Growing up, I would weave stories to avoid getting in trouble. I believed if I told my mom a softer version of the story versus the actual occurrences, the outcome would be less severe. Was I wrong! Sometimes I would create a musical theater production to illustrate my actions. Mom was entertained by my acting and singing talent, but the punishment was never reduced! She saw through my feeble attempts to gloss over my bad behavior. In the end my tactics always had the same outcome, “Tomorrow, you cannot ride your bike after school.”  She would look at me with that “Mom face!” With one raised eyebrow and a serious expression she would say, “Glenna, painting a rosy picture that is not true, is a lie. It reflects your integrity, and that is not who you want to be! When you ‘tell the truth, tell it like it is,’ we can quickly get to the root of the problem, find a solution, and you can learn from it.”

Those were incredibly wise words, though it took me a time to understand and put them into practice.

I recently experienced a situation with a client, and mom was sitting on my shoulder saying the words “tell it like it is.” 

A leader contacted me and asked for employee relations advice.

He said, “A manager did not agree with the direction his supervisor gave him and called him an ass****. Can I fire him for this comment since it is not aligned with the values of the company and is insubordinate behavior?”

I asked the leader, “Did the supervisor deserve it, was he acting like an ass****?”

The leader said, “That is a good question, I don’t think so.”

When an employee relations situation is brought to my attention, I ask three questions to gain context:

  • Is this typical behavior for the employee? If yes, describe it. If no, what is typical behavior?
  • Has this behavior been previously discussed or documented? If so, when? Gather the documentation to review.
  • Is anything going on in his/her life? This does not excuse the bad behavior, but it provides context and may explain any unusual behavior.

The leader responded, “At times he has been gruff, and we have coached him in the past. He is having some family issues, and that may have caused this outburst.”

We both agreed the manager exhibited poor judgement with his supervisor. I recommended the leader and supervisor talk with the manager and give him a strong warning to ensure it does not happen again, and if it does to understand the consequences.

Two days later, the CEO and leader called me.

The CEO said, “Glenna, I am really disappointed in you!!”

I was taken aback and asked, “Why?”

The CEO said, “I cannot believe you will not let us fire this guy for calling his supervisor a ‘fu***** ass****’ in front of the team! That is inexcusable behavior.”  

I replied, “What???? I did not know he said that! Certainly, if I had heard that he used those words in front of the team I would have made a different decision. That is bad judgment and inexcusable. Can this outburst be confirmed?”

The CEO asked the leader,” What exactly did he say? Has this been confirmed?”

The leader did not pause, and immediately responded, “He called his supervisor a fu***** ass****. We have witnesses and confirmation.”

I said, “This behavior is not aligned with the values of the company and indicates bad judgement. It is insubordinate, and the manager displayed that he is not a role model for the team. You are correct, he needs to be terminated for his behavior. This may be a ‘one time’ occurrence, but it is egregious.”

I asked the leader to call me so that we could prepare for the conversation.

When I spoke with the leader I asked, “Why didn’t you provide the full story the first time we spoke?” With one raised eyebrow, I could feel my “mom face” emerging.

The leader replied, “I am a gentleman, and I don’t speak that way in front of a lady.”

I said, “I appreciate your level of respect and consideration, but you need to ‘tell it like it is’ so that we can make the appropriate decision quickly. In the future, document the statement of others in quotes. That way YOU are not making the inappropriate comment, you are repeating the words of others. If it is nasty, YOU are not being disrespectful, they are!”

The leader said, “I can do that.”

This is a great example that illustrates why it is important to “tell it like it is.”  When you understand the situation, history, and facts, you gain context which allows you to make a sure-footed decision. When a problem is brought to your attention, consider the three questions to help you determine if you have all of the information you need to make a wise choice.

Just imagine if we had followed our initial course of action, the team would not respect the manager or follow him. They would believe this type of behavior is acceptable in the workplace when in fact it goes against every principle and value in the company.

Mom was right! “Telling it like it is” is respectful, solution-oriented, minimizes second-guessing, and provides an opportunity to learn for the future.

Tell it like it is, don’t be ashamed to let your conscience be your guide. Lyrics – George Davis & Lee Diamond      Recording – Aaron Neville, 1966