Is There an Important Truth I Haven\’t Been Willing to Tell?
I used to believe that if I was truthful, the floor beneath me would crack, I would disappear into it, and I would lose everything.
I have often watched myself being cautious of what I say because of being afraid of offending others. I have often told myself that this is the ‘polite’ thing to do, and if I didn’t act that way, something terrible (like the floor beneath me cracking) would happen to me. And in having done so (chosen to be ‘just polite’), I feel I have lost out on so many authentic conversations, and so many opportunities to contribute to deepening of relationships and the growth of teams, as team members learn to become more cohesive and effective.
In the past few years, however, I have explored the power and vital importance of truthfulness (honesty, candor, authenticity) in communications and interactions.
In my work, I am learning that the practice and skill of truthfulness is not only desirable, but fundamental for our survival as friends, family members, colleagues and leaders.
This Thing Called Authenticity
Truthfulness can be defined as the ‘capacity to pass on authentic information’.
We can imagine that there is a truth that is there to be unveiled. And if that is the case, then truthfulness is humility, in that it is very personal, and yet it asks us to acknowledge something beyond ourselves.
‘Truth’ comes with wholeheartedness, it takes time, and is often simple.
Whispers in the Corridors, Whispers Behind People’s Backs
As colleagues and teachers from Pacific Integral say, ‘not being truthful requires pretending. It requires ‘being divided against the self’ and avoiding saying what we know and saying what we do not really know. It can also create tension within the self.’
Honesty and truthfulness listen to that ‘truth in the heart’, waiting to come out.
When this ‘truth’ is not uttered, conversations may become artificial (still with a smile on the face, but an inauthentic one), and there may be whispers behind each other’s backs.
In organizations, meetings may happen with ‘business as usual’ conversations, where one is guarded, the intention is to play it safe, obey the rules and not make mistakes. The crux of the conversation, may happen in whispers in the corridors.
The Cultural Dimension?
Truthfulness may require a way of speaking that is direct. Studies on cross-cultural communication, however, demonstrate how this may not be acceptable in so many countries, including ours, Ethiopia, where the style is indirect.
Indirect communication may be perceived as bringing harmony, as an expression of courtesy, care and respect.
Beyond cultural differences, there may be formal and informal barriers to speaking frankly. We may fear the icy silence that could follow, the sarcastic humour and the subsequent put-downs. We may be wary of ‘punishments’ ‘for telling the truth’, which might extend to unnecessary demotions and termination in the workplace.
However, at what cost would we choose to be guarded and not open in the way we communicate? And if that is how we act, what does that say about how we are, and our relationships?
Authenticity and Intimacy
When communication and relationships are authentic, intimacy can emerge (with ‘intimacy’ describing ‘being close with one another’).
As Peter Senge and team write in ‘The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook’,
‘Intimacy in organizations starts with a commitment to get to know people behind the mask of their job title, role, or function. Members of an intimate team know each others’ preferences and predilections. They speak openly about what they believe, feel, think, and aspire to be….If you are a leader of an intimate team, you can find yourself earning loyalty that accrues to more than just your position of authority.
One cannot happen without the other’
Senge argues that unless there is intimacy expressed in teams, leaders may not be effective. This also requires the art of being vulnerable. He writes:
‘While intimacy offers a rich sense of involvement, it also implies vulnerability. As a learner exploring your mental models and personal vision and values, you will be mentally, emotionally and socially ‘exposed’, you will not be as free to sneak things by, to withhold information, to pretend you know something that you don’t, or to propose and implement self-serving policies that undermine team goals. In intimate situations, you must be trustworthy, because you know that you are bound to your team in the long run by your shared purpose. The lack of trust pervasive in most organizations is not a cause of lack of intimacy, but a symptom of it.
Thus, intimacy also holds one accountable to the team and its goals.
Practices exist that can enable us to develop and nurture truthfulness and intimacy within the self and with others.
A few include:
Asking to pause a conversation if it feels inauthentic (acting like an ‘honesty barometer’)
In addition, having the courage to raise undiscussables, or ‘sacred cows’ (conversations avoided) in conversations. (In many cultures, undiscussables revolve around power, money and sex).
Another practice could be to ask oneself, and share with others, answers to the following questions:
Is there an important truth I haven\’t been willing to tell?
Did I tell an untruth that hasn\’t been put right?
Is there something I need to say to someone else?
Is there something I haven\’t been willing to hear from someone else?
Have I been living in fear of the worst?
Have I been pretending to know more than I really know?
Is there something I should have done that I\’ve left undone?
Have I been hiding who I really am?
Finally, a practice related to developing intimacy, as described by Senge is as follows:
‘To produce intimacy, start conversing accordingly. This doesn’t mean probing into secrets, stepping over the bounds of propriety, or invading privacy. Intimacy should never put anyone under pressure to unveil the details of his or her personal life or desires. More significant (and often more difficult) are your true opinions about an idea, your uncertainties, and your private opinions about your own (or others’) failures and sacred cows. If someone expresses distaste or interest in something, ask for the source of this opinion. If someone asks you, answer honestly.’
The questions for you, dear reader, are: what have you learned about yourself and your truthfulness? Where, in your life, do you wish to practice being more truthful?
Many thanks to colleagues at Pacific Integral, and participants of ‘Generating Transformative Change (GTC) – Africa 1’, who have taught me to discover developing a deeper awareness, intimacy and truthfulness within myself and with others.