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