People who have worked with me know that the one thing you can say to me that may lead to a parting of our ways is, “I could have told you.” If we find ourselves in trouble, or with some mess on our hands, the last thing I want to hear from someone on the team is, “Well… I could have told you so.” It is as if they are saying, “I knew you couldn’t handle the truth.” I can handle the truth. And if for some reason I can’t, let that be my problem.
What I want is people to tell me. I’ve always strived to nurture a truth-telling culture. If you see something, say something. I may not agree, or I may be too stubborn or dumb to realize it really is the truth, but I want to hear it. And I want to hear it early enough so that by taking that perspective into consideration, we might be able to save ourselves pain and suffering down the road. So, don’t ever tell me “you could have told me”; just tell me.
Now there are those who with hindsight overestimate their ability to see the truth early. And there are those who lack the courage to speak up. In both cases I don’t want to hear “I could have told you so” either. It simply isn’t helpful. If you think it somehow elevates our perception of you, knowing that you secretly knew all along… you are wrong.
I’ve always tried to be a truth-teller. It has generally served me pretty well… certainly not always, but usually, and I’m able to sleep at night. As the famous scene depicts, some people can’t handle the truth. I would usually rather suffer for being truthful, than suffering with the truth.
There have been a few times I can recall when I’ve overestimated the relationship and shared a perspective that was not welcomed or appreciated. I had one of those times relatively recently. I saw a post on social media that I knew could be misinterpreted and would likely come back to bite the author. So I endeavored to give my new friend a heads up… in a pretty low-key way, I shared some perspective (arguably expert perspective in this case since it was well inside my field); I shared it directly (not in a retweet or Facebook comment). I don’t make a habit of this, but I have done it a few times that were gratefully receive. In this case, the author wisely pulled the post… but also responded with a short tirade about not appreciating the policing. It got me unfriended. I’m glad the author pulled the post because I think it would have likely resulted in trouble for their job and the organization… but I regret that I overestimated the relationship. I’m still not sure what I should have done differently, but I wish it had not resulted in dinging the relationship.
I want to continue to be better at handling the truth. Both as one receiving the truth and as one telling the truth.
There is a good article about nurturing a truth-telling culture (or dealing with a “yes-person” problem) currently on Fast Company; check it out by clicking here.