Telling the truth at Work

If you think you need it’s dangerous to speak the truth at work, let Bunster show you how simple it can be.

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“You teach people how to treat you.”
– Oprah Winfrey

Bunster used to come to work with me, tearing up a cardboard box full of newspaper under the desk while I worked.  Most days we co-existed peacefully:  Bunster would nudge my ankle when I was in her way, I would move.  Except for when I was too absorbed to notice her first gentle nudge.  Too absorbed to notice the second double-nudge.  Too lost in my work to feel the head-butt that moved my ankles an inch or two.  But the sharp nip that followed?  That always got my attention.

I remember the day I felt her press her teeth on my ankle, just before the nip.  I froze.  I had to let her know biting wasn’t acceptable, but without frightening her, and I was a split second away from getting painfully nipped.  It was a conundrum:  My ankles were in her way, and biting me was not OK.  One did not cancel out the other.

I did the only thing I could think of, I yelled OUCH!  She released my ankle.  I moved it out of her way.  She hopped by.  I continued working.  And that was that:  She never laid her teeth on me again – even when my ankles were in her way.   I got much better at moving my feet out of her way at the first double-nudge. By saying what was so for me – that her nips hurt me – I taught her how to treat me.  We collaborated, which is a key consulting skill.

I think we forget it’s this simple or this mutual.  Instead, we complicate it with “But she’s my boss, ” or “The customer is always right,” or “I can’t say no – the work has to get done,” or “He’s a (programmer, exec, admin, marketing guy, etc.), and you know how they are.”

Instead, here are 5 ways to start speaking the simple truth:

  1. Admit you are affected. Admit it matters – both that you are treated well and that the relationship is important to you. This is the same as admitting you are human.  This is no more or less than the truth.   This is the most powerful way to level the playing field with anyone.
  2. Speak up immediately – before you have time to build a case about why you shouldn’t say anything and how powerless you are. It doesn’t even have to be well-phrased. “Ouch” works human-to-human, as well as human-to-bunny.
  3. Assume the other person cares about the information you are about to share. This is at least as true as thinking they aren’t interested, and it’s much more pleasant.
  4. Keep the blame and judgment out of it.  Just say what’s so.  This can be what’s so for you, what’s so about the situation or project, what’s so about your fears or your hopes, what’s so about your client’s or team member’s behavior the gut feeling you have.  Something that is obvious to you.
  5. Don’t make a case.  Just say it and move on.  You are offering more information about how you see things and inviting your business partner to join you in a more real conversation.  Keep the focus on creating more options rather than getting your way.  You’re creating the field the poet Rumi describes here:

“Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there’s a field.

I’ll meet you there.”

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