Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Honesty is one of my personal values. I've always seen the value in honesty, but this hasn't always been what I've practised. Like many young, ambitious people entering the workforce, I quickly learned what people did and didn't respond well to and adapted myself to fit that mould. I hid my neurodiversity, sexuality and identity, disability, you name it. I had the privilege of being able to hide amongst the majority and not stand out, and I hid in that skin for a long time. I compromised myself at the expense of myself. And that was exhausting. It's actually taken almost a decade to correct those early decisions, but I exist today in a much more transparent way. I understand myself more because I have learnt to trust myself and others more and allow myself to manifest in all environments, not just the ones where I felt it appropriate. That's the amazing thing about the relationship between honesty and trust: it takes you to places you could never have dreamed of, and it's the easiest thing you can practice to be happy, abundant and fulfilled. Honesty and trust have become a foundation of my core values, and as I advise on this through my work daily, I thought I'd share some thoughts on simple steps to address these and begin instilling them in your company culture. But what is honesty? Contrary to popular belief, honesty is not about telling the truth all the time, even though that is important. Being honest is actually about being real with yourself and trusting others with your truth; about who you are, what you want and what you need to live a life where you feel valued. It's about setting boundaries and realistic expectations of what we expect of others. Honesty is ultimately about promoting openness and belief in others and enabling us to develop consistency in our emotional state. Honesty sharpens our perception and allows us to observe everything around us with clarity. Honesty makes us more productive and focused. Honesty catalyses trust. This is why honesty is important in developing motivational company cultures. Without feeling seen and valued, productivity and motivation are never realised. When only 13% of the global workforce is cited as being engaged (Gallup'19), we must start doing more than merely telling people they can 'be their authentic selves and 'bring their whole selves to work. These tropes, when layered against cultures that don't foster honesty and trust or worse, are spoken by people who don't live and value these principles, just further haemorrhaging growth potential and empowered environments. Here are five tips I've found helpful in building honest, trusting and inclusive working cultures:
Ostracise groupthink. It is important to give everyone the freedom to be honest, even if we don't agree with each other. Making a colleague feel their existence and point of view is judged/wrong will not foster an environment where people with different views or perspectives want to express their ideas and/or concerns. Giving another person your attention and the space needed to communicate will go a long way toward opening dialogue.
Don't sit in conflict. At one of my previous companies, at the end of a team meeting, we always concluded with a 'clear the air' session. This allows team members to voice opinions and frustrations or get some things off their chest if needed. It bonds the team because we know we can express ourselves to our colleagues without fear of retribution. This is pivotal in developing trust. There is nothing worse than sitting on unresolved conflicts - the anxiety alone is exhausting - but they tend to simmer, leading to more intense conflicts in the future. Therefore, exercising courage in this area pays big dividends for everyone involved.
Innovate through honesty. It is important that you don't just give people an outlet or a forum to express their opinions but then do nothing with it. To build trust through honesty, you actually have to realise the value of different opinions. Setting processes for decision-making and ideation that don't just sit with management will empower everyone to bring their honest thoughts to the table and unlock incredible value and innovation potential. If colleagues see that their opinions and thoughts matter and leadership and team members take steps to improve or implement their ideas, as a result of their inclusion in a process, they will be motivated and more productive. And nothing is more valuable than motivated and productive employees because they are employees that perform above expectations, employees that go beyond expectations and employees that express a sincere loyalty to their company for valuing them.
Walk the walk. For honesty and trust to take hold, there must also be structures that protect those who share differing opinions and points of view. We live in a polarised environment, we can't expect everyone to get along. But we can put protections in place to ensure everyone's voice is valued and equally heard. This can be in the form of policies and processes with accountability points for managers. Or it can simply be through company values and examples of behaviour that individuals set daily. To develop trust, you must have more data points of doing the right thing than the wrong thing. It will take time, but if your commitment matches your communication, you're on your way.
Empower, empower, empower. There are so many people around us that do amazing things. We often overlook those right next to us and gravitate towards influencers and personal heroes to give our thanks and praise, but this shouldn't be the case. When people show up and show the courage, it takes to be honest and trusting in you, celebrate this. You can do it with them directly by telling them how grateful you are for trusting them enough to share their thoughts and experiences with you. Or, where appropriate, celebrate the dividends of trust. If someone contributes to process innovation, share the news with the team. If someone contributes to making your organisation more inclusive, credit them in a blog post. Just make sure you are never forgetting to recognise the value that is brought through honesty, whether from a personal or business perspective.
It's important never to take for granted the courage it takes to go against the grain in the world of work. But it is a fact that most of us live in very different skin, experiences and existence. By offering these differences space to be honest and empowering those honest voices in our lives through trust, we will never cease to see the value they deliver. The power of cognitive diversity is one of my passions points. Unlocking it is what I do. If you'd like to explore any of the points raised in this post in more detail. Feel free to drop me a message. I'd love to hear from you.
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