Hard truths: The stuff we don’t want to hear and should

From the Archives

Originally published October 3, 2011

In a meeting with some aspiring entrepreneurs, I took an introspective page out of Fierce, Inc. CEO Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, when I asked the three partners how I could better serve them as their small business consultant. My ego awaited responses like, “What? You’re awesome!” or “Bah! You’ve been great so far!” Imagine its deflation when they told me flat out to curb my sarcasm. This from people who have known me personally and professionally for eight years already. We dine together. We party together. We mourn together. They know me better than almost anyone else. They know when I’m serious and when I’m just kidding around. And most importantly… they had a point! My sarcasm had no place in our business dealings.

That was my hard truth for that day. Hard truths, by the way, are those really harsh bursts of reality that we would all desperately love to avoid, and SHOULD all deeply heed. These are the truths that we often avoid or even ignore when we should humbly search ourselves for meaning and admit where we can improve or make better choices. Human nature played a terrible trick on us by making us naturally afraid of error, and now we have to work feverishly to overcome that fear and to be completely honest first with ourselves. We have to start telling ourselves these hard truths if we are to avoid the embarrassment and other costs associated with having someone else tell them.

Hard truths – and helping people recognize them for themselves – are only a small part of what I do as a professional consultant. In other words, my role in others’ self-discovery is that of a guide; I can light the way and offer insights and information, and the rest is up to the individual to find within. Truth be told, I think a lot of my clients avoid my phone calls, e-mails, and text messages for fear of what they know they must hear. I say answer the call! Hard truths lead to personal and professional growth.

Clients often tell me about problems with bosses, subordinates, coworkers, family members, friends, coaches… Most times they just want their feelings and opinions to be validated by someone professing to be an expert of some kind. (Let’s hope they don’t find me out!) When I put the question to them – what is YOUR role in this problem? – they assume I mean that every problem or situation they encounter must be their fault to begin with.

That’s not at all what it means. It simply means that there is a lot of truth in the saying about being part of the problem if you’re not part of the solution. Together we figure out that the question is just a means to understand what clients do or fail to do to RESOLVE the issues they’re facing. For many, that’s still a hard truth.

I had a minor fallout with the clients I mentioned in my introduction. It was a communication gap. It wasn’t the Grand Canyon of miscommunications, and still it left us at odds over some details of a recent dealing we had. So we scheduled a meeting to discuss what had happened – or hadn’t happened – and to move on. That’s when we started talking about what we were or weren’t doing to move their business planning along. And yes, that’s when they pinned the sarcasm tail on the donkey.

Hard truth: Sarcasm has no place in my business dealings with these clients. That turned out not to be the root cause of our fallout, and it could be easy to dismiss as a result. Still, there are certain implications associated with being sarcastic all the time, even with people you know outside of your professional relationship.

What did I learn from hearing this hard truth? I learned that I can still be sarcastic with them and with others, within reason, and that I could curb that attribute when conducting business with them. They felt that my sarcasm got in the way of their progress, and to help them progress with their business ideas and plans, I should remove anything they perceived to be an obstacle.

In fact, I have extended this practice to clients who express NO PROBLEM with an occasional jest or snippy comeback. Each client responds to their taste; some don’t like too serious an approach because they like the humor, and others appreciate the ability to switch gears to a more serious and business-like approach to their issues and concerns. This was the best truth I could have been handed!

Were there any hard truths for them to consider? Absolutely! There was evidence of lack of motivation, lack of communication, inability to cope, and other things they agreed warranted improvement. Whether they move beyond these truths and make adjustments necessary to become the stellar business entrepreneurs they envision themselves to be remains to be seen. (We haven’t met since, and I have yet to hear from them concerning some background work they were to do in time for our next meeting. Most recently, they do not answer their phones when I call, return calls when I leave voice mail messages, reply to text messages, or answer my e-mails.) In the meantime, the lesson remains the same: Answer the call! Hard truths pave the way for personal growth and professional development!

What are some hard truths you have to face or have already faced? How has hearing and applying these truths helped you grow? We’d love to hear from you in comments or by e-mail (martin@camcobra.com). Let me know YOUR hard truth experience