Do people a favor: let them know where they stand with you. Why continue to B.S. people? Out of fear of hurting their feelings? Out of your own fear of what they might think of you after the fact? Why insist on pretending? Why not just let them know the truth about how you feel? And if not, why not?
It is hard. It is hard to be emotionally honest with people. It takes courage. Not a lot of courage, but courage nonetheless. You’re not saving someone from drowning, but you are letting them know exactly where they stand with you.
We have an example of this, and sometimes he was the anti-example of this. Our example of emotional honesty is Steve Jobs. He always let people in his life know where they stood with him. Always. He pulled no punches. He let it all fly. He let the cards fall where they fell and damn the consequences. He strangely, weirdly, bravely did not care in the best possible way what other people thought or felt about how he felt. He just felt. And he had the Chutzpah, the Balls, to speak it. And then, whatever happened, happened. A lot of people loved him for it. And some people hated him for it. Yet, there he went: changing the world with his Jobsian Force Field.
Steve sets the example for us because emotional honesty is so hard. We can’t even be emotionally honest with those closest to us, let alone those extended from us, like colleagues or acquaintences. We pull punches. We worry about other peoples’ feelings. We worry about what they’ll say back. We worry about conflict and its outcomes because we are conflict averse. Therefore, we default to nice. And nice is not emotionally honest.
Please note that this is not a call to arms. This is not a 100% embrace of all conflict, all the time. But conflict is natural. Conflict is the catalyst of a great story. In fact, there is no story without conflict. All good storytelling starts with the situation, moves to the conflict, and then ends in resolution. All of it. There is no sense in being, in acting conflict averse because life is chock-full of conflict. It is inevitable. Good parenting is chock-full of conflict. So are intimate relationships. You’re never going to agree on everything, so you may as well get good with putting things on the table to deal with. It is a far better strategy to embrace conflict, to move toward it, to be brave in its face, to take a stand, to engage it with creative confidence that you will break through to a new resolution together. Sure beats pretending that it isn’t there. Unspoken conflict turns into masked hostility.
So many of us are conflict-averse that it is laughable. So many of us would rather get a root canal than engage in any conflict, no matter how light it may be (even though the root canal story has conflict in and of itself). It is strange, but yet here we are. Which gives the person who will engage with it a competitive advantage.
This is where those in sales have the competitive advantage because sales is wrought with conflict. You’re trying to get someone to part with their money to buy goods and services from you. It is hard. It is trying. It requires tact. If we’re honest, it requires emotional honesty. (You are really good at sales if you are emotionally honest with your prospect and customer because they can read you. Plus, it means you are brave, another great quality to have in sales.)
Plus, why B.S. people? You don’t have to B.S. people. If you are emotionally dishonest, you B.S. people all the time. That is your M.O. You may not like to hear it, you may not think you do this, but you B.S. people all day long when you are emotionally dishonest with people and feel like you have to be nice all the time. No need for that. There is no need to B.S. people.
Strangely, some people don’t think they can change. They don’t think they can adapt to become a more forceful, more powerful, more emotionally honest person. This is such a disempowering way to think about yourself that it makes me laugh. OF COURSE, you can change! OF COURSE, you can begin taking on a human quality or property you admire about someone else right now. Of course, you can grow into a new, upgraded, more appealing you. The great news is it really isn’t that hard to begin.
You start acting as if.
You start acting as if. Act as if you already possess the quality you wish you had right now. Act as if you already are more assertive with what you want. You act as if you already are powerful. Act as if you are already good in speaking to new people. You act as if you are socially savvy and in sync with others. You act as if you already possess the thing you wish you had now. And by acting as if, you become the thing, day-by-day, until you reach a state of unconscious competence. You no longer have to think about actively doing or being the thing: you are the thing. You will have arrived, and you may not even know it because you’ve been so busy actually being and doing the thing you once wished you had. Look at how far you’ve come. You nailed this.
Let’s take conflict aversion as an example. As cited above, many people are conflict averse today, probably because they’re buried in screens all day long. The easiest place to hide is behind a keyboard. It isn’t easy to hide when you’re out in the field, dealing with inevitable conflict. One pops up. The Marriott charged your credit card for a stay that you didn’t actually stay the night at. What do you do?
The typical, conflict-averse person would probably do nothing about this. No phone call. No email. No call into customer service. If they were there in person to complain to the front desk agent, they would likely cower, look down, agree to whatever the other person’s demands are or what the Marriott’s policy on stays is, which they inevitably cite, and then skulk off unhappy and downtrodden because they will feel like they didn’t stand up for themselves or for others. And they will likely not have gotten the charge taken off of their credit card. So much for this interaction, right?
What they need to do is turn the tables and come from a position of strength, of power, of status. Note I didn’t say be a dick. I said, come from a position of strength and power. Be assertive with what you want and back what you want up with the facts as you know them. I find that it is best in these situations to be professional and cool. Professional meaning you mean business. You are here to get what you want. You have the power, strength and status of a traveling business pro. You do this sort of thing all the time. In fact, you live for the road. You are in the right (without being self-righteous). You have the facts to back this up. And you’ve come to get what you want. You control the frame of the conversation. When it begins and ends is up to you, and how it goes is also up to you. You’ve got the power.
Look at how much different this interaction will go when you come from a position of power and strength! You’ve completely turned the tables on them. You are coming from a position of being in the right. You have facts to back up your stance and what you want. You have status. You control the frame of the conversation. Basically, any of the weak qualities a weaker person would try or behave as, you do the opposite of that when you come from a position of strength.
It is important to note that people respond positively to strength. All of us. Together. We respond positively to strength because we’re wired to respond positively to strength. The subtext to strength is always protection. The unconscious thought is, “This strong person can protect me from harm.” And it isn’t just muscles we’re talking about here. It is what you say and how you say it, the body language you give off, the aura with which you move through the world.
Have you noticed that people of high status and power only want to hang around with other people of high status and power? That A players only want to work and hang around with other A players? That exceptional people only want to hang around with other exceptional people? Why? Because we all respond positively to strength and power. Do we want a timid, submissive leader to lead us? Hell no! We want a bold, strong, smart, forceful leader to lead us forward.
CEOs want to hang around other CEOs. Executives want to hang around other executives. Board members want to hang around other board members. This is how power begets power. And it is also why it can be so damn hard to break into it from the bottom. They aren’t going to let just anybody in to the inner circle. It’s an inner circle for a reason. You’ve got to work hard and earn your way in, maybe even buy your way in. If you don’t like that, then you best forget about the inner circle of power.
It is important to note that conflict doesn’t go away when you “arrive” one day. If you are lucky and blessed enough to get the top job, conflict will surround you. Even conflict you’re unaware of. Organizations are wrought with inner conflicts. Thