The 25 Year Reunion

“How’s It Going to Be” is from Third Eye Blind’s 1997 debut album. The band’s biggest success reached the top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks list. The song’s thoughtful lyrics address heartbreak and uncertainty. “How’s It Going to Be” explores personal growth and the imagining life without the other person. The use of the autoharp in the opening was a unique strategy. The song grew played out relatively quickly. I kept track of songs and music artists out of habit because I used to write movie and music reviews for The Orlando Sentinel’s Youth Section as a freelancer. My first real job was for publicly-traded media company while I was in eighth grade. I would would write out a paragraph review, call it in, and if selected it would be published. I was invited to apply for the youth section as a result of this work.

When we all hung out in the library during Ramadan in middle school and high school, one student walked in and remarked, “I never felt so white in my life.”

None of us laughed. I darted a look of death in his direction. He laughed himself again and scampered off. Then we resumed our conversation.

Incidentally, my high school reunion was scheduled on the night of Eid-ul-Fitr (yesterday). My graduating class had eight Muslim students. By scheduling the high school reunion on the night of Eid would preclude our participation. I expressed my concern, but you know.

When our families showed up at our graduation at the private Episcopalian school, we saw the palpable bewilderment. Someone joked, “They had never seen so many brown people in their life together.” That line got laughs and got repeated years later by our families. I heard it again at one of my sibling’s graduation. But that day in the library was when we first heard them express this sentiment to us.

People will completely change the way they speak to me if they ask where I went to high school. These types of places have a putrid air of entitlement. But from it, I learned to navigate social landmines and throw grenades back. I also learned how to leave an argument even when I right. Efficiency and expediency should never be sacrificed as it makes for poor business acumen.

This is how it’s going to be, Trinity Prep.

In another setting, when I was at an academic conference, another professor commented that she was amazed how much I knew about popular culture. What she meant to say was how much I knew about American culture, and in fact, even more than her. I didn’t say anything. I just let the conversation move on. I do this ignoring a lot, because I am attuned to what people say versus what they mean to say when they say something else. It gnaws at me and can wear me down.

In the Beyond Philosophy blog post, “Why Don’t People Say What They Mean?”

Hard truths have earned their name. Sometimes the truth is difficult to digest. For example, I will never be world-class, deep sea fisherman legend. I will never have my own cable show about fishing. I will never have a best-selling novel about my life on the sea chasing the marlin. It might come as a surprise to some of you, and I am sorry if you thought I would. But the truth is, it won’t.

Okay, so that’s not really a good example because I didn’t really want to be a champion fisherman. I do it for fun. However, if I did want to be a champion, it would be a hard truth. That title will always be “the one that got away” at this point in my life.

So, for demonstration’s sake, let’s pretend I was going for it, quit my global customer experience consultancy, and take the plunge into competitive deep sea sport fishing. Who would be the one to share this hard truth with me? I know some of my readers who would be happy to point it out in the comments of course. However, the only people that would tell me to my face are my family, and by my family, I mean Lorraine.

So why would that work without destroying our relationship? Because we have a relationship developed over nearly four decades that is truthful and trusting. We tell each other the truth when we need to hear it and it’s okay because we know we are in a safe place.

Employees need the same kind of relationship with management, so when the hard truth is revealed, the culture can take it. The culture is made safe by all the honest communication that occurs between an organization’s leadership and the employees.

Gaffney says an effective leader is one that can make employees feel safe to tell the truth. There are three things a leader can do to make employees feel safe:

  1. Tell the truth yourself. My mum used to say, “you get what you give,” and that applies to honesty, too. If you aren’t forthright with your employees, then how can you expect them to be with you? For example, if you are the CEO or a company that is in trouble, you should tell your employees the truth, that you are in trouble, and then offer up your plan to fix it.
  2. Watch the reaction. If you ask for honest feedback, you need to be prepared to hear it and present an appropriate reaction. If you get constructive criticism and then flip out, then the person who told you the truth will learn the lesson that you didn’t mean it (and that they aren’t safe to do so).
  3. Positively reinforce honestly. Part of your appropriate reaction is not flying off the handle at criticism. Another part, however, is providing a positive reaction in response to honesty. An example response could be, “I never knew that’s how I came across. I appreciate you sharing that insight with me.”

Honesty is often difficult. When a person doesn’t feel safe to tell the truth, they won’t do it. Fear will keep us from saying what we mean or what we are thinking, especially at work.

However, strong leadership can entice employees to trust that honesty is valued and appreciated. By being honest, receiving honesty graciously, and positively responding to and rewarding honestly, a leader can evoke this trust from their employees. Employees will then go on to create a safe place for customers to be honest during the Customer Experience.

Gaffney says that these are not easy to do but they are essential to creating an environment where employees feel that they can be honest and stay safe—and employed. When you don’t have these three actions in play, you might have a culture where people say what you want to hear instead of what you need to.

Colin Shaw, “Why Don’t People Say What They Mean?,” Beyond Philosophy.

Trinity Prep was were I first noticed people would say one thing and mean another. Being honest and deliberate exposes problems and can be a means to improve organizations. Being blindsided by our faults is problematic. But acting like there is no problem is worse.

Posted in

Nadia Ahmad

Leave a Reply