I used to be a person who tended to err in the direction of believing what other people, my government, and the company that I worked for said was trustworthy. But not anymore.
Recently I've crossed over to the dark side -- the nonbelievers. And I don't think I'm alone. Now I tend to assume that I'm getting a load of B.S. from almost every direction.
As I've talked to people over the last week I've learned that a lot of people feel the same way. Therefore, I believe the lack of truth-telling is something that casts a huge shadow over today's workplace, but is seldom discussed.
What triggered my reaction about the assumption that people weren't telling the truth came during the drama that unfolded at the Miami airport last week. You remember the case where the passenger on the American Airlines flight was shot by air marshals after reaching for his bag when they'd told him not to. Even when the details were sketchy, shortly after the incident, the reports said that the air marshals acted appropriately and followed the proper rules of engagement.
As I listened, I automatically assumed that the marshals were lying. Ironically, I wasn't always this negative about what my government told me. How did my glass suddenly become half-empty all the time? And would I ever be able to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone ever again?
I started looking back at how I got so skeptical. Immediately two cases came to mind -- Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. Both were dramatic stories of heroism and bravery from Iraq and Afghanistan that ended up being just that -- stories. In both cases the reality was so far removed from the story the public was told (and in the case of Tillman, the story even his family was told) that it's hard to believe that it all was just an honest mistake.
I get e-mails every day from people in organizations who are struggling with the same kind of misinformation. And then a company like American Airlines and its disgraced former CEO are caught laying off staff and pleading poverty while at the same time ramping up the bonuses for top executives. Is it any wonder that most employees have a hard time believing what any executive says these days?
When companies lose the trust of their workers, they lose more than just a PR battle. Employees are more effective when they're working for a company they believe in. Sending mixed, or even dishonest, signals to your staff will eventually be felt in the bottom line -- productivity will suffer and employees will feel less accountability. By being straight, a company can ensure at least a little bit of loyalty, and that can have a big effect on the bottom line.
I can hear what every executive is saying as they read this: "But I'm different. I speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." That may be true at a lot of companies. But unfortunately today we're all Velcro bosses, having to accept the slings and arrows that come our way because of the embarrassing gaffes and dishonesty of other executives.
I guess you can say that I'm an optimist because I do believe that it is possible to regain our lost confidence in our institutions. But someone has got to stop insulting our intelligence and start speaking the truth to us. I've got my fingers crossed that it will happen sometime soon.