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The power of brutal transparency

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

Dov Seidman, founder and CEO of compliance training firm LRN, was having a business dinner with Alan Spoon, a managing general partner of a venture capital firm. Spoon showed interest in investing in Seidman’s firm.

Mid-meal, Spoon asked what the LRN board would say about a particular aspect of Seidman’s performance. Without hesitating, Seidman said, “I think they’d give me a pretty low grade—C minus.”

Why would he say a thing like that? “I was upfront with him because I was trying to inspire him to join in with me, to see that I understood the work ahead and could be honest about what’s working and what’s not,” he says.

The power of transparency, says Seidman, is that it speeds trust and collaboration. And, surprisingly, it’s incredibly disarming.

“Any truth I shared was going to be something we’d have to talk about later,” he says.

It might have taken Spoon six months or more. Eventually, though, he would have drilled down to the truth. And indeed he did.

A few months later, Spoon called Seidman to say he’d asked some board members about the subject they’d discussed over dinner. The board wasn’t as hard on Seidman as he’d been on himself. What Spoon learned gave him reason to be impressed with his colleague’s candor.

Caution: Avoid putting a Machiavellian twist on things. Seidman didn’t intentionally start with negative news, knowing Spoon would get a rosy report later. People can sense game-playing, and such a plan would likely backfire.

Besides, Mark Twain nailed this maxim long ago: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.”

— Adapted from How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything, Dov Seidman.

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