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When Diplomacy Stunts Growth

We've all heard the old adage from Benjamin Franklin, "Honesty is the best policy." There was a time when this truth was as easily espoused in the workplace as it was in the home.  But have workplace diplomacy and human resource policies handed down from corporate lawyers given honesty a bad name at the office.

There will always be difficult workplace situations with which we must deal. It may be you don't get along with a certain co-worker and are asked to work with them on a project. It may be the new hire that had such promise messed up on an assignment and you have to deal with it. There are right ways and wrong ways to handle these situations. And in truth--honesty is the best policy. Though we may feel uncomfortable, dealing with them truthfully provides valuable learning and growth opportunities for both parties.

The Wrong Way:

Diplomacy means, "skill in dealing with others without causing bad feelings." Unfortunately what often happens in the name of diplomacy is nothing less than deceit to avoid difficult situations. Take for example a boss that has to cut an employee's hours. The higher-ups want to force the employee to quit in order to avoid the legal and financial ramifications of a firing. They tell the manager, "Just tell him our budget got cut and we will give him more hours as soon as we can. We'll push him out."

Scenarios such as this happen all too often under the misapplied moniker of diplomacy.

Let's take a look at the effects (or consequences) of this method. In the scenario, the employee takes the financial hit for the "struggling" company and continues to work hard because they believed what they were told. The once-loyal employee begins to see the writing on the wall as each time they inquire about getting more hours, they are told another sad story. While the junior employee in the office begins to get more responsibility and hours. It won't take long for the demoted employee to go from feeling loyal to feeling betrayed.

Consequences of this method:

These practices dehumanize people--your employees are your key to success. They have families and responsibilities just like you. Treat them fairly.
Do damage to your company's reputation--with potential employees and in some cases customers
Deprives management and staff of valuable training on how to deal with difficult situations and problem-solving
Creates mistrust of management in the workplace--if they did it to him, they can do it to me
Negatively affects company morale--employees are less likely to put everything they have into a company with shaky job security and dishonest practices. Suddenly it's, "Ask not what I can do for the company, but what the company can do for me."

Instead of being an employer of choice, your company will quickly be seen as having little or no integrity with dishonest practices. In this article by Jeanne Meister in Forbes Magazine, she reports that the average time people hold a job today is 4.4 years. That betrayed employee will find another job and will more than likely share his negative experience with friends, family, and new co-workers. Statistics prove that people are more likely to share a negative experience than a positive one. That alone should keep a company on its toes.

The Right Way

Each situation is different and every company has its own policies, but here are some things to consider.

If you don't already have one, create a mission statement that defines what you want your workplace environment to be
Outline clearly what it will take to accomplish this mission for both the management and the staff--create operational procedures and appropriate training based on this mission statement
Create an open-door policy and back it up with action so employees feel comfortable coming to management with issues and ideas
Set clearly defined responsibilities and expectations for staff and tell them exactly what they can expect in return from the company
Clearly explain performance expectations and review policies and procedures. If you failed to tell the employee that there was a certain way something was supposed to be done and they do it differently--take responsibility for your oversight, compliment them on taking the initiative and simply explain that next time, "Let's do it this way." The blame game is never productive!
If you have to let someone go for non-performance, budget cuts, or you hired someone to do their job for half the salary, give them the respect of being diplomatically honest, you'll earn their respect in return

We're all out there working to make a living, feed our families, live a dream, and hopefully contribute something positive to the world. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom"

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