is more validation?

(These questions are adapted from a lecture by Sid Simon, 1987)


7. Build rapport and trust. It doesn't do any good to tell the truth to someone who isn't ready to hear it.

You can help someone get ready to hear what is true for you, if you first take the time to learn what is true for them. One easy way to do this is to listen carefully to what they say to you and check your understanding by paraphrasing it back to them and asking if you have heard them correctly. Many books and training programs provide instruction for this active listening technique.

8. Don't always tell the truth; sometimes asking questions to understand the other's truth is more valuable.

When you strongly disagree with another's position about something, sharing your own opposite beliefs may lead to conflict and cut off further conversation. To create a dialogue instead of an argument, try asking them to explain their views in more detail.

Although you feel tempted to refute their position, keep listening and asking questions until you feel you understand how they have arrived at their beliefs, and why those beliefs are important to them. When you reach this point decide whether or not it now seems useful or important to share your own truth


9. Express your truth in a way that communicates that the other person is valuable and important to you.

Most people want to know that you care, before they care what you know. Listening is one way of showing that you care. Not interrupting is another. Expressing your genuine appreciation for something that they have said or done helps others know you care about them. So does remembering and referring to personal information that they have previously shared with you.


10. Share your experiences -- what you see, hear, feel, intuit -- before your conclusions and interpretations; invite others person to do the same.

When sharing your experiences, first describe what you have noticed (seen, heard, or felt). Then ask whether your interpretations and conclusions are correct.

You might say "I noticed..., I believe it means that..., Am I right?"


If you want to learn more about these principles by reading the stories of ordinary people who are learning about to tell the truth effictively, read What Is The Emperor Wearing? Truth-telling In Business Relationships.

Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., is an internationally known executive coach, psychotherapist, and author. She practices in Littleton, Colorado, and is also available for telephone consultation at 303-794-5379. Her latest book, What Is The Emperor Wearing? Truth-telling In Business Relationships, can be ordered from The Tattered Cover Bookstore at 1-800-833-9327 or from Amazon.com. Visit her website at www.empowermentsystems.com, or E-mail her directly.

All rights reserved. Please contact the author for permission to reproduce this article.