Digging for the Truth
These questions are part of the social niceties that we share every day, and we lie because it’s faster and easier. In fact, it’s almost expected. Think about it. Didn’t you get a little uncomfortable the last time someone told you in detail how he really was after you asked?
But sometimes our lies bury important facts. Have you ever lied at work when asked:
- Do you understand? (“Absolutely.”)
- Do you need any help? (“It’s under control.”)
- Can I get your honest feedback? (Gulp.)
People don’t tell the truth for many reasons: they want to be nice, they tell you what they think you want to hear, they are in denial about the problems.
That’s why sometimes you need to pry out the truth with a pickaxe and a crowbar.
If at first you don’t succeed…
OK, let’s not call them lies, instead we’ll call them “buried truths.” What are the dangers of buried truths? Here are just a few:
- Projects fail and goals are not met because we didn’t talk about the problems and issues that could have been fixed.
- Customers leave because we’re not listening and they don’t think we care.
- Employees quit or are fired because they don’t know how to succeed.
- Opportunities are lost—both the opportunity to solve problems and the opportunity to build new relationships.
The benefits of digging for the truth become fairly obvious:
- Projects succeed and goals are reached.
- Customers become loyal and your best sources for referrals and new business.
- Employees engage and are willing to share their problems, take risks and ask questions of their own.
- Opportunities abound and connections are made that otherwise might have been missed.
Pry, pry again
So, it may be uncomfortable. You may get a little dirty. But the payoff is worth the hard work. Following are five ways to dig for the truth:
- Know what you’re digging for: When you start asking questions, people will have one of their own: Why? Be able and willing to explain what you are trying to learn and understand so your questions don’t come off like an interrogation.
- Dig deeper: Probe for the information mother lode by asking open-ended questions, questions that require more than a one-word response. Be like a reporter and use the “five Ws” when asking questions: who, what, where, when and why.
- Get a new shovel: Ask “what if” questions that explore new scenarios, both positive and negative. For example, you could ask, “What are the first three things we would need to do today if we lost our biggest customer?”
- Find new places to dig: You can find the truth in the most unlikely places. Elevators, break rooms and the parking lot are remarkable places to hear what’s really going on.
- Dig yourself out first: Uncovering the truth requires trust, so you may have to go first and expose some of your own thoughts, concerns and ideas before asking others to do so.
Start small and start practicing today. The next time someone asks you “how are you?” reply with “I’m fine … and here’s why.” And the next time you’re getting an update on a project and your coworker says the project is “going fine,” take it one step further and ask “how do you mean?”
You may be amazed at what you uncover.
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Bob Metzger works for Accident Fund Insurance Company of America.