Honestly influencing

Let’s face it, people and institutions that we used to trust, because they were largely trust-worthy, are no longer. From politicians to clergy, bankers to the law and even some scientists these days need to be checked for vested interests. 

This unfortunate credibility gap does however offer us an obvious differentiation opportunity. A reputation, built on consistently reliable words and actions, creates tremendous influence and a ripple effect of positive impact. In effect, trustworthiness has become such a rarity, we can leverage for the good of our immediate and extended circles.

So let’s take a moment to talk about honesty, honestly, and how a commitment to it can impact all our influencing efforts.

White lies are almost a given in business as well as person life:

  1. “Do I look fat in this outfit?” “No. You look great.”
  2. “Why is that report late?” “I’ve been too busy?”
  3. “Sorry I’m late. Traffic.”

This is by no means a judgement or moral lecture. I’m as guilty as the next person of complimenting someone on a blouse I didn’t especially like or suddenly looking interested when directly asked if I was bored, but it takes a toll on our own well-being, our integrity, authenticity and relationships. I’m not talking about going out of our way to be rude or forthcoming in our opinions if they aren’t invited or helpful, but simply catching ourselves in those small moments to find a way to be more clear and direct.  As a friend once said “I don’t know why I seem to exaggerate everything I say by about 4%”. It’s easily done.

A German woman I worked with once, was shocked at how polite everyone was in the Australian workplace at the expense of finding an effective solution. In her homeland people could more rigorously discuss the pros and cons of an idea without causing offence or implicating some level of incompetence on behalf of the person proffering it. 

In my earlier days as a consultant and trainer I would err on the side of generosity in my feedback at the expense of a more honest and clear critique. People wanted practical, real, actionable assessments. 

Similarly I’ve had the experience in a pitch presentation of feeling like I had great rapport with the client only to never hear back while others were more comfortable to directly say no and explain why. These days I find the directness that I used to find confronting, refreshing.

It’s become clear to me over time that I’m not doing myself or others any favours when I sugar coat the truth. It’s simply lazy communication, saving me the effort of finding the courage and words to be more straightforward.

A fellow trainer said to me “oh you know the old technique of borrowing somebody else’s story and telling it as your own?” I lied by nodding. It lowered my respect for her and it nags me to this day that I didn’t just say no, I hadn’t heard of it, nor did I understand the point of it. It compromised my own integrity, if only fractionally, but it’s those continual small moments that chip away at our confidence and authenticity over time.

When we are more honest in even the smallest of our interactions, we build a basis of trustworthiness that allows people to come to us knowing they will get a real opinion that they can’t get elsewhere. 

It can be done kindly and thoughtfully. In our Difficult Conversations coaching we explore scenarios like having to confront someone with body odour in the office, or the impact of poor behaviour. Being upfront about our intention is core to those conversations – our intent to improve their relationships, performance and career prospects as well as those of the team around them, helps them and us. A prefacing comment that states this intent not only contextualises the information for them but reminds you of why you’re there and bolsters your courage to say it straight. 

This doesn’t mean couching along the lines of “I don’t mean to judge you but….” which clearly tells us that judgement is about to ensue, and shifts the burden of responsibility to the receiver who now not only feels judged, but also guilty for doing so. It means aligning your intention and words to come from a place of genuine helpfulness.

So back to our three simple examples above:

  1. “Do I look fat in this outfit?” “I don’t think it’s a particularly flattering or well cut dress. I always think you look good in outfits like those pants last week with the red top” or “I’m not a good person to ask. I don’t give a toss about body shapes”. 
  2. “Why is that report late?” “I prioritised X & Y which seemed to me to be more urgent and important to our strategic goals. Next time I’ll discuss those choices with you as I go”
  3. “Sorry I’m late.”

There are nuances of course. Sins of omission have a different flavour from sins of commission just as intentional lying is very different from unintentional, predicated on mistaken information or understanding. Lying to save your own or someone else’s life is better than inflicting serious violence or allowing it to be inflicted.

The point however is that committing to honesty helps us to be clearer in ourselves about our shortcomings and opportunities while forging an extremely powerful base for influence with our teams, colleagues, management and clients.

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