Tell the Truth

In the context of productivity, when I talk to clients about “being honest,” what is at issue is a person’s ability to be realistic about capacity: How much can you expect to get done in a particular time frame?

People are not honest about that.

You’re not going to lie or be dishonest. But being radically truthful is deeper.

The mismatch between what is possible and what people promise isn’t a function of a person’s desire to mislead or deceive. Rather, it’s about the unwillingness to acknowledge the truth about what is possible given the sheer volume of demands we all face plus one’s reluctance to let others down. Our culture of “crazy busy” doesn’t encourage individuals to pause to reflect when faced with a new demand, so we just reflexively say “yes” and pile another task onto the already burdensome list. Then we scramble forward, hoping for the best.

The ironic twist is that under the auspices of not letting others down, we patently DO let them down because we over-promise and under-deliver (or fail to deliver at all). This mismanaging of expectations can be solved with honesty.

Being fully honest is a 3-step process.

  1. Train yourself to stay centered throughout the day. Practice being where you are (not thinking about something other than what you’re doing) and accepting what is (not wishing things were different). It is easier to tell the truth if you actively engage in the present and avoid magical thinking.
  2. Cultivate a realistic understanding of what is possible. Use your list and calendar to keep track of the promises you’ve made and the time available to make good on those promises. If you’re using those tools effectively, it will be clear when you’ve hit the limit of what is possible.
  3. Communicate your reality to others. Let colleagues know what you are doing and when you’re doing it. If they need your help and you don’t have available time, you can look at your list and calendar to identify what scheduled tasks can be adjusted to accommodate their needs.

Strong relationships in the workplace (and elsewhere!) are built on this communication, which is rooted in each individual’s clear-headed honesty about what is possible. An honest “no” builds better trust than a “yes” that never produces. As an added bonus, you’ll feel better about yourself each day when you stop over-committing and are more consistently able to fulfill the promises you make.

Let me know if you need help telling the truth to yourself and others.

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