In The Godfather Part III, Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, said to his lawyer, "It's dangerous to be an honest man." That statement applies as much to the corporate world as it does to the fictional realm of gangsters. While you probably won't wind up "sleeping with the fishes" by being honest in the corporate realm, being fully honest at all times could harm your career.
Even the most innocuous disclosure of feelings can be problematic. For example, you jokingly remark to a co-worker about the "loudness" of his tie. If he is already upset about something, or sensitive about his appearance, that remark could result in discord.
This is why we constantly evaluate what we say to others, how we say it and whether to say it in the first place. We instinctively know honesty can get us into trouble.
But in the workplace, honesty is necessary to address weaknesses in job performance and processes. Companies can't improve if employees can't be honest. Fortunately, there are strategies that allow us to be honest - without somehow making matters worse.
Consider situations in which you have to say no. Maybe you would rather not go to lunch with a colleague. Tell the truth if your reason is innocuous, for example, you always work out at lunch time or you're eating leftovers at your desk because of a deadline. If, however, you don't enjoy the other person's company, say something simple like, "Thanks, but I think I'll pass."
What if a coworker brings up an idea that is embarrassingly bad or simply doesn't fit within the corporate strategy? Instead of being too blunt and hurting that person's feelings, you can diffuse the situation by saying, "That's an interesting point. But what about this: (insert different idea). What do you think?"
Or if someone asks you a question that you don't know the answer to (but should), and if revealing your ignorance could harm the relationship, you can say, "Let me think about it. I'll get back to you on that."
While you can strive to be diplomatic as well as honest, you must also know when you should keep quiet. If someone makes an offensive comment that results in hurting another person's feelings, the offender might make this excuse: "Well, I was just being honest." In fact, the offender was being rude. Saying nothing at all would have been better.
The same goes for meetings. If your opinion is not sought, but you have the desire to interject your thoughts, ask yourself whether you want to say something merely to sound important or draw attention to yourself. If that is the case, your words will likely backfire.
Also, if you are asked for your honest opinion in a meeting, be aware that "honest" never means "brutally honest." Diplomacy and tact are always called for.
Most people think their own opinions are correct. Some even think everyone else agrees (or should agree) with them. Others seem prone to declaring controversial opinions, even though they know doing so is likely to offend somebody. However, divisive remarks could lead to co-workers drawing unflattering portraits of the offending party that resonate with upper management.
Remember, truth truly is in the eye of the beholder. Honesty should always be tempered with tact. Bear in mind Michael Corleone's admonition, and live a little less dangerously.
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