The Truth Will Set You Free

By Caudron, Shari | Workforce, December 1998 | Go to article overview

The Truth Will Set You Free


Caudron, Shari, Workforce


The first time I told the truth at work, I got fired. My boss, a burnt-out, 40-something man with permanent scotch-induced facial redness, had been spending more time at "client meetings" with the new brunette employee than he spent at the office.

At first, we made excuses for him. But as complaints from customers increased, the workplace tension got so thick employees seemed to stop moving. We became like wooden Indians, staring straight ahead and refusing to acknowledge the complete breakdown of morale, productivity and trust.

Believing he should know about the problems caused by his absence, I asked my boss for a private meeting. He agreed, politely listened, thanked me for clarifying the situation, and fired me two weeks later.

OK, so I was naive. But give me a break-it was my first full-time job and I hadn't learned you're not supposed to tell the truth about such things.

Lying is a corporate institution.

Anyone who has been gainfully employed for any amount of time knows all about the overwhelming pressure not to speak the truth at work. We avoid, distort, misrepresent and, yes, out-and-out lie more frequently than any of us want to admit. There are little white lies ("Great shoes, Madge"), ongoing delusions ("The customer is always right"), and major whoppers ("The restructuring will not affect employment levels"). In fact, several years ago a study of 40,000 Americans revealed a stunning 93 percent of us regularly and consciously lie at work, according to The Day America Told the Truth (Prentice Hall, 1992) by James Patterson and Peter Kim. We do it to preserve our image, to be polite, to protect our jobs and because often we assume the truth will make a bad situation worse.

I know what you're saying: "Not me." Holding a hand over your heart, you proclaim to be a person of integrity. After all, you're in human resources. But think about your first reaction to some situations HR professionals typically face on a daily basis.

When the young applicant with a neck tattoo and nasal piercings phones to ask why he didn't get the onsite customer service job, do you tell him it was because of his appearance? Or, rolling your eyes at your secretary, do you opt to tell him there were other applicants with "more experience"?

At a team meeting, someone proposes a preposterous idea to train the workforce to speak Gaelic. You're just about to disagree when you notice everyone around you is smiling and nodding their heads in unison like a line of drum majorettes in a parade, repeating the words, "Great idea," in a maddening continuous loop. When asked, do you voice your dissenting opinion or find yourself mumbling a barely audible, "Sounds great"?

And what about all those times the boss has asked for your input on how others in the company view him? Do you swallow hard and divulge the fact that people think he's a sniveling, spineless milquetoast? Or is it easier to shrug your shoulders and feign ignorance?

Truth telling should be the millennium's mantra.

Let's face it: Situational forces exert pressure on all of us at one time or another to avoid the truth. But there's a way to alleviate this pressure-by telling the truth all the time, no matter what. …

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