Let's be honest. we all lie — not just the occasional whopper, but misrepresentations large and small, all day every day. Indeed in a recent survey of 40,000 Americans, 93% admitted to lying "regularly and habitually in the workplace."
Brad Blanton, psychotherapist, consultant, and author of "Radical Honesty: How to Transform your Life by Telling the Truth" (Dell, 1996), believes it's time for businesspeople to stop lying about lying. "We lie all the time, and it wears us out," he says. "We manage our companies through a series of delusional clichés: 'The customer is always right'; 'I'm not angry'; 'We're proceeding according to plan.' But we all know better than that. Lying takes a huge toll in terms of stress, anxiety, and depression."
The business world is embracing this honest assessment. Blanton, 56, who has spent 25 years practicing a unique blend of New Age psychotherapy and kick-in-the-pants motivation, self-published his book six years ago. It became an underground sensation. In 1996 Dell reissued the book and offered him a big advance for a sequel. Radical Honesty has hit business bestseller lists; it's been translated into German, Italian, and Chinese.
But "radical honesty" is more than a book — it's a movement. Blanton's seminars sell out as quickly as his expanding network of trainers can schedule them. His ideas have migrated into companies as diverse as James River Corp., Shell Oil Co., and Coca Cola Co. He has even created the Radical Honesty Network (www.radicalhonesty.com) to spread his message.
"Most people don't speak the truth for fear of the consequences," Blanton says. "But in my experience, the 'dangerous' consequences are better relationships and more satisfying work experiences."
Mary Cusack, 37, was an early convert to the subversive proposition that honesty is the best policy. Soon after she was picked to start up a $50 million packaging plant for Procter & Gamble's Light Duty Liquids (Dawn, Joy, Ivory brands), she saw that the situation was fraught with distrust and dishonesty. So Cusack (firstname.lastname@example.org) , working with HR manager Don White, initiated a truth-telling process inspired by Blanton and fellow honesty pioneer Will Schutz, author of "The Human Element" (Jossey-Bass, 1994).
"We got people to look each other in the eye, share their appreciation, state their resentments, get over them, and move on," she says. Cusack herself shared "all the information and opinions that I based my decisions on. I became vulnerable in front of my people. As a woman in a manufacturing plant, I wasn't supposed to show emotions. But it worked to my advantage."
The result? Faster decisions and greater productivity. The industry standard for building a plant is 18 to 24 months, Cusack says. Her operation did the job in 6 months and developed new bottle designs at the same time. "We saved 12 to 18 months," she says. "That's $10 million." Cusack and White eventually left P&G to join the growing numbers evangelizing on behalf of radical honesty.
Of course, swearing to tell the truth doesn't mean you'll actually do it. How do you stop lying at work? Blanton offers three pieces of advice.
Tell the truth compulsively.
Tell the truth about everything: what you've done or plan to do, how you feel. Hate your job? Tell your boss. Mad at a colleague? Tell her. The way to take the sting out of honesty, Blanton says, is to be descriptive and precise.
Paul LaFontaine, 33, was a facilities project manager at Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) when he attended a nine-day radical honesty workshop in 1996. After the seminar he adopted a just-the-facts communication style. "I would tell vendors precisely what my budget was and exactly what I was willing to spend," he says. "I would stop meetings in the middle to ask people if they were angry." Colleagues at BMG started calling LaFontaine "the honesty guy."
It wasn't just talk. When LaFontaine (email@example.com) was given lead responsibility for a $5 million construction project, he turned radical honesty into a hands-on management technique: "I stated my precise intentions for the project and all the potential drawbacks. I gave everyone a say. We had disagreements, we had agreements. We had a blast. And we brought it in on time and on budget. Honesty pushes money to the bottom line."
Tell the truth immediately.
It's not good enough to tell the truth at the beginning of an assignment or at the end, Blanton says. The best time to express anger or disappointment is when you are experiencing it. "The hardest thing about anger is getting over it," he says, "and the only way to get over it is to tell the truth about it."
Paul LaFontaine adopted just this approach at BMG — and reaped the rewards. "I was called in by a VP, who asked me if I was happy in my job, and I said, 'No!' He was shocked. He turned red and screamed. I said, 'You don't give me enough responsibility, latitude, or money.' Well, he didn't fire me. We had a conversation, and within three months I had more responsibility, latitude, and money."
Tell the truth repeatedly.
It's one thing for an individual convert to embrace radical honesty. But what about the rest of the organization? At P&G Mary Cusack picked up a simple technique for practicing honesty that she now uses in her consulting work. It's called Stop, Start, and Continue. Every six months, members of her group participated in an informal appraisal exercise. Each person selected 5 to 10 peers, subordinates, and managers to evaluate them along three simple criteria: "This is what I want you to stop doing; this is what I want you to start doing; this is what I want you to continue doing." Then the whole group met to discuss the appraisal. At P&G, reports Cusack, the process became "addictive and very satisfying."
Blanton isn't surprised. "Once people get through to the truth," he says, "they fall in love with it."
Alice Van Housen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and consultant based in Chicago. For more information about Radical Honesty, visit http://www.radicalhonesty.com or call 800-EL-TRUTH.
A version of this article appeared in the August/September 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.