Endless amounts of workplace dissatisfaction and failure boil down to this:
We can’t handle the truth. None of us.
Not only can’t we handle hearing the truth—if that truth is different from ours—but we can’t handle speaking the truth. I mean, how many people do you know that you feel comfortable sharing whatever you’re thinking—especially what you’re thinking about them or their behavior? If you’ve got one or two people like that in your life, you’re lucky. And I bet they’re not your boss.
Why is this? In a perfect world, everyone would say what they feel, matter-of-factly, regardless of the differences, and the differences would get resolved productively. In a perfect world, we’d actively seek out the other’s truth so we can learn something we didn’t already know. In a perfect world, we’d recognize the obvious: that all of us are smarter than any of us. But, no, not us humans. When my truth differs from your truth, you and I are both likely to feel threatened, and thus defensive. What are we, neighboring cats? Junior-high-school girls?
We have to freaking well get over it. We have to understand how crucial it is to tell our truth—at least the part the other person needs to know—and to hear each other’s truth. It’s easier to stay busy gettin’ ‘er done than to realize how important listening to each other is…for the sake of gettin’ ‘er done. See, all that “gettin’ ‘er done”—it all requires healthy relationships. And as Susan Scott wrote in her groundbreaking book Fierce Conversations, “Relationships succeed or fail, one conversation at a time.” It takes time to have the conversations that build relationships; it takes time to have the conversations that reconcile our different truths to find common ground. And it’s the hallmark of a healthy workplace.
Fact is, no one has all the answers anymore. Life, and work, are too damned complex. If you and I can get beyond the hissing and the arched backs to really listen to each other, maybe we can find the right answers—the answers that lead to creativity, productivity, efficiency, success—together.