Trust Tip 12: Telling Tough Truths

(Apologies to those who get my blog by email: you got it 3 times. Cause? Human error—mine. The link is live now, and I won’t make that mistake again.)

Truth-telling is easy with little at stake. If we’re asked at a party, “How long have you been with XYZ,” we’ll answer, “almost six months.”

But if a prospective client asks us, enquiring about our credentials, “How long have you been with XYZ?” we’re tempted to say, “oh, a bit under a year.”

The more at stake, the more we manage, spin, tweak, massage and control the truth. After all, the tough situations demand that we put our best foot forward, make sure the client is fully informed about the full breadth of our capabilities. And we’d hate to lose the job for not appearing confident and aggressive about our abilities and our desires.

Yet our instincts here are dead wrong.

When there’s more at stake, the value of direct truth-telling is higher, and the risk lower, than the course of “managing” the truth.

Here’s why, and how.

Choose an issue critical to your client. Do you have the experience to help? Do you have the capabilities? The industry knowledge? The judgment? The connections? A solid methodology?

Clients want answers to these questions because they believe they affect work quality. Clients need to feel confident in their assessments of you. If you speak the truth, you help them gain that confidence in their assessment. If you are perceived to be “managing” the truth, they will have less confidence in their assessments.

They will also be annoyed at your attempt to put your interest ahead of theirs. That leads to still less trust.

Truth-managing thus decreases client satisfaction and trust. Straight truth-telling enhances both.

“Hey, hang on a minute—we’re trying to get the job!”

Managing the truth has two likely outcomes. You may get the job—then run the risk of not living up to expectations. Or, you lose it because they felt you were stretching the truth.

The first is pretty bad, but less common than we think, because we’re not as good as we think at fooling clients. But the second is bad too—it ruins our reputation and future prospects.

By contrast, if you tell the truth and get the job, then the client has chosen you for exactly what you claim to be. You start off with a sound and truthful relationship, instead of endlessly managing expectations.

If you tell truth and don’t get the job, you’ll probably get straight feedback about why you didn’t get it. Truth-stretching firms don’t get such feedback.

More importantly, you walk out with a reputation for truth-telling. This increases your likelihood of being called back when they need just what you have, and of getting positive referrals.

How do you tell the straight-up truth when all your instincts say to tweak it?

Meditate, then rehearse.

Meditate on all the reasons above why you’re better off telling the truth. Don’t just learn them, believe them.

Find your own one-liner responses to the tough questions: they can be cute, or funny, or neither. The one thing they must be is straightforwardly truthful.

The key is the meditation, not the rehearsal. Once you believe and accept that truth-telling is a best practice, the rehearsal becomes easy.

Because it takes remarkably less energy to speak the truth than to speak any other version of reality.