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Telling the Truth
by Byron Kalies


The older I get the easier (some parts of) my life get. A simple phrase I picked up on a training course a few years ago has solved so many problems. You don't believe me? Try it. Run the experiment.

"When in doubt, tell the truth. When not in doubt, tell the truth."

Simple. Easy. Brilliant. Use it as the staple answer for so many managerial problems and concerns.

You're a manager so you have staff. So you have problems. It goes with the territory. Don't be surprised. It's like doctors complaining that they only get to meet sick people - it's going to happen. Get over it.

Your staff have problems and they want you to help. More often than not their problem is you. This works for them too.

A typical training course:

"What do I do if my boss keeps interrupting me and I can't get my work done?"
Tell her, "You keep interrupting me and I can't get my work done."

"But I feel really awkward about telling her - she's my boss."
Tell her, "I feel really awkward about this as you're my boss but you keep interrupting me and I can't get my work done." "But....."

"What do you think will happen?"
"Probably nothing."

"What's the worst thing that could possibly happen?"
"I'd get sacked."

"Well you hate the job anyway. I'm joking. You won't get sacked for telling the truth, will you? Trust me - I'm a trainer."

A few days later.

"I did it. She never had the faintest idea that it was annoying me. She thought I looked lonely and came to chat with me."

It's that simple, usually.

The first time I ran this experiment was at a very senior manager's meeting. The very senior manager was talking about our bid for Investors in People. I had no idea where she was going with the discussion.. I took a deep breath. Then another.

"Irena. Excuse me for interrupting but I have no idea where you are going with this." The whole room took a sharp intake of breath.

"Neither have I come to think of it". The room laughed, slightly too loudly.

This approach does work, usually. However, you can get too blasé and lazy. There's also a temptation to use this as a 'showing off' tool.

On one memorable occasion I lost concentration midway through a discussion with my boss. "Well if she's not running the workshop and he's not then who is?" My manager, never one to let me get away with any nonsense replied "You are you prick. Keep up."

It's an excellent tool. Use it wisely. Use it honestly. It could help cut through the corporate code that all large organisations use. And there is a lot of corporate code.

Having been on the interviewing end of many promotion boards I've seen so many reports about saints. Virtually every candidate has never done a bad thing in their life, according to their managers. They've never done a bad deed. Never had an evil thought. Then they walk into the room. Please...

After a while you spend all your time looking through the reports looking for secret code words. One secret word is 'usually'. Alan is usually calm and even-tempered. This translates to Alan has psychopathic tendencies. Rebecca usually responds well to customers, particularly on the telephone. This means Rebecca can lose it on the phone now and again. Angela is sociable would be code for Angela can be loud and a party animal and may have the odd Monday morning off work with a hangover.

It would be so refreshing to read "Fred is an ace worker in all aspects apart from figure work. He's useless. He couldn't add up 2 numbers to save his life. I'd promote him and keep him well away from the Accounts department.

I attended a seminar concerning the management of people with mental health problems. Absolutely fascinating. Full of top tips for managing people who have been off work with problems. The top tip for me was what to do when they return to work. Don't ask them how they are. They will tell you the truth - unashamedly, totally and honestly. That'll be your whole morning gone.

I heard some similar stories from an equality of opportunity course I attended. It was run by an incredibly successful partnership of disabled people. One of the partners who had MS was late coming back from lunch on day one. He arrived in the room 30 minutes late cursing. "What happened?" we asked. "I had to go to the bank." He said. "Yes?" "I asked someone how far it was. She said, "oh, it's only 5 minutes down the road." It took me fucking half an hour."

They had a wealth of stories about how people react to disabilities. My favourite was the other lecturer's story of him sitting in his wheelchair, outside Marks and Spencers on a hot Summer's day. He was waiting for his wife and drinking a can of coke. A middle aged woman walked past, looked at him, opened her purse, took out a pound coin and dropped it in his can. "There" she smiled and walked off.

"What do you want us to do?" we asked, "Ignore you? Help you?" "Just tell the truth" was the answer. If you see someone in a wheelchair struggling to open a heavy door say, "Excuse me I can see that you're in a wheelchair struggling to open that heavy door, do you need some help?" It's so simple. So easy.

So do it.


The Author


Byron Kalies is a Liverpool-based writer with 12 years' international experience as a management consultant. Recent publications include Across The Board (U.S.A.), Career Times (Hong Kong), CEO Refresher (Canada) of course, Guardian (U.K.), Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), MIS (U.K.), Management First (U.K.), Lifelong Learning (U.S.A.), Business Day (South Africa), Business Plus (Ireland). Book "25 Management Techniques in 90 Minutes" (Management Books 2000) published April 2005.

Many more articles in Insight & Commentary in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2004 by Byron Kalies. All rights reserved.

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