Give Up Sugar - Tell the Truth

In business, trust is the most valuable currency. What I find ironic is that the misguided efforts to build and keep it are often the very reasons it's lost.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I had a discussion (one of several, actually) about the food we eat and feed our children. We had to make some tough decisions and change some things. We've always done pretty well in the 'real food' department, but there's still a pretty fair amount of junk in the house, and why is it that all the elementary school teachers constantly hand out candy in class? It would be easy to blame something else—busy lives, lack of options... but at the end of the day, we all make choices.

My grandmother was Type II diabetic. It was largely uncontrolled and a huge contributor to her declining health before she passed. She didn't know any better, nor do I think very many people did 20 years or so ago when she was diagnosed. You can't hold that against her. 

A few years after her mom died, my Mom told me that her physician was concerned she was headed down the same path. She didn't realize she could have an issue until she had one, but then she did something about it. That's to her credit.

Now I'm staring down two consecutive generations of a common trait in my family. What's my excuse? Am I supposed to blame genetics? The food industry? The healthcare industry? Or am I supposed to look in the mirror, tell myself the truth, and accept responsibility for my own health? One of those things is not like the other, and it's the hardest one to do.

It's also the right thing to do.

Human beings have a very hard time telling the truth to each other these days. Most times it's not intentional, just a sugar-coating (see what I did there?) of what's really going on in an effort to avoid really tough conversations and decisions. I've been thinking about this a lot, and here's my question to you...

What would it mean if you told the truth? All the time?

Addicts talk about how much more fulfilling and meaningful their life and their relationships are in recovery because they can tell the truth. There's something freeing about not needing to hide behind anything anymore. Forget the feeling that they know their addiction could very well kill them, one of the first things they point to is how good it feels to be honest.

When you tell the truth you can have a very short memory. The story is always the same. That provides a level of consistency that people can count on. When people always know what they will get from you, they trust you. They are drawn to it. Even when they sometimes hear things they don’t want to.

I can write about the benefits of telling the truth all day, and you will read and nod your head along with the words because you know them to be fact already. But I don’t write to create an echo chamber, I write to make you think.

So when is it acceptable to not tell the truth? Why?

The reason it happens most often in business is that you don’t want to create unnecessary conflict (it's just a little fudging of the facts, right?). If you made a promise that it turns out you couldn’t keep, your tendency is going to be to gloss over that situation so that everybody feels better about it. All slopes are inherently slippery, but this one goes downhill fast. It’s not long before you’re not telling anybody anything they don’t want to hear.

With the best of intentions, you start tiptoeing and tap dancing around every question you get. I understand that your intention is to not offend anybody, but how offensive is it to never get a straight answer to anything?

That’s when problems arise. That’s when people start to look for the fine print. People start wondering if what you’re saying is too good to be true, which they don’t trust. Once trust starts to erode, the whole situation falls apart.

Your mom always told you that if you couldn’t say anything nice then you shouldn’t say anything at all. That doesn’t mean that you should lie to someone for the sake of saying something nice.

It’s hard to tell the truth. The truth often brings about the conflict you're trying desperately to avoid. I don’t know too many people who enjoy conflict. However, through that conflict comes resolution, and resolution through truth paves the way for future success. It creates the blank slate on which really wonderful things can be drawn up.

There’s a reason people love the “straight shooter”. There's a feeling that you know what to expect even though you don’t know what they’ll say. Those are the kind of people who are refreshing to hear from, even when they say something you don’t want to hear, and you find it unsettling, when you look at yourself in the mirror you know it’s true. There is solace in that.

You need to be more like that.  

Granted, there’s a certain amount of emotional intelligence required in these situations. You need to pick your battles, and discretion is often the better part of valor. You shouldn't be the kind of ornery grump that goes around picking fights and calling babies ugly, but you’re going to find yourself in situations where you’re conflicted about the right thing to say. The tougher choice is often the truthful one, and that’s the one you should be going with.

It’s really scary when you get started. It’s hard to trust that people will take things the way you intend them, but over the years I’ve learned something… people really like being trusted. Having the guts to have difficult conversations, even stumbling through some of them, demonstrates that you trust the other person enough to put yourself in those situations. They recognize that. They appreciate that. They trust you more as a result.

It takes a lot of courage to tell the truth and to do the right thing. In the end, I think a lot more is accomplished by being courageous than by being afraid.