To Tell The Truth: The Problem with "Positioning"

Framing.

Positioning.

WIFM (them).

Spin.

If you are a leader, you have sat in one of these meetings. How do we explain this to them... in a way they can hear, understand, and feel good about?

How you position a change matters. A lot.

And yet,

If you find yourself in meeting after meeting, working to wordsmith the change to better “position” what is happening, I encourage you to ask one question.

“What if we told them the truth?”

  • … overtime is too high, we must increase productivity
  • … the stock price is stagnant, we will all benefit from better financials
  • …we need to ensure everyone is contributing
  • … this new automation will be more efficient
  • ???

Grown-ups want the truth. Not spin. The truth is most people will respect you far more for telling them the truth than any elegant positioning you can concoct.

When people feel respected, they will respond.

When people feel respected they will join.

 When people feel respected they will try.

On the other hand.

Unfiltered truth shared in an uncaring way creates unproductive havoc.

What If You Start With the Truth?

And then consider…

  • What are the best and worst parts of this change?
  • Who will this impact in what ways?
  • What questions will be most relevant to whom?
  • What additional information should I have available?
  • What other questions will they ask?
  • ???

I have never regretted erring on the side of the truth even when it was scary. Even if the awkward truth creates short-term anxiety, communicated well, the credibility you establish is worth the risk.
 

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

18 Comments

  1. Transparency is paramount.

    Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Clinton, has a wonderful book called “Truth To Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself: Notes from My White House Education.”

    Tell it Early:
    The longer you wait, the more people speculate and dig for the worst. Plus, nothing in the organization gets done.

    Tell it All:
    Disclose all the facts, even the most embarrassing ones. People can’t tell when you’re sugarcoating or holding back information.

    Tell it Yourself: As the leader, be out in front and deliver the news to your team. Don’t send someone else to do the dirty work.

    You can tell a lot about a leader on how they show up when they’re going through the perfect storm vs. a sunny day.

  2. Telling the truth makes one feels confident about what they do and how they do. It’s a great sense of security and assurance feeling. You never get found out.

  3. My management mantra when it comes to a tough message has always been “anything less than real talk is a waste of everyone’s time.”

    • Yes, telling the truth is a noble goal, even if it’s a negative thing you’re talking about, because it may come out eventually anyway. But I doubt there is a boss in the world who has the nerve to tell the COMPLETE truth about some things, like which employees he’s considering letting go when he’s told he has to make cuts.

      In the examples you gave of a manager being honest with his team—for instance, “Overtime is too high; we must increase productivity”—I don’t think it’s dishonest to use a little “positioning” to soften the blow. Already stressed-out employees are now thinking, “Great; they want MORE out of me?” “Positioning” might mean saying something like, “it’s not as drastic as it sounds; all we’re talking about is doing ____, differently, and I have some ideas.” .

    • Gary, thanks so much for joining the conversation…your raise very important points. I completely agree. As leaders it’s very important to consider choosing words carefully and with empathy and respect. That kind of “positioning” is good. What I worry about is spin, where leaders come up with angles that are far from the true story. I am so glad that you added this to this complex discussion. I hope you will continue to add insights in future posts.

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  7. Great post Karin. I wholeheartedly agree. “Even if the awkward truth creates short-term anxiety, communicated well, the credibility you establish is worth the risk.”

    Trust and respect are two of the most powerful tools in a leader’s arsenal. When people understand the business challenges and the rationale behind the decisions, they are more likely to embrace them. Better yet, when leaders involve colleagues in the decision making process, they are more likely to gain buy-in during the implementation process.

    Best,

    Frank

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