Radical honesty at work

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While driving to work this morning, I listened to a podcast by Adam Grant on learning how to love criticism (great podcast, by the way, highly recommend). Ray Dalio from Bridgewater was a guest on the show, so the concept of radical honesty came up. This wasn’t the first time I had heard of the controversial practice, but the timing was…fortuitous. I was scheduled to have my quarterly meeting with the head of our group today, and I had been contemplating what to discuss with her. More specifically, I had been wondering just how honest I should be.

Thanks to Adam Grant and Ray Dalio, I decided to just go all in — to be radically honest, and brace myself for the fall-out. I ended up sharing details about my thoughts on my job and career development that I never imagined sharing with someone at work, and definitely not the head of our group. I asked questions that I wasn’t sure were appropriate to ask. I admitted to struggling with a lack of motivation, and feeling like my performance is never better than a ‘C’. I even admitted to hating to my previous job, why I haven’t worked at a law firm, and how I chose to come to my current job (it was not because I was excited about transfer pricing). It felt like a confession but also career-suicide.

Instead of getting fired, I got a ton of great career advice. It ended up being a great coaching / mentoring session. My boss gave me a number of options to consider and things to think about, and even told me she thought it was a great discussion. I won’t recommend radical honesty for everyone in every situation, but here are some of my thoughts and take-aways:

  • I’m very grateful to work with a leader who genuinely cares about the people she works with. I’m well aware that this is not the case in many places and I don’t take it for granted at all.
  • Honest conversations is not just about telling the truth. More importantly, it’s about discovering new possibilities and solutions. One of the things my boss said to me was, “it’s clear you are not happy and something needs to change”. There’s a lot of truth in that; specifically, that even when we don’t speak up or think we are doing a good job of hiding something, we probably aren’t. Having an honest conversation is often the best way of communicating the whole truth to others instead of allowing half-truths to dominate. While people might be afraid of the whole truths, what I’ve found is half-truths can be much more damaging. Half-truths leaves room for others to make assumptions, and often those assumptions are made based on others’ worst fears, and not in your favor.
  • Telling the truth requires a lot of work. There’s no denying that I made a risky move by being radically honest, but taking  risk is not the same as being reckless. Of the many things that I considered are the character of my boss, the worst and best case scenarios (and many possibilities in between), and the most effective ways to articulate and communicate the truth.
  • It’s not about whether or not you should be honest at work, or with a colleague, it’s about how. Honesty (radical or not) can be tremendously valuable if done effectively. What I advocate for is to broaden the possibility for honesty and find the most effective ways to be honest.

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