Archive – Say what you mean and mean what you say

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What do you do when the boss asks you whether a project will be completed on-time? How about when they ask you what you think about a particular project or idea? If you are like most people, you might prevaricate, hem and haw, even outright lie – anything to keep you out of hot water. It is a natural human trait, but one that has corrosive effects on business and relationships in general. We might think that we are protecting ourselves, or protecting the other person from some hard truths, but instead we are only setting ourselves up for eventual conflict and maybe even failure. If you want to have an effective and successful high-tech career, you need to say what you mean and mean what you say.


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Say what you mean

Too often, in the effort to safe face or save a job, we don’t say what is on our mind. You are afraid that pointing out the mythical naked emperor or the fatal flaw will doom any career aspirations you might have. In some companies this might be true, but if so, you really don’t want to work there anyway. In fact, it is by pointing out problems, issues, challenges or flaws early on that you make a leap forward. If an entire project is based on a flawed assumption it must be addressed early or you are sowing the seeds for project failure before you ever get started. Wouldn’t it be better to solve the problem while there was still time?

Instead we dance around the issue, demeaning the importance of the problem until even we don’t believe it is a problem at all. It doesn’t make the problem go away, though. It only postpones the inevitable crisis until such a time that you can do nothing about it. Crash! Another project down and out and no one seems to know why.

Starting today, you need to say what is on your mind. You need to share your concerns. You need to offer up options. You need to move away from little white lies and shaded truths and do what is best for you and your career. Failed project after failed project does nothing for your career, while speaking up and telling the raw truth that needs to be told could help your career thrive. You don’t have to be mean about it, but neither should you shy away. Simply offer up your thoughts and feelings and see if others can address them in a rational fashion. If not, trouble is looming.

Mean what you say

There is another side to this equation of honesty and openness, too. Not only must you speak up when problems occur, you must also exhibit the utmost responsibility to follow-through on whatever you promise to others. If you say the project will be on-time, it had better be on-time. If you promise to do the due diligence on a contract, you had better do it. You must mean what you say and not simply offer up words that others want to hear. If you can’t deliver on a commitment, you have to renegotiate this commitment or you and every one who depends on you is going to suffer. You owe it to everyone to let them know as soon as possible whenever you are unable to fulfill a commitment. Don’t leave them hanging until the last possible moment. Don’t leave your boss or co-workers without critical information or charts in a meeting before the executive. Don’t leave the web site design without a critical bit of programming on launch day. If you do, you are liable to find yourself in the unemployment line before the end of the day. Had you only renegotiated the commitment, or found some way to garner additional resources to help you complete it on time, you would be a hero, not a pariah.

Honesty, in all forms, seems in short supply today. Throughout politics, business and life the importance of honesty is diminished day by day. We don’t even call it lying anymore. People were mistaken, misinformed, out of the loop. They are never, ever dishonest. But calling dishonesty by a hundred different names does not alter the central truth. Say what you mean, without malice or hidden agendas. Mean what you say by keeping your commitments and honoring them like the bond that they are. To do anything less is a failure of courage, character and your career.


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