Honesty in the Workplace Starts with the Small Stuff

 by Debra J. Schmidt

More than thirty-nine percent of employees report that their bosses have asked them to do something that is dishonest or unethical, according to an opinion poll conducted by Loyalty Leader Inc.

Kevin started out in a middle management position at his company. Although this salary was modest, he worked hard and diligently supported his boss on a variety of projects as the business grew. He was promoted to a senior management position and the CEO took notice of Kevin’s dedication and excellent work. He decided to promote Kevin to assistant vice president and the two began working together very closely.

One day the phone rang in the conference room where they were meeting. Kevin answered and said, “Just a moment.” He covered the mouthpiece, then turned to the CEO and said, “It’s Kurt in accounting. He needs some information regarding the upcoming merger.

The CEO shook his head and whispered, “Tell him I’m not here.”

Kevin handed the phone to the CEO and said, “You tell him.”

When the CEO had completed the call he said angrily, “Why didn’t you tell him I wasn’t here?”

Kevin replied, “If I can lie to Kurt, I can lie to you. And if you can’t trust me, I’m no good for you or this company.”

How many times have you been faced with decisions where you could just “bend” the truth a little? You may be frustrated with the behavior of a co-worker, but rather than telling her directly, you talk about the problem with others. Your boss asks you to tell callers that he’s in a meeting when he’s actually in his office completing a report. Your favorite customer asks you to make an exception for her even when you know it’s against company policy.

There are many reasons you can list to justify your decisions.

  • I don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings by telling the truth.
  • I don’t want that person to become angry with me.
  • I don’t want to make waves.
  • I do what my boss tells me to do because I’m afraid I might lose my job or miss the chance to get promoted.
  • I want to help my customer and it won’t hurt the company if I bend this rule without permission to do so.

Employees and customers are craving honesty. When my husband, Larry, called his doctor to schedule a medical test, he requested a late afternoon appointment. He was told that only mornings were available.

When Larry questioned the receptionist about the reason, he was delighted by her refreshingly honest response, “Well, to be frank with you, our doctors enjoy golfing and want to play as much as they can while the weather is still nice. We’re not allowed to book afternoon appointments!”

Here are some tips to help you to focus on honesty, even in tough situations

  • Take a few deep breaths before speaking. This will help you to become emotionally neutral about the person or situation.
  • State the issue as specifically as possible. Keep your tone even and pleasant.
  • Choose not to blame another person. Just stick to the simple facts and repeat them if necessary.
  • Avoid “over-explaining” the reasons for your decision. When you choose to be honest, you do not need to justify your decision to anyone.

Sometimes we react defensively to a situation and tell a little white lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.

For example, my son’s friend was invited by his soccer coach to be a substitute player on the team in an upcoming tournament. Both kids were excited about the opportunity to play together on the same team.

A few days before the tournament I received an email from the coach stating that the friend may not be able to play after all. His birthday missed the cut-off date for eligibility by seven days. She wondered if she should just list a different birthdate on the registration form so he could still play. I’ll admit, I hesitated for a minute and thought, “What’s the harm? It’s only a few days difference, and then the boys won’t be disappointed.”

But I caught myself and replied with a message telling her that I wasn’t comfortable listing a false birth date on the registration form. The coach agreed. Ironically, the league let the friend play anyway so everything turned out the way we had hoped. Choosing to take the honest route not only made me feel good, it also cemented a relationship of mutual respect between the coach and me.

Honesty is something that needs to be practiced. And the best way to learn is by choosing the truth, even in small, seemingly trivial situations. That way, when you are faced with challenging ethical decisions in the workplace, you will be a seasoned pro.


Debra J. Schmidt is known as the Loyalty Leader®. As a trainer and professional speaker, Debra helps companies boost profits by leading the way to greater customer loyalty. For more information visit her website: LoyaltyLeader.com.

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