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Why you should never be 100% honest at work

todayMay 20, 2021 2

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Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

When you’re working with other people, there’s always going to be some moments of friction. Somebody’s tone or off-hand comment might sound like an attack to you, whether they meant to or not. Those moments make work frustrating, so it’s best to find a way to clear the air and move on.

In my experience, the fastest way to resolve these things is to discuss them while they’re happening. Simply saying, “That sounds kinda harsh,” right after someone makes an unnecessarily mean comment might be more efficient and lead to less drama than waiting for a couple of weeks to plan a meeting to discuss ‘your language.’

Delivering this kind of feedback is challenging though. Luckily there’s a bunch of books on this, which I can definitely recommend reading — but there’s one thing you should do first.

Before you start giving feedback to others, it might help to think about what causes your frustration in the first place.

[Read: Treat your business like a living, breathing organism]

I get frustrated a lot… but I’ve learned that my frustration usually comes from things going differently than I pictured them. Reality doesn’t align with my perception, and that causes my brain to short circuit.

This means I’ll get angry with someone, but then I’ll realize that they aren’t stupid after all. They just did something I didn’t expect or plan for. In other cases, I’ll get annoyed about something, but when I stop to think about it, my frustration is more fundamental.

For example, it grinds my gears when I see a large number of slides in a presentation. I’ll start sulking and decide to talk to the person who made the presentation afterwards to explain that fewer slides are better than more slides.

Is my real frustration with the number of slides though? Not really.

I realize I’m just more sensitive than usual because I’m uncomfortable with the presentation’s context. Maybe I don’t want to be involved with the project being pitched. Or perhaps I’m just wholly insecure about my role on the project and lash out.

In the movie Interstellar, there’s a scene with a robot that explains its ‘honesty parameter’ is set to 90%. This raises some questions, to which the robot replies:

“Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.”

I agree with the robot. Partly because if I would always honestly express what’s on my mind — right at that moment — I’d miss out on reflecting on the reasons behind my emotions.

So suppressing some ‘honesty’ is a safer and more diplomatic way of communicating with emotional beings, including myself.

Can’t get enough of Boris? Check out his older stories here, and sign up for his newsletter here.

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