What is the single most important lesson you've learned recently or even re-learned? For me, it was the re-learning of a principle a leader taught me many years ago when I started out in my career. He shared with me a very simple yet profound saying; "half truths are whole lies".
At first, like many other quips and one-liners you pick up along the way, this one was easy to remember and rolled off the tongue quite easily. I would say without hesitation that over the years this principle has come up more often than any other. Telling half truths is, unfortunately, something we all seem to be very good at.
Sometimes it involves name dropping - we know that CIO or that CEO or that other important person when in fact we met them once or worse, sent them an email and got a brief response but no further commitment.
Sometimes it involves our work - how many of you really believe everything people put on their CV? How often do others take credit for other people's work or associate themselves with work or IP just because they may have handled it or used it in some way?
Sometimes it involves our ability or capability to do something - we share information about our company or our work in order to sweeten the deal or give the perception of being more than we are.
Often it involves us - half truths are seemingly convenient in our daily routine and for some, it is a way of navigating life in general.
Yes, I believe there are many who don't make half truths a practice so in no way am I looking to send the wrong message; only saying that if we inspect ourselves we're likely to find that we have used half truths in some fashion.
The real problem with half-truths or even outright lies is that they perpetuate faster than the truth and people end up believing them to be absolute especially in our business life when we practice some of the things I mentioned above.
As Churchill said "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on"
So what happened that made me re-learn this valuable principle?
A business colleague of mine was in a bit of a bind recently. He had been collaborating with another colleague on a potential opportunity with a company. As the situation progressed it became apparent that the company really wanted to focus on my colleague's proposition and table the offer from the other person.
This forced an awkward situation where the company was only wanting to communicate with my colleague for now and not include the other party.
When the other party asked my colleague if conversations had continued, his knee-jerk reaction was to say no and mask it in a half truth where just enough information was shared to pacify the other party but not enough to reveal that discussions had indeed progressed.
To my colleague's credit, he could have left this alone although it placed an immediate strain on the relationship but instead he decided that the truth was the only way to salvage this relationship and in fact strengthen it. He contacted the other person, explained what had really happened and apologized for not having just told him the truth from the beginning. The person's response was one of complete support and acceptance. You can imagine the burden that was lifted off of my colleague.
It's interesting how hard telling the truth can actually be? We feel that the truth may place us in a bad light or that others may look at us differently but how hard it is to live while accumulating half truths.
My colleague's actions reminded me of how invaluable being honest and truthful really is. There is no substitute for telling the truth and the way he handled the situation inspired me.
"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything" - Mark Twain