Why You Need to Tell it Like it Is

Posted on 04 November 2020

Sometimes it’s better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected

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It’s critical that a leader must possess honesty. Not only must he or she be honest in behavior, but they must also call things as they see them. All leaders face situations in which they must figure out the right way to say something to an employee or group of employees—maybe something those people would prefer not to hear.

The easiest, and usually most successful, way to address such situations is to ignore the politics and say what you believe, using the clearest, most honest mode of communication you can put together. Too often, people try to ‘spin’ their message or couch things in a way they hope will produce a desired result. That’s quite a risk. It’s tough to be sure that your message will be interpreted by the recipient in exactly the way you want. And, if you get it wrong, you’ll be in a worse position than if you had been honest.

Trust and openness produce the best results for me

I live by this philosophy: I can either say something about the situations or stay silent. For example, if an employee charged with an assignment does not perform to my expectations, I can either tell that person or say nothing.

For sure, the best thing that I can do to prevent similar, negative situations from reoccurring is to speak out. How he or she know my expectations were not met, or know how to correct things in the future, without a clear, unambiguous communication? And while some people find such communications difficult to hear—mostly those that have committed the undesirable performance— most respond with appreciation for the honesty and the opportunity to correct course going forward.

Face up to the risks

Delivering such open, honest criticism can open you up to being labeled with less than desirable names. Yet, in a classic risk-reward trade-off, it also can lead to you being considered a clear, candid communicator. Without such communications, individuals who perform less than ideally would not be given productive, fruitful criticism; and they would not likely modify their future behavior or performance.

Besides, if poor performance and unacceptable behavior are tolerated, others in the organization will come to the conclusion that senior management doesn’t care about the quality or nature of employee performance. This belief, if allowed to fester and pervade an organization, can undermine all future prospects prospects.

Balancing it out

To ensure the best team performance and outcomes, be sure to speak clearly, openly and as honestly as you can. To me, the risk of being negatively labeled is more than offset by the rewards of overall organizational performance gain—as well as the respect which I can earn by demonstrating candor and integrity.

I think that it’s better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected. I strongly encourage those around me to speak openly and candidly with a focus on overall performance. Sometimes, it may create negative feelings. But when faced with a choice between saying something to make a person aware of a problem, or not saying anything and simply hoping for some change, there’s no contest. Say what you need to say and say it as clearly as possible.

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This post was written by:

Nina Simosko - who has written 18 posts on Slow Leadership.

Nina Simosko is Global Chief Operating Officer for the worldwide SAP Education organization and is a member of the SAP Senior Executive team. She is responsible for more than half a billion euros in global software and services revenue. She has more than 14 years of sales and operations management experience with a tremendous understanding of the global high-tech industry. Prior to joining SAP in 2004, Nina worked at Siebel Systems, where she served as the General Manager of Education for the Americas, Asia Pacific/Japan and also ran Global Support & Maintenance Sales. Nina joined Siebel after working at Oracle Corporation running the Global Education Sales & Marketing team. Nina is involved in the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives, the Professional Area Network for Women in Technology, and the Alliance of Technology and Women. She recently joined the board of directors of YES Reading, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering students through literacy and investing in underserved public schools.

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12 Comments For This Post

  1. CK says:

    What I have heard is to sandwich the issue with positive, the issue and end in a positive. Also it is better to focus on the one issue that you want corrected rather than using the shotgun approch and blast them! All you get as a result is a closed person who will only remember that you blasted them for the wrong.

    Never use the words ‘try’, can’t, or but! ‘Try’ is an excuse to accept failure … “But I TRIED!” And ‘but’ negates everything that you said before … “You did a great job on that project BUT you could have more charts.”

    Instead of ‘but’ you use ‘and’ … “You did a great job on that project and it would have been the best EVER if you had used more charts.”

    As to reviews … If you are honest and practice continual communications then there should be no supprises during reviews. If an issue crops up, you handle it then and there to resolve the issue before it becomes a problem.

    Also being a leader, you are always ‘on’ and employees take their que for you!

  2. sambit says:

    The desirability of good communication in any organization in building up team spirit is known. Essentially communication is meant to bring out the truth about any person or situation from the point of view of communicator. It is possible that there are many point of view and these can only come to the open when somebody raises it. Otherwise mostly miscommunication occurs under the surface and perceived opinions are held by different persons as the opinions does not get tested by one another. This creates distrust and misunderstandings ; spoils both liking and respect for each other. Strait and non-cumbersome communication without any hidden agenda always enhances respect and liking. I do not think it has to be one or the other. In most cases it is both.

