The old idiom “the truth hurts” can be a useful approach for managers trying to get to the bottom of an issue. In this Tough Things First Podcast, Ray Zinn offers his definition and explores this technique for problem solving.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, your guest host for this edition of Tough Things First. Hi, Ray. It’s good to be back with you.
Ray Zinn: Oh, it’s always good to be with you too, Rob. Thanks.
Rob Artigo: We’ve all heard the saying, “The truth hurts.” When you hear those words, Ray, what do you think?
Ray Zinn: That’s an interesting comment, “The truth hurts,” because depending upon how we react to the truth, it tells a lot about who we are. If we react to the truth in a positive way, it means that we accept it. It may bother us, we may have guilt over it, but if we act humbly and contrite, then who’s delivering the truth to us, as you would, then it says, “Well, you know, he gets it or she gets it.” So, they feel good. They feel like they’ve made progress and that you’re going to then correct whatever issue that you have to change.
However, on the other hand, if you react negatively, meaning you then defend venomously or you act harshly, very defensive, and blow up, and yell, and scream, or walk out, or hang up, that indicates then you are guilty and … But you have no desire to change. Like they said, “Well, I’ve obviously hit a nerve,” they’ve used that term, meaning that … The way you can tell if you’ve hit a nerve or if the truth is really not being taken well by the other party is they will react extremely negative. Denial, excuses, blame, pointing fingers, and that’s an indication to you right there that they’re not going to change or unlikely going to change, and that you’ve got to take other steps to resolve the issue.
Rob Artigo: Do we have to think about how we present that truth? I think that when we use the words, “The truth hurts,” sometimes it immediately conjures up, well, yeah, you’re being mean about it when you’re giving somebody the truth. But you’re not talking about that. You’re just talking about plainly explaining to somebody the truth of the situation and you’re evaluating their reaction.
Ray Zinn: Or you’re getting to the truth. Maybe you suspect, you don’t you know for sure, but you have your suspicions. Rather than being accusatory, rather than you then shoving your finger in their face or you writing some kind of an inflammatory email or message, text message, you want to do it kindly. In other words, if you’re going to bring out a problem, always, always do it kindly. Never think of it doing it in an accusatory, finger-pointing, your voice raised way. Just do it calmly and nicely because then you can tell more accurately if the person is receiving the truth or if he is the problem by the way they react. However, if you yell and scream at them and they yell and scream back, it’s hard to discern whether or not they’re reacting to your yelling and screaming or whether they’re reacting to the truth. Or as they say, “The truth hurts.”
If you’re going to deliver a message to someone or if you want them to change or you believe that there may be an issue, do it in a very timely, calm way. Do not do it in a finger-pointing, accusatory, demeaning way because the reaction that you’re going to get from them will be somewhat responsive to the way you’re delivering the message. That’s my advice is to do it at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place, with the appropriate demeanor. Then, of course, afterwards, show forth a little bit of love and compassion for them, especially if they’re contrite. You can tell if they’re contrite because they will hang their head or they’ll get that look on their face like, “Oh my gosh”.
The way they react then will help you understand how you want to deal with it. Obviously, if they’re very contrite, very humble about it, willing to change, you’d want to put your arm around them. You’d want to make them feel comfortable and encourage them, as opposed to, “I thought you did it [inaudible 00:05:54],” rather than being … Having a nasty reaction to them being contrite, be more positive. Be even more reinforcing because then it’ll encourage them to want to do that next time, to fess up, as they say.
However, if you’re doing calmly, politely bringing up the issue to them, and they react in a very angry and infamous way, then you’re dealing with a problem that’s going to take a little bit of workaround to get it resolved. Often times when they do blow up and denial and all that, you may have to take some other kind of reinforcing action, which is less pleasant for them to get it resolved.
Rob Artigo: That’s why it’s so complicated to be a manager because you have to … You can’t just say, “This is what I’m going to do if A happen, and this is what I’m going to do if B happens,” because sometimes it’s a combination of A and B on both sides.
Ray Zinn: Yep.
Rob Artigo: Sometimes you have to … Somebody who made an error and quickly admits to it when they’ve been confronted with the truth can also require some additional, I don’t know, training, a little bit of help going forward. Same thing with the person who flies off the handle, as you use those words. You got to be ready as a manager to be able to make those decisions and do it in a way that’s, well, going to have the best outcome. It’s not going to be just A, and it’s not going to be just B. Sometimes it’s going to be both A and B.
Ray Zinn: Yep. Maybe it’s another podcast, but we talk about culpability.
Rob Artigo: Right.
Ray Zinn: Culpability varies from 0 to 100%. In many cases, there’s maybe only 10% culpability on the part of the person you’re speaking, but that’s something that they have to deal with, even if it’s 10%. Of course, if it’s 80%, then definitely they’re going to have to do it. But what people have a hard time dealing with is when they’re not at least north of 50% culpable, they don’t want to have to deal with it. Yet, I’ve given instructions where I can see subsequently after I talk to the individual that I wasn’t very clear, so I had some level of culpability in the way I delivered the instructions, and I accepted that. I said, “Well, it looks like I wasn’t very clear on what I wanted and so I take partial responsibility for the mishap or the problem.” Then you move forward.
The first thing that I suggest anyone does is when they have a problem is look at themselves first. What could I have contributed to this mess, to this dire situation? Because if you do that, then you have already gone further in understanding, putting yourself in their shoes, as to what you might have done or could have done to have mitigated that problem in the first place.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, and you’re going to be a greater asset to your employer when that employer sees you behaving that way.
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Rob Artigo: As always, you can reach out to Ray Zinn with your questions at ToughThingsFirst.com, continue your education right here and the conversation with all the podcasts, blogs, and links to information about the book, Tough Things First. Thank you, Ray.
Ray Zinn: You are so welcome, Rob.