I have written before about the false conflict between positioning and being true to yourself. Today, though, I would like to look at another false conflict: Is it hypocritical to not give my unvarnished opinion? A lot of people complain about political correctness. A lot of other people defend it as simply being polite. But the truth is you have to find a middle ground between policing your every thought and being totally unfiltered. People who tell their boss or customers they are idiots don’t go very far, especially when it’s true!
In some cultures, being direct and telling it like it is can be prized as strong and assertive. This used to be the case in corporate America… if you were the boss. Let’s be honest, it was never great for one’s career to be blunt with people above you on the org chart unless you knew in advance that they would be in at least partial agreement. In other cultures, on the other hand, deference and avoidance of conflict is very important. In the United States, what tends to be most prized is sort of telling it like it is.
More in sorrow than in anger… Truth tellers in the typical American corporation do not delight in delivering news that has a hard edge. They feel bad about it. They say what has to be said and let the chips fall where they may, but only after they’ve made a mental calculation about which chips and where. That done, they couch what they’re saying in terms that will be understanding, inclusive and with a positive framing – challenges, not problems.
The thing is, if delivering bad news isn’t fun, it is still necessary. If you see a problem and don’t say anything, you will be blamed if something blows up and your colleagues are taken by surprise. So just as those who pride themselves on being direct have to dial it back to the “More in sorrow than in anger…” framing, those who don’t like to give bad news have to work their way up to using this framing.
You’ll notice that so far, I have not talked about expressing yourself authentically. Here’s the thing, the mantra I keep coming back to: Successful communication does not say what you want to say; it gets people to hear what you need them to hear. Being true to yourself means making sure what you stand for is heard. Because if you just say what you think, or say nothing at all, there is a communication block where you will be either misunderstood or not heard at all.
Being heard the way you want to be heard starts with basic civility. The person who greets people kindly, asks how they’re doing, says please and thank you, is a person that other people are open to. So even if it feels phony to you, be polite, be open, be generous in your assessments of others, at least in your speaking. It will allow you to be heard when you have something important to say. And that is the true essence of being true to yourself.