shouted Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) from the witness stand in response to Lt Kaffee (Tom Cruise) in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men” when he was asked, “Did you order the Code Red?”

By all accounts, truthful answers should be easy; a simple Yes or No.  However, even though it may seem easy to answer, the underlying circumstances can reach far beyond the consequences of the action.

Let me explain.

When we are toddlers the truth is simple; did you eat the cookie? Did you break the glass? Did you hit your brother? Yes or no, the truth appears black or white.  As our world expands and we start to grasp the finer nuances of arguments, action vs reaction and consequences, the answer to the simple question “did you eat the cookie?” starts to become multi-layered.

Imagine this scenario; I know I’m not supposed to eat the cookie, but a big kid at school beat me up and stole my lunch, so I was hungry since I hadn’t eaten all day.  If I tell you this truth you will undoubtedly get upset, call the school, and I’ll end up getting bullied even more. So the answer becomes “No, I didn’t eat the cookie”  In other words, you can’t handle the truth.

What’s my point?

We all like to think we have integrity and telling the truth is an important component of that, however, there are times when it’s not as easy as we think.  One of the reasons is the way we communicate.  In my last post “What’s your ‘but’ statement” (you can read it here) I discussed how a simple word like ‘but’ can alter the meaning of a statement.  When it comes to telling the truth, or understanding what is truthful, it’s not only the actual words but also our past experiences or our current mood that determines our interpretation.  Just think of the last time somebody asked you a question along the lines of “Do I look fat in these pants?”

  • First: examination: what do you consider fat?
  • Second: how do you want the person to feel? (hopefully good about themselves)
  • Third: why are you being asked this question?
  • Fourth: what is your relationship to this person?

Now, to add even more layers, consider the mindset of the person asking.

  • What does he/she consider fat?
  • What is the reason he/she is asking? (maybe needs a reassurance in the choice or confidence boost)
  • Does the person trust your opinion?
  • Does the person look up to you and therefore your opinion is important to them?

A scenario like this is not limited to our personal lives.  It happens quite frequently in our professional lives as well. How many times have you heard the statement “Fake it ‘til you make it.

Sometimes a leader will assume that a team member is being truthful when they say that they understand the task at hand but, the reality is that they may only partially understand and are afraid, to tell the truth, because they don’t want to look weak, stupid, incompetent, etc.

Our internal thoughts are constantly at work during such an interaction.

You might ask; does this really matter?

Yes, it does!  In our personal lives, it interferes with creating meaningful and trusting relationships.  In our professional lives, it hurts our own productivity and ultimately the business’ bottom line when we constantly are guarded in our communication.  Research shows that your company culture is directly linked to your profit*. Part of your corporate culture is making your team feel secure in their environment and a valued part of the company.

What steps can you take?

The misunderstandings we have with our family, friends, co-workers, leadership, clients are often because we don’t consider the other individual’s perspective. We also forget that our own assumptions get in the way of fully hearing others; we either listen just waiting to get our turn to speak or to argue our point of view, instead of deep listening with interest and understanding.

Next time you’re looking for the ‘truth’ of a situation, check in with yourself first to see:

  • am I open to being proven wrong?
  • am I willing to completely listen?
  • what is my previous experience in this area?
  • what’s my relationship with the audience?
  • am I willing to not place blame?
  • do I know why I believe x, y, z?
  • am I okay that the ultimate solution might be “we agree to disagree”?

These questions can be situational and examples to assist you, as many of my clients have discovered, help improve both your personal and professional relationships as well as increase your feeling of accomplishment.

Make today awesome!


PS:  Remember never to assume you know what the other person is thinking – if in doubt

PS:  I hope you found this concept helpful and would love to hear your thoughts or additional methods that you find valuable in communicating effectively. Please join the conversation by commenting below and sign up to receive our updates, tips, and specials or join us on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.



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