Stevan Popovic

Open, Honest and Forthright

10 Apr 2014 | Career, Personal

Honesty is a powerful principle. It helps us understand the people around us. It reveals their feelings and their motivations. It allows us to build productive, positive relationships. Indeed, honesty is one of the most sought after merits we look for in family, friends and companions. Yet there is one area of life where the virtues of honesty become less clear: work.

At work we all make mistakes. Yet sometimes we choose not to own up to them. At work we can become frustrated with a colleague, but that doesn’t always mean we bring it up with them. Work seems to be a place where people can often gloss over the truth to give the impression that everything is going swimmingly. We sometimes avoid the truth because it means admitting we were at fault, or because we don’t want to have that awkward conversation with a colleague who has unknowingly annoyed us.

There is another scenario honesty can go amiss. What happens when you are no longer happy at work? The company isn’t for you. The role isn’t for you. The location isn’t for you. You are bored. You need a new challenge. These are all valid reasons for why someone may be rethinking their position at work, yet it is very difficult to be open, honest and forthright about these feelings. For fear of upsetting your employer, your co-workers or doubting your own judgement, it can be hard to tell your employer you feel this way. But is this fear rationale?

Today, I chose to be open, honest and forthright. I asked to have a personal catch up with my manager at work, and through a sometimes trembling voice, I told her that I was having thoughts about my position. I wasn’t convinced I was in the right role, I’m not excited by our professional services client base and I wasn’t tremendously passionate about the product we were producing. I am young, and have only been at the company for six months, but six months is long enough to understand how you are feeling. In hindsight, perhaps these are all things I should have really known before I joined the company, but I rushed into it and didn’t fully understand what I wanted from the role.

The outcome of the admission surprised me. She nodded, she listened, she understood. As I explained what I wanted to do longer term, with my career and my life, she began to understand what I meant. She could see why I was having these thoughts. She even admitted that she does too. She thanked me for being honest and suggested I do the same with our CEO, who handles HR.

So I spoke to the CEO. I was nervous, it was the first time I had spoken to him at my request and I didn’t know how he would receive it. Again, his reaction surprised me. I spoke, and he listened, and he nodded along as I detailed my thoughts. When I finished, the first thing he said to me was, “Firstly, thank you for coming to me and speaking to me honestly about this.”

He is a reasonable man and we spoke for almost an hour. In short, he explained whilst he didn’t want me to leave, he could understand that sometimes we have to move on. He explained that one of the most frustrating things that he has incurred during his time as CEO is when an employee suddenly hands in their notice, when no one even knew they were thinking about leaving, which leaves the company scrambling for a replacement. Indeed, this could be reflected in any reference they might be required to give on your behalf for future roles.

The experience has revealed an interesting dynamic; whilst we may be reluctant to be honest aboutsuch thoughts at work, it is often in the best interests of both you and your employers to do so.

After the conversation I felt much better, like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. My employer knew how I felt, understood why, and even gave me some advice from their own experience. This is not to say I have left the company, but they are now aware of how I am feeling and open to the fact that I will be exploring other opportunities.

At the same time my employers can begin to think about recruiting my replacement or reorganising my team, so that should I leave, there is minimal disturbance to normal operations.

My fear of how my employers would receive this news had prevented me from admitting how I was feeling. Once I came forward, the reality was very different. They understood and they even empathised. I felt better and my employer feels prepared. Most of all, the outcome where I to not be honest (leave out of the blue as my employer scrambled for a replacement), was avoided.

At this point I should say that maybe I was fortunate. Perhaps things could have gone differently. They could have got angry, shouted at me, and maybe even fired me. This is very well possible, but if your employer is sincere, reasonable and human, I believe that in most cases, if you are honest with yourself and honest with them, they will understand.

Perhaps I was naïve; people may be reading this and thinking, “duh, of course,” or “shouldn’t you have known all of those things before you accepted the role?” Yes, perhaps I should. The fact is, I did not, and it took me six months to realise this.

Yet this experience has taught me a valuable lesson, a lesson that pertains to honesty at work, and in life. Honesty can be hard. It can be awkward. It can be scary. However, it can also be a catalyst to change, for the better. It can make those around you aware of your situation, so should they be inclined to reach out a hand, they can. It can lift your energy and sprit, as an invisible, unknown guilt is lifted too.

Ultimately, it is rewarding. I am not sure of the outcome of this experience; I do not know if I’m going to quit next week, if I’m going to change role, or if I’ll continue to work there for years to come. I am convinced however, that the outcome forthcoming, as a result of being honest, will be better than the outcome should I have remain closed. Just as we endeavour to be truthful in our personal lives, so should we do the same at work; be open, be honest, be forthright.