How to fix problems that are festering.

Have you ever been in a meeting where you felt unable to say what you were really thinking because you knew that it would be unpopular?

You know the scenario.  You’re sitting there with an opinion that differs from the consensus.  Perhaps you have some inside knowledge of what’s really going on.  Or a strong instinct that doing what the louder voices in the meeting believe is right would be … well … just wrong.

But you can be frightened to speak out – to say what you believe is the truth – because you think it will put you under pressure to conform, and perhaps end up with you being squashed.

Have you ever swallowed your words only to then watch as the problem you kept quiet about just builds and builds?

Margaret Heffernan, author and ceo,  gave a talk on just this subject on  radio about her experience running a major US company and being firmly told not to tell the truth by her advisors.  She believes that the desire for senior executives to smooth over problems and not face up to the truth of bad situations is one of the key problems with business and her speech praised the value of whistleblowers and dissenters.

She points out that when you do speak up in the situations I have described you are nearly always saying something that everyone is thinking anyway.  Once the problem is out in the open you can do something about it.  The role of senior management is to create a situation of trust where dissenters are heard, and where the option to zig where everyone else is zagging doesn’t carry the risk of ridicule or dismissal.

Without a culture where people can take the risk of speaking up you can’t fix anything.

Heffernan quotes research that says that up to 85% of business people fear that they can’t tell the truth, either through fear of retribution (predominant in the US) or because there isn’t any point (the UK reaction).

We need to celebrate our dissenters, and cherish those who point out what is going unspoken.  Without Telling the Truth we end up with unbelievable spin and that’s as true in our day to day working lives as it is in our communications strategies for brands.  For more on truth telling for brands my book’s still available on Amazon if you haven’t read it yet.

Next time you’re in a meeting where you feel that there is a truth that isn’t being said then speak up. Disturbing the equilibrium, rocking the boat may have consequences.  So does silence.




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