Create a Culture of Truth-Telling

One of the core reasons for workplace drama and dysfunction is due to the inability to have honest dialogues with others–the inability to speak your truth.

Honesty is often used as an excuse to “tell the truth,” when the reality is, if the truth would have been spoken five years ago, there wouldn’t be such a blow up in the first place. But, we don’t have the critical skills required to speak truth. We don’t know how to separate fact from feeling. We don’t know how to monitor the narrative in our heads to discern perception from reality. We don’t have the right strategic mindset to initiate difficult conversations in service of the bigger picture, nor do we know how to handle uncomfortable emotions. As a result, avoidance and denial become the cultural norms.

We let a colleague get by with her sarcasm because she’s had a hard year. We don’t tell a client the truth about what we can really deliver. We avoid a difficult performance conversation with a long-term employee. We continue to lead the vendor on about the possibility of working together because we hate to disappoint and hate to be pressured.

What we often fail to recognize is how these same patterns play out in our personal lives. We walk on eggshells with our spouse to avoid an argument. We allow a long-winded neighbor to tie up the phone talking nonstop about issues we aren’t interested in. We say “yes” when we prefer to say “no.”

If leaders have difficulty speaking their truth, think about how difficult it is for employees to speak truthfully about their challenges.  According to Doc Childre, founder of Heart Math Institute, 70% of people are afraid to speak up at work. As one who was a bottom line employee for more than twenty years, I can say from experience that most employees do not have the courage to speak truthfully to their boss due to the fear of retribution.

There is always an impact when we avoid or deny. We contribute to a culture of drama.

Cultural Signs that Indicate a Need for Truth Telling
1. People complain about others behind their back
2. Fear of hurting feelings prevent honest dialogue
3. The atmosphere is full of anger or resentment
4. Finger pointing replaces helping hands

What Leaders Do?
1. Model truth-telling in a respectful manner
2. Create a culture where it’s safe to speak truthfully
3. Provide the framework and development so that people have the critical communication skills to use honesty in service of the greater good

Besides the critical communication skills, creating a culture of truth-telling requires us to take full responsibility for what we create, as well as adopting a learning mindset so that we can course-correct faster when we awaken to the many ways we fail to speak truth.

Marlene-Blk4Marlene Chism is an executive educator, consultant, and author of Stop Workplace Drama, (Wiley 2011) and No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion 2015). She works with executives, and high-performing leaders who want to transform culture in the workplace. To explore opportunities please email