I have long been curious about relationships and honesty in organisations.
We have many relationships in organisations. Leaders and led, managers and managed, teams, colleagues, friends, co-workers… And it seems to me we are typically comfortable talking about ‘stuff’ in organisations. Comfortable having conversations about ‘stuff’ in these relationships. The target, the project, the objective, the goal, the job etc. Oh sure, some are tricky conversations. The performance management one, the looming deadline one, the efficiency might mean redundancies one…
However, in organisations in particular, we find it hard to speak the truth about deeper thoughts and feelings. About emotions. Especially the truth to power. Or the truth to a colleague. Or the truth to a line manager. Or the truth to a team member.
It seems to me that largely this is because of consequences.
Consequences real or perceived.
I heard a story the other day of a senior leader seeking to speak the truth to power. They were encouraged to do so by their most senior leaders, so at a conference they spoke up, to the MD. Expressing a deeply felt concern. They were subsequently embarrassed and throughout the remainder of the conference they were made an example of.
Such bravery is to be admired, but there are normal everyday conversations in organisational relationships which fall foul of the perceived consequences from speaking up. Not just about important organisational stuff, but about deeply personal stuff. Admitting a vulnerability, or a personal emotional difficulty from life’s roller coaster ride, inside or outside work, seems to be a truth too far. Expressing a gut feel doubt, or exploring a sense of frustration, disappointment, confusion, anger in our organisational relationships seems a harder truth than ‘you’re fired’. Seeking to explore different thinking, or values, or drivers or beliefs seems somehow a luxury that might be frowned upon or considered not real work. Activities to be judged in our organisational world of relationships. Activities with consequences.
I wonder if we need to be more overt about consequences, or the lack of them? So that truth, vulnerability, feelings, difference can be encouraged to flourish? These are important things in our organisational relationships and if they can be nurtured, cultivated, grow and blossom without fear of consequences hanging over them like a watering can full of weedkiller… I wonder what might be possible?