Honesty

Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.

I may be in the minority these days, but I would much rather that someone be honest with me than beat around the bush.  Did I screw up?  Tell me.  Think I’m obnoxious in my general approach?  Let me know.  Not a snowball’s chance in hell that you’re willing to help my search?  Prefer you tell me to get lost, rather than let me think I can count on you.

I am not entirely sure when it started, or how it became the norm, but our society’s inability to be candid is becoming toxic.  We have invented so many little minuets to avoid telling someone the truth about themselves that it’s almost comical to watch.  Other than enable people to avoid confrontation, it serves absolutely no purpose.  Sooner or later, there will come a reckoning: that inability of yours to ever be on time causes some type of catastrophe, followed by a ruinous argument, ending a relationship that could have been saved with a little bit of candor.

It’s critical during a job search, and even more so once someone is hired.  If you’re networking with a candidate, and you don’t think you would really be inclined to help, tell them, and even better, tell them why.  Maybe they’re just too pushy or self-centered.  Maybe their approach to you was offensive in another way.  If someone is offending you in a networking setting, they will probably be repeating the offense during an interview or after taking a position.  Help them avoid that damage.

In the employment context, one of the drivers of bad employment litigation outcomes is the lack of candor in performance appraisals.  A terrible employee skates on for years and no one takes the initiative to identify the shortcomings and suggest how they can be fixed.  Then the employee is fired and it leads to a lawsuit, as the lack of critical evaluations is cited as the  basis for a pretext charge: couldn’t have been my performance, so something else – e.g., protected category discrimination – must be the reason.

Feedback is a gift and should be offered and received that way.  You can’t fix a problem you don’t know you have.  Few of us are so self-aware that we have that objective “outside-in” view of ourselves that is necessary for change.  I am not suggesting that diplomacy should be cast to the wind, and we should become acid tongued oracles to everyone we know.  Differentiate between a situation involving merely how you would do it and how they did it; that’s not what you should focus on; everyone is entitled to be unique.  But if there is something substantive that is doing the other person a disservice, act.  Take some time to understand why you feel the other person falls short, and how best to describe it so that they can see what you see, and why it’s hurting them.

And never offer criticism in the heat of a moment; you’ll be far harsher than needed, and risk doing damage, sometimes permanent, to the relationship.  But constructive criticism, offered where deserved, in kindness, can help someone improve and make a difference in their life/career.  If you’re the recipient, accept it graciously, ask questions if necessary to insure you understand what you did wrong and how to correct the shortcoming, and find a way to make the change.

One more thing: It’s probably better to forget this advice if you’re a candidate and you feel your networking contact is an idiot.  It’s just not done.  It’s one thing to burn a bridge.  Quite another to blow it up.

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