Management Matters: Honesty = Courage, Candor, & Tact(+ Timing)

Most people don’t start out wanting to lie, although I do think there are those who prefer not to tell the truth. I have noticed that many of my clients -- everyone from first time front line supervisor to the people who reside in the executive suite aim to soften the feedback so that it is as inoffensive as possible. They don’t liebut by leaving out the basic truth that would make the feedback useful, they lie by omission.

Have you been in one of those meetings where no one says the one thing that everyone is thinking? There is a chance to speak up but people wait for someone else to speak up – and that person is waiting for someone else to speak up first! So sadly, the truth is never spoken.

There are valid reasons people prefer being polite rather than honest:

  • They don’t want to appear harsh; they prefer to be supportive.
  • They are afraid they will hurt the relationship irretrievably.
  • They don’t know the difference between omission and lying.
  • They don’t know how to say what they need to say in a way that the other person can hear it

So why don’t we tell the truth?

Can I Give You Some Feedback?It’s not easy to hear the phrase “Can I give you some feedback?” It’s often true that feedback not asked for is rarely taken well.

But if the intention is totruly to help - then why shouldn’t’ you listen? If you want to improve, develop trust, and learn about both yourself and the person giving the feedback, why not take the opportunity to hear them out? Sure – it might be just their opinion. But most organizations want to know what their customers think. It’s how they can improve the service and the product. Most people want to know what the boss thinks; that way they can learn about what can be done to grow and develop.

What Is NeededSpeaking up with honesty requires courage, candor, and tact.

Courageis a lot like resilience. The only way you get it is to experience it and do the things that increase your ability to rely on it. What you learn with experience is that you can come through the challenges well. That very knowledge makes you less fearful the next time. Once you have been brave, you know that while you may not like it, you can be brave again.

Candor is learned as well. As small children, we may have been admonished by our elders to be polite. We also tend to be fearful of the possible consequences of acting impolitely. It’s possible that the only thing we can really do is question if our honesty is genuinely rude behavior.

Courage and candor are inescapably tied up with Tact. Even in our long-standing relationships, our good intentions may be insufficient. If you lack the skills to deliver feedback and information in a way in which the person who needs to hear it can receive it well, then it makes perfect sense that you avoid providing improvement feedback. But hiding isn’t a strategy.

If your organizational culture fosters truth-telling, it’s because it is something people do on a daily basis. If you can get into a habit of speaking honestly with people you work with, they will always know where they stand with you. And when you show people the advantages of being honest and tactful, you may be able to develop these same skills in others, enabling them to communicate with honesty and respect.

The intention of sharing the information should always be to help, not hurt. Those who receive it don’t have to take every bit of it as the gospel truth, but being open to hearing

It can make you cringe to hear that people have made poor choices in execution because they were nottold what to avoidas well as advice about what to do when working to improve their ‘difficult conversation’ skill set.So learn from the mistakes of omission that have been made by others:

  • Time and Place – Don’t call to deliver that honest conversation late at night, while people are on their way to work in the morning, or night or just before a major presentation. Do give some thought to when the conversation should take place and where. The goal should be to consider when and where they can cope with hearing the information rather than when it’s good for you to give it.)
  • Worst Case – Think about what might be a worst-case scenario after you say what needs to be said. Once you imagine and prepare for that, you are ready. Many people fear a strong emotional reaction in others so allow that there may be tears or anger. A full box of tissues or some time to regain composure is appreciated and allows you to work through the discussion.
  • Script – Don’t search for the best words during an important conversation. A few key phrases can help you feel both prepared and in control. Spend time creating the concise wording of key phrases that support your goals for the outcome of a good improvement feedback session.
  • Groundwork – Don’t jump in without any warning. Even a little set up is better than none at all. Tell the person that you have something to tell them. Admit that it is difficult (to tell and to hear).
  • Stick to the Facts –Try doing that. Describe the situation and talk about what has happened. Avoid being evaluative. Don’t talk about blame or fault.
  • Not About You – Sometimes the truth can set you free, but sometimes it’s just painful to hear. Avoid the impulse to defend yourself (or anyone else), point fingers, or shift blame, Try not to “fight back,” make excuses, or educate them about why you are not the ‘bad guy.’ Just listen.

Honesty isn’t for everyone. Hiding out, skirting the issue, dropping hints – all seem much easier. As long as you are willing to continue those behaviors forever – which is a daunting strategy.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management training and development consulting practice that specializes in developing human resources in the areas of leadership and management training, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 25 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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