We all know honesty means telling the truth—and to thrive in business, our authenticity distinguishes us from the corrupt and helps create a trustworthy legacy for our personal brand. But often we glamorize honesty without realizing the truth also has consequences for our brand—good or bad. Here are my tips to remaining authentic, honest and transparent, but also keeping your clients (and your job) too.
Be careful about what you share
As a consultant and business owner, I’ve had to walk the honesty line: How much do I share with others? Can I be candid with my clients, team, stakeholders, the media? Can I connect with my audiences without revealing my thoughts and feelings on some issues?
While I insist on always remaining truthful about my capabilities and qualifications, another way I’ve stayed honest with my brand is by carefully selecting what I share about myself in person—and online. When I’m coaching a client through a tough situation, I may choose to share a similar personal experience I’ve had (or another client has had). When I’m relating to a conference audience, I’ll share an honest anecdote of a time something worked for (or against) me.
If you and I meet, you’ll know I’m an open book and grounded person. But I’ve chosen not to share (on LinkedIn, Facebook, or with my clients) my views on certain things, such as politics, my favorite adult beverage, or religion. Unless the situation specifically warrants sharing my views, which is rare, I’ve chosen to keep those private.
Why? I don’t feel my personal views on certain topics are germane to my personal brand. As professionals, we’re allowed to control the information we share. Social media creates unique challenges, but creating personal rules for what we will, and won’t share, helps us focus on staying authentic and honest.
We fib sometimes
I love the Mark Twain quote: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” In practicality, it’s virtually impossible to remain 100% honest. One study from the University of California San Francisco found the average person lies twice in every ten minutes of conversation, mostly to avoid punishment or awkward social situations. A client I coached in Florida once told me he’s “always honest and never lies.” Yet when I asked whether he told his kids about Santa Clause, he blushed and nervously looked away. I use this example only to illustrate: Sometimes we tell white lies for a greater good (such as, fostering a favorite childhood fantasy,) and to protect our audience from the truth. A husband who tells his wife she looks “lovely,” when she’s not feeling her best, strives to show love and support, not to intentionally deceive her.
Filter your honesty for different situations and cultures
In business, it’s important to filter what we share—and with whom. If we’re in an interview or launching a new client relationship, I recommend not disclosing the following:
- Marriage status—you might become judged that you’re a secondary earner and not needing the salary you deserve. I also suggest avoiding mentioning children if you’re a parent. Legally, nobody can ask. But don’t volunteer the information either.
- Political affiliation or views—a quicksand topic, for sure.
- Any gory details from the corporate or military battlefield. Sharing your war stories of your civilian or military career can cast a shadow on your ability to be discrete.
- Any opinions about a place/region/culture—you never know where your audience comes from. One client blew a job interview from a flip comment about having no reason to visit Durham, NC. She didn’t mean to insult the place—she simply meant, no event or client had ever come up for her to go there. Her interviewer (the director) was born and raised in Durham and took offense.
- Any deeply revealing stories about your personal history or challenges. For instance, you may feel rightfully proud of your sobriety, but sharing this might make the interviewer think you’re preaching to them about their lifestyle. (Or, what if the interviewer is a recovering alcoholic—or living with one? Suddenly, you become a reminder of something painful versus exemplifying an excellent candidate.)
Be direct and specific, not vague.
We must also show authenticity when providing honest feedback. We become disingenuous when we tell someone they’re performing well when they’re not. To deliver that constructive feedback with integrity (and respect) I suggest:
- Providing a buffer when providing hard feedback. Tell the person how you appreciate their work and ethic and that you see progress; then, specifically share how they can improve. Close the discussion with a review of their value.
- Offering equal (honest) feedback to both men and women. Research shows, many women don’t progress as quickly to higher-paying leadership positions as male colleagues because they often don’t receive precious, honest feedback we all need to grow. (The research shows women are 32% less likely than men to receive any feedback from male superiors.)
- Thinking of how you’d like to hear and receive that same news. Start there. Then, consider the individual’s personality and adjust to how you think they’d like that same news.
What do you think? How do you have honest conversations with your team, clients, and boss? I’d love to hear your tips and pointers in the comments box below.