Honesty: more than truth or lies

Dec 21 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

When people bemoan the lack of honesty in corporate America and elsewhere, images of Enron, WorldCom and Martha Stewart come to mind. But honesty issues have a significant impact on virtually every workplace, says author and consultant Steven Gaffney.

In a new book: "Honesty Works! – Real-world solutions to solve the most common problems at work and home", Gaffney contends that true honesty in the workplace equates to simple, straightforward communication. And that, he contends, is in short supply.

"Honesty in the workplace is not just about truth or lies," Gaffney notes. "Those issue get the headlines. But the more prevalent problem in business is the lack of open honest communication between co-workers and on every organisational level."

The more prevalent problem in business is the lack of open honest communication between co-workers

Office politics, internal conflict, drama, gossip, negativity, "Yes-people," back-stabbing, lack of appreciation, poor information flow, ineffective meetings and more have become the reality of the day-to-day business environment, he contends - and much of this spills over into our personal lives as well.

"This predictable pattern of less-than-straightforward communication, costs organisations billions of dollars from poor decisions, internal conflict, lost productivity, poor employee retention and wasted time dealing with internal problems when they should be focusing on their business," he argues.

Gaffney says that his research has shown, time and time again, that the core of most work-related problems can be traced back to the lack of simple, straightforward, honest communication.

And as a survey carried out in Britain for software giant Microsoft found, three quarters of workers feel they are forced to lie at work, often because managers fail to provide the right information to enable staff to do their jobs properly or impose unreasonable deadlines.

The same survey also uncovered what it terms "ascending Chinese whispers" in which lies get passed up an organisation's hierarchy. One in five employees said they would lie to their boss or their colleagues, it found, but only one in 10 to their subordinates.

In a similar vein, one of the most prevalent issues that Gaffney sees in working with corporate clients, is what he calls "the lies of withholding."

"Whenever someone avoids a festering issue with a co-worker, tells a supervisor only the good news, remains silent when they disagree with a proposed initiative, becomes a "yes-man" with superiors to curry favour, or complains to someone, other than the person they have an issue with, they are being dishonest," he says,

"And that lack of honest communication can come at a great cost."

In his book, Steven Gaffney highlights common situations and scenarios, so familiar to both workers and managers.

He shows how the core is related to non-direct or avoided issues and, armed with that new perspective, helps individuals address the issue and move forward.

But if you think that Steven Gaffney is a new breed of crusading alter-boy – think again.

"I'm not coming from any moral high ground," Gaffney says. "I am as flawed as anyone else. But what I've found in my years of research and experience in working with organisational and interpersonal dynamics in the workplace is that Honesty Works.

"That's really the source of the title of my new book. When all else fails, try honesty - because it works!"

Older Comments

If I 'honestly' told my bosses what I thought of them and our company, I'd be out on my ear faster than you could say 'New Year's Resolution'. Nice thought, though. Maybe I should buy them the book for Xmas.

Jason London

I found another book, 21 Dirty Tricks at Work to be very useful in learning about practical honesty and how to deal with dishonest people whilst maintaining my integrity. check it out on amazon

Peter London

Sounds like a great read. My hope is that the author went beyond simple diagnosis and prescribed some 'cure.'

The problem is actually critical and, as a simple observer of Corporate America--although I only have 4.5 years in Corporate America-I am concerned that this gangrenous situation is going to cause a great deal of spasmodic reactions over the years to come, unless honest and bolt actions are taken at all organizational levels.

For instance, the fear of being punished is one of the key reasons why many employees would rather lie than tell the truth, or move around an issue instead of addressing it in an open and honest communication.

Also, in my modest opinion, the example must be set at the top. However, it appears that the 'do as I say, not as I do' is the general motto.

Office politics, gossips, back stabbing and all kinds of 'under-the-desk' dealings lead to what the author has diagnosed: Lack of open honest communication. But you can't just dissociate that from lies! Moreover, as long as pay increase will continue to be linked to perfomance, it will be difficult if not impossible to improve the situation.

Even in instances where an evaluation/review is flawed and challengeable, employees are powerless because they have no ammunitions to defend themselves, they have no codified process in place--at least not that I know of-to allow them to challenge management and cause a review to be reviewed.

In a sense, Corporate America is sick and can be likened to a mafia-like world. And because employees tend to view management with a great deal of suspicion, it is a hard sell to expect them to be more saintified than the saints.

Jean-Pierre E. Mbei USA