  3. William Cotton says:

    I agree with you completely. I do a lot of consulting for HR practices on the nonprofit side and unfortunately, this is a major area needing improvement.

    I actually covered this in my blog http://christianhrconsulting.wordpress.com/2020/11/06/employee-confrontation/. Way to hit the nail on the head.

  4. Nina Simosko says:

    Hi William,
    Thanks for your comments. I will check out your blog as well.

  5. Alvira says:

    I felt that you raised some great points in your article: “Why You Need to Tell it Like it Is.” I believe that saying what you believe in a clear, constructive, and honest manner can only help attain a high level of effectiveness and efficiency within the workplace. I also think that if “unacceptable behavior. . .[is] tolerated, [then] others. . .will come to the conclusion that senior management doesn’t care about the quality or nature of employee performance.” If one is honest with co-workers and provides adequate feedback relative to the problem, this approach will undoubtedly prevent future occurrences, which will lead to enhanced productivity, and mutual respect within the team. Alvira Khan, Florida Atlantic University, FAU Boca Raton Alumna, http://www.alvirakhan.com

  6. Nina Simosko says:

    I totally believe in telling it as it is at all times. As I view it, having a truthful, open discussion is a requirement to reaching the most effective and efficient communication possible. Without it, there are too many items in the background to allow for optimal communication [ http://ninasimosko.com/blog/2020/07/18/background-foreground-communication/ ].

    My co-workers appreciated my candor and openness and have come to count on it when seeking guidance, advice or just another perspective.

    Thanks for your thoughts and insights.

  7. Prem Rao says:

    I love the way you have expressed this: it is better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected. Likewise, I have always believed that leaders can be popular or effective. Many are popular but not effective. Others are effective but not popular. Rare is the executive wh0 is both popular and effective.

  8. Nina Simosko says:

    Hi Prem,
    I agree with you regarding popularity vs. effectiveness. I would like to think that there are some shining examples of leaders with both of these qualities; but as you note, these individuals would be the exception, not the rule. In many ways, these characteristics can play into one another and feed off of one another. I know of individual leaders who are effective due to their popularity. In other words, those around them want to do great things because of their like and general good feelings toward their leader. Likewise, in some cases, effectiveness breeds popularity, for people want to be associated with effective, high-performing leaders. Let’s just hope that more and more we find leaders with both of these qualities for this will only serve to benefit all parties.

  9. Brandy Wiggins says:

    I would like to know how the philosophy of “tell it like it is” applies to those who are not in executive/management positions. Last year I participated in the Landmark Forum, and before anyone blasts the thought of Landmark … hear me out.

    One of the major points the Forum focused on was being authentic in what you do and what you say. Well I experimented with my new found authenticity at work and got good results. I was able to blatantly turn down projects that were thrown in my lap without being reprimanded, plus obtain a title change on my position. When it comes to “telling it like it is” I can definitely say that it works going up the chain of command too.

  10. Nina Simosko says:

    Hey Brandy,
    Here here to being authentic, regardless of your position. In my opinion, being authentic enhances one’s prospects for advancement as superiors will realize that the individual is a straight shooter. This is not to say that having flexibility and a willingness to cooperate aren’t highly regarded, or regarded more than openness and honestly by any means. In fact, I’d suggest that the two go hand in hand with one another and make for a powerfully performing employee. So, keep on telling it like it is and reaping the rewards of doing so!

  11. Lisa Gates says:

    Nina, wonderful post. My 12-year old just had an opportunity to learn this lesson. What I think people are giving up when they shoot straight is collusion and gossip, all that divide and conquer stuff that comes from fear. Fear of not being liked, self doubt.

    When we don’t speak up, we just give ourselves one more reason to make the job, the position, the person WRONG.

  12. Nina Simosko says:

    Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for your comments. I am all for giving up collusion and gossip if it leads to authenticity and honesty! I have never feared not being liked, for as I stated, “I think that it’s better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected.” Of course, if we can achieve both, then our world is that much better.

    Also, while your daughter learned this lesson about being open & honest, here is a link to a recent entry in which I describe how we can learn life lessons from kids:


    Thanks again for your readership, support and for contributing to the discussion!

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