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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


A salesman doesn't know the correct answer to a question about his product from his client. He makes up some fake "data"; to support the superiority of his product and makes a huge sale. If his ultimate goal is to be successful and happy, did he do the wise thing?

A Jewish woman is hurrying home to her husband and children through the streets of Nazi Germany in the early 1940's. Two Nazi soldiers stop her and ask her if she is a Jew. She answers "No". If her ultimate goal is to be successful and happy, did she do the wise thing?

Here are some famous quotes about the power of the truth:

  • "Honesty is the best policy." --Sir Edwin Sandys

  • "Care more for the truth than what people think" --Aristotle

  • "The truth will set you free" --Jesus

  • "This above all else, to thine own self be true" --William Shakespeare

  • "Garbage in, garbage out" --The computer sciences industry

What about our salesman? I figure he's created some short term success and happiness that will lead to long term failure and unhappiness when his client discovers the truth.

I'm very unhappy to report that as we speak a student is being taught to do that very thing in a professional sales class in college. He's been told never to say he doesn't know the answer to a prospect's question. If business success and personal happiness are based on relationships, and relationships are based on trust, then how the heck does this make any sense?

Perhaps we should amend our thinking about always telling the truth to say instead that it's best to tell the truth as often as possible and when it's in your long term best interests to do so. While some might call this situational morality, I call it non-negotiable self preservation. Job number one is to take care of yourself and your family--everything else is secondary.

I've been in many businesses that remind me slightly of Nazi Germany in that its members fear they will be "killed"; (or at least punished and humiliated) if they tell the truth. This usually happens because the leader's ego is so fragile that he or she is afraid something horrible will happen if a truth emerges that is not flattering.

Are you that kind of leader? Have you unwittingly built this kind of culture in your business? Even though negative feedback can smart a little, wouldn't it be preferable to people being afraid to tell you the truth? Then you'd be trying to run a successful business using incorrect data. Good luck with that!

If you work in an environment in which you don't have the control to create the culture and you can't tell the truth, you will never be able to be as successful and as happy as you could be. My experience has been that the hardest work you'll ever do is pretending to be someone you're not. I suggest you get busy either trying to change the culture (if it's a reasonable risk to take) or finding yourself another place to work. Life's too short, eh?

Techniques Technique #1: Tell the truth as often as you can and when it's in your long term best interests. 

Technique #2: Build the kind of business culture in which telling the truth is rewarded, not punished. 

Technique #3: Change or leave a situation in which you can't be yourself and tell the truth--you have better options.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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