The importance of honesty

This year I’ve been learning a lot about organisational behaviours, based on the Human Synergistics “Circumplex” model. The program from Global Mindset leverages this model to improve our understanding of what creates a productive and positive work environment.

In this model there are three overall behavioural styles that are winningly described as Snail (defensive), Hippo (aggressive) or Dolphin (collaborative). The three behavioural mascots are a useful way of thinking about types of behaviour, and the impact they have on others.

Hippo behaviours tend to use aggression to shut down collaboration and cooperation. Snail behaviours leverage manipulation or appeals to authority to preserve the status quo. Dolphin behaviour, on the other hand, is open, constructive and collaborative.

Research shows it is these Dolphin behaviours that are likely to lead to high productivity and staff morale. So, the theory goes that by helping people overcome any Snail or Hippo behaviours they have, we improve our working culture. In time, we all become Dolphins and everyone lives happily ever after…

Except change is never that easy.

The reality is there is an important prerequisite for this kind of change program, and that is that people need to be willing to be honest and open with each other. Without honesty, people will merely assume the superficial trappings of change. They’ll parrot the language of it, but distort it to suit themselves, knowing that most won’t notice. Without openness there is no trust, and change is hard enough when you do have trust. It’s nigh-on impossible without it.

So, like the old psychologist joke goes, the lightbulb has to want to change. If people don’t want to change, this program, like any other, will face an uphill battle.

Dishonest people are time wasters

People who cannot be honest do enormous damage to the human organisations they occupy. They undermine confidence, by making people unsure about what is true and what is not. When people are unsure, they spend mental energy on wondering what to think, instead of being productive and focussed.

People who cannot be truly open to others do not create trust in others. Trust requires sharing. It requires risk, that if I am open with you, you will not abuse that trust.

If we don’t have trust, we can’t be honest. If we can’t be honest, we can’t change.

Where to from here?

So, if you find yourself in a working relationship with someone who cannot be honest and open, what can you do?

Well, not much, but then change is never something we can make happen in other people; we can only change ourselves. There’s that lightbulb joke again.

What you can do is focus on the change you want for yourself. Try not to invest time in worrying about the people who you don’t feel you can trust, or who you don’t feel can be honest with you. They can’t help you, all they can do is drag you down.

Unfortunately, dishonest, untrustworthy people are unlikely to change because they’re so busy keeping track of their “alternate realities” and controlling narratives they’ll never find the time for it. These are people that, for your own sanity, are best left behind.