Truth and honesty are essential in healthy teams and organizations.
They are the basis for developing trust, that essential ingredient in any relationship (professional or personal) which allows for connection, creativity, growth, innovation, collaboration, and more.
But honesty can also be weaponized. And speaking the truth can be an act of control rather than an invitation to freedom.
Phrases like “just telling it like it is” or “brutal honesty” or “just speaking the truth” are telltale signs of weaponized honesty. And using honesty as a weapon is never healthy. Over time, it has the potential to foster a complete breakdown in trust and hope.
A few observations about weaponized honesty
- “I’m just speaking the truth and saying how I see things” is lazy. Rarely will those phrases come after someone has spent time trying to better understand how the person they are being “honest” with thinks, feels, makes decisions, and wants to move forward. In the context of managing a member of your team or giving feedback at the office, “telling it like it is” is a dangerous shortcut that refuses to acknowledge the complexity of people, teams, decision-making, and getting better at things. Speaking the truth with the wrong intention is an act of aggression.
- Weaponized honesty can also be a shield. Shields, after all, are only useful if you are walking into a battle situation. The defensiveness of a shield belies the fact that brutal honesty is a weapon of choice. Unhealthy leaders can use brutal honesty as a way to distance themselves from wading into the messiness of working with people. Instead of acknowledging someone’s emotions, addressing a lack of knowledge or training, or even a person’s willingness and desire to improve, brutal honesty only looks at outcomes and ignores the person on the receiving end. Brutal honesty bludgeons and belittles, it’s a show of power and leaves the recipient with little choice but to slowly back out of the room and single-mindedly focus on not getting caught in the crosshairs again.
- Using honesty as a weapon is a clear failure for the leader to take ownership and responsibility. If you drop truth and honesty like bombs and just walk away, you are responsible for the resentment, fear, and turnover that will inevitably take over your team. You will always get a combination of what you create and what you allow, including weaponized honesty and its toxic results. It’s your responsibility to do better and create a better environment.
Truth and honesty should always be coupled with constant support.
Great leaders don’t lower standards, abandon values, or make excuses for their people. Instead they do everything in their power to point people to the honest truth while also supporting, encouraging, investing in, and developing people. This isn’t being soft or weak. It’s being present, being empathetic, and being human.
You can be direct and forthcoming while at the same time help a person figure out what they need to do in order to see clearly, create a plan, and move forward. You can’t and shouldn’t do the work for them, but as a leader, it’s your responsibility to actively give them everything they need to win.
If you are always and only brutally honest, why would anyone choose to stick around for that? Why would anyone stay if you bludgeon and belittle people with “honesty”?
It’s a leader’s responsibility to help their people grow and succeed. When you use honesty as a tool to break people, you are failing to lead. If you weaponize truth, how can anyone ever admit when they need help, made a mistake, or don’t know how to change? Trust is essential and weaponized honesty is a sure way to eliminate trust from every corner of your team. You can do better. Your people need you to do better.
I offer leadership coaching and emotional intelligence for individuals as well as assessments, team training, and more for organizations. Get more info at www.adambouse.co and let’s pick up a conversation about what problem you want to solve today.