Maybe you know this person. You have worked with them and they also may be someone you know outside of work. When you talk to them they seem to insert sentences about other people you both know or events going on with the words “always” and “never” in the conversation. Perhaps you haven’t given this much thought but if the relationship is business related then maybe you’ve considered how those types of statements make you think different things instead of thinking something specific.
A core principle I’m learning and re-learning to employ in my personal and professional life is to “say what I mean and to mean what I say”. I emphasize “learning” since it is very easy to be vague and ambiguous about statements I make. It seems to come natural at times for all of us to omit details about a conversation or facts about another person’s actions or performance.
A key aspect of relationship management in business is this principle of being specific in what one says. It certainly relates to being truthful and to having the courage to say exactly what needs to be said but in the context of this article I want to emphasize the equally important part of being specific about the detail of the statements we make to our colleagues, our clients and to those we interact with in industry.
Blanket statements are never useful. They are nebulous and often send the wrong message. They seed doubt and mistrust and are usually intended to make a grand point about how right the person making the statement might be. They tend to be self-serving even when outwardly it doesn’t appear that way. In other words, we make blanket statements because we want to make a point that makes us look right and therefore look good in the position we are taking.
We have a rule in our home that says no one can use the words “always” and “never” when discussing or debating a topic where opinions and views are prevalent. This probably sounds a bit harsh but think about it for a moment. How often do we argue or debate with someone on a topic and say that they never do this or they always do that. Is that really true? You’re thinking, “absolutely”!
The reason we have this rule is because it forces a conversation to happen. It forces people to think about what they are going to say, how they are going to say it and why. Perhaps simplistic, we have found that is has changed the way we talk with each other and it has introduced a level of integrity into the conversation that doesn’t exist when we make blanket statements.
In business, blanket statements have an even greater danger of really messing things up. If we desire integrity in the business then it goes deeper than just maintaing accurate data and records. Integrity in the business starts with the communication and conversation that takes place between people.
Blanket statements create unnecessary questions. The benefit of having accurate financial information is minimized if senior managers then say things in meetings like “the salespeople always forget to update the pipeline” or “our delivery teams never capture accurate project information or produce the right content”.
These blanket statements make other senior managers wonder how we can then have accurate financial information. It also sends a message that we doubt the commitment and integrity of our salespeople. Are they trying to hurt the business? Do we need to hire new salespeople? Is the manager of the delivery organisation lazy and not bothered with ensuring we have the information we need?
How could these statements have been said differently? Perhaps a better way would have been to say “most of the pipeline information is complete enough for us to produce an accurate forecast but the field for required resources is not complete in the following opportunities so we need to check with the appropriate salesperson to get this information”. On the other statement it could be stated as “We need to understand more about the projects we’re involved with. The information we have is helpful but we need to assess what else we might specifically need as a team so we are better informed”.
Maybe you’d make these statements differently than the example I provided but hopefully the point is clear. Integrity in the business means we have integrity in the conversation. It requires that as team members we are not lacking a spine. It means we care enough to get the facts right, communicate what is working well and not present our views as a slight on someone else or the company when in fact it might only relate to one piece of data missing or misrepresented.
Being factual, truthful and specific is hugely important to how we start, maintain and keep relationships in business and in life. People want to work with people they trust and the people they trust are those that present information with specificity and integrity especially when it involves others. It is a good practice to examine how we are communicating and whether we are prone to omit details in exchange for trying to make a point.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.