Let’s Stop Paying Lip-Service to ‘Honesty Is the Best Policy’

Don Tennant

Here’s an unpleasant fact: You’ve already almost certainly told a lie today, and you’ll almost certainly tell a few more before the day is over. But don’t feel too bad—the same is true of just about every other IT professional out there, and just about everybody else, for that matter.

Maybe it was in an ERP project management meeting, when you failed to speak up and say something that needed to be said. Maybe it was a little fib about your availability because you wanted to avoid listening to yet another endless rant by a certain programmer. The reality is, we all lie, and we lie a lot. We don’t realize it, because not all of those lies are bald-faced, flat-out lies of commission. There are those ostensibly harmless white lies; there are lies of omission; and there are lies of influence—things we say to influence someone’s perception rather than to get to the truth of a matter. But they all have something in common: the potential to cause harm.

We’ve all heard the cliché, “Honesty is the best policy,” and most of us would agree with that sentiment. But how many of us can honestly say we really live our lives that way? Joseph Callaway, co-author of the book, “Clients First: The Two Word Miracle,” has come up with an insightful list of seven reasons why we, our organizations, and the people we work with benefit when we do more than just pay lip service to those words:

It’s why you exist. As an IT professional, your raison d’être comes down to helping other people. When you think about your job description in those terms, you’ll have to admit that while it may not always be comfortable, telling the truth is what’s in everyone’s best interest. You can’t truly help someone if you aren’t being honest. Sure, you can usually rationalize a blurred line or a white lie. But on whose behalf are you fudging the truth? Even if it’s for the client, broken rules and skipped steps—if and when they come to light—won’t be doing him any favors. And if you’re trying to skirt the truth to make your own life easier, beware: You’re on a very slippery slope.

Truth breeds trust. It’s simple: When those you serve know they can expect the whole truth and nothing but the truth from you, they’ll trust you. And especially in the wake of so many business scandals, trust isn’t something you’ll automatically get. You’ll have to earn it. Trust is one of the relatively few remaining things that no amount of money can buy. It’s also something that’s invaluable once you have it. While I’m no business historian, I would venture to say that dishonesty, cover-ups, and stretching the truth played a large role in the collapses of most now-defunct companies. What would the current business climate look like today if all of those organizations had prized earning long-term trust over earning short-term profits?”

It helps you show—and earn—respect. No doubt you’ve been lied to at some point in your life. When you found out that the wool had been pulled over your eyes, how did you feel? Of course you were angry and hurt, but chances are, you also felt belittled. That’s because it’s offensive and demeaning when someone doesn’t think you can “handle the truth.” On the flip side, though, when you hear the truth—even if it’s not what you expected—you feel empowered and respected. Respect isn’t just about being polite and using your manners. To a much larger extent, it’s about letting people make their own decisions. Sure, you can offer your expertise and opinions—just don’t withhold or twist the truth in an attempt to manipulate or manage. Also, people respect you more when you tell a difficult truth. They may not like what you have to say, but they will think more of you for having the guts to say it.

The truth will set you free. Remember when you were a kid and your mother told you that if you told her the truth about how the lamp really got broken, you’d feel better? She was right. Making a commitment to always tell the truth will take a weight off your shoulders that you might not have known was even there. Not only do lies have their own psychic weight, they complicate your life. Truth-telling simplifies it. When you have only the truth, you wave goodbye to moral dilemmas and sleepless nights. You don’t have to worry about getting the story straight or remembering what you have and haven’t shared. You know you’re doing the right thing.

Honesty is a catalyst for personal evolution. As you walk the path of putting others first, you’ll evolve as a person, not just as a professional. That’s because being honest isn’t always easy. In fact, in some situations, it might be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. But just as sore muscles after weightlifting means that your body is getting healthier and stronger, feeling uncomfortable but telling the truth anyway means that your motivations and intentions are moving toward a higher plane. It’s hard to define what a “good” person is, but rest assured that making honesty a constant part of your business will help you to move in that direction.

Telling the truth is the best insurance. No matter what IT position you’re in, things are occasionally going to go wrong. Despite your best efforts, people will sometimes be disappointed and angry, and some will seek retribution. While you can’t prevent this eventuality, you can protect yourself by consistently being honest. Once I heard a [colleague] say, “If you haven’t been sued, you aren’t doing enough business. I thought about that, and on the one hand was saddened by this person’s hardened attitude, and on the other hand, I was struck by the notion that litigation is a fact of life. It occurred to me that when you’re honest, your chances of being sued plummet. Even if things go wrong, your clients will know you have done your best and will be less likely to blame you for the failure.


Honesty is a powerful magnet. When you cultivate a reputation for honesty, you’ll be surprised by how quickly and how far the word spreads. People want to work with organizations that won’t play them false, and when they believe they’ve found a good thing, they’ll tell others. And, of course, they themselves will stay loyal. When you show yourself to be honest and trustworthy, the people with whom you do business will recommend you and advocate for you and want you to succeed.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 7, 2013 2:58 AM Dolores Dolores  says:
Meanwhile, in another part of the world: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/ites/infosys-wipro-turn-to-ernst-young-in-order-to-avert-lawsuits/articleshow/18374037.cms Reply
Jun 27, 2014 1:18 AM Joana_JW Joana_JW  says:
Maybe it is to do with the magnitude of lie :D I mean yes we do lie a lot but they are harmless. Truth no more is objective or universal; 'my' truth differs from 'yours'. But yes in an IT scenario, honesty indeed is the best policy for success, Well thanks for sharing this, Glad reading. Reply

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