Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

The Truth May Hurt, But It’s Good For You

The truth hurts? Who says so?

Growing up, my dad wanted me to read a book called, If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End Up Somewhere Else. Well, I didn't read it, because I did know where I was going, and I still ended up somewhere else. I was going to be a dancer, or so I thought. I studied like mad, but then reality hit. I had to get a "real" job. Suddenly, all that training was a memory as I found myself pursuing a career in business instead. But what did follow me from one world to the next was the desire to know how I was doing. I'd learned that feedback and correction were good things, invaluable things actually. In fact receiving criticism meant you were worthy of development and that someone thought enough of your talent to want to help you improve. As it turns out, that direction was the ultimate compliment. But somehow in business life the whole concept has been reversed and correction has become synonymous with bad, humiliating and shameful. So much stigma and negativity is attached to "weaknesses" in the workplace that people do not want to hear things that could ultimately help them improve their performance. It's mystifying.

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It's also a pattern not just in the workplace, but in life too. I see it all the time. People are so frightened to say something negative that they end up saying nothing at all. But that's not good. It prevents movement forward. Actually, it prevents movement of any kind, in any direction. Yet, in business where communication is the most important tool available and where we need flexibility and agility most, people freeze, trapping their words inside which in turn only serves to paralyze their organizations too.

But, saying something "negative" doesn't have to be negative. Why? Well, because information is valuable and honesty is the most humane gift you can give someone. So, how can hiding it not be considered more negative than anything else? People freak out and avoid having to "reject" job applicants or tell employees when they are not performing well, or tell a coworker that he or she needs to use deodorant. They think they are being nice by withholding information. It's crazy thinking. It may indeed be "easier," but a cowardly workforce does not make for a strong, healthy business. So, my advice? Change the way you think about speaking the truth. It's not negative. I mean, how can telling someone what you think and how you feel be bad? And at the same time, how can depriving people information that will help them make decisions that are right for them be good? Beats the heck out of me.

So, now as things come full circle and I teach classes at a ballet school, I find myself on the instructional side of the teaching/learning equation within the environment where I spent my childhood. And I am reminded again of how hungry people are for feedback and direction. They want it. They ask for it. They are open to it. They want to be corrected so they can learn how to do things "right." So what is wrong with this picture? Why is there such a disconnect between a desire to receive information and an inherent resistance to give it?

 

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Krysalis

Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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