Thursday, June 19, 2008

Always Be Sincere...Whether You Mean It or Not

As a secondary school teacher in the 1970's, I taught math and businesses courses to more that 160 students each year. Taking into account that I coached cross country, wrestling and track, attended numerous extra curricular activities and parent teacher conferences, and just plain interacted with other teachers, counselors and administrators, I had to deal with a wide range of people with different backgrounds, personalities, and communications skills. Since joining the business world in 1981, some things remain the same. From employees and customers to professionals, vendors and competitors – I have met, talked, worked and socialized with literally thousands of people in the business community. It occurred to me recently, that with the pressures and challenges of growing a company, it is the interaction with people that can be the most difficult. Human beings are a flawed species and at times, I certainly top the list! Hence, when I read the motto Always Be Sincere Whether You Mean It or Not – as ironic as it sounds – it made perfect sense to me.

Over the years I have met people who simply speak what is on their mind and the message is far from accommodating. You hear things like, "It's my way or the highway," "That's just the way I am and if you don't like it…, " " I know I am right and I just don’t give a …, " These are the people who claim to be authentic, but in reality, they come across as insensitive... or just plain rude. To be honest, I have said things that I deeply regret. As the words were coming out of my mouth I wish I could have pulled them back . Last year I upset a client by being a little too honest – or perhaps more accurately the word should be "blunt." In more than 23 years as the owner of Foundation Software I have unnecessarily caused some employees to lose sleep over something I said. Heck, I’ve lost plenty of sleep over things I've said. From upsetting a vendor to an employee to a customer, we probably all say things we regret.

We may have been sincere when doing so, but what did we gain? Human nature dictates that we practice diplomacy, give people the benefit of the doubt, practice common human courtesy and empathize with another person's position.

On the other hand, there are plenty of times when the cold, brutal truth is necessary in business. One of the most brutal is when you terminate an employee. Or fire a vendor who also happens to be a friend. The more subtle occasions are when you need to reprimand a subordinate or deliver some bad news to the CEO.

In the movie "Liar Liar," Jim Carrey couldn't help but blurt out the truth - with disastrous results. There are times when simply keeping your mouth shut is the best form of sincerity.
There was a famous football coach who was criticized for treating some players different than others. His response? "Well, they are different." Obviously in business you cannot show bias or prejudice, but the bottom line is: everyone is different and the delivery of your message may need to change with the person and the circumstance. At my company, for example, I know that there are some employees with whom I can just flat out say what is on my mind, while with others I must choose my words more carefully.

The most successful business people are the most honest, the most sincere. The greatest business people walk the perfect tight rope – they are always sincere, whether they mean it or not!


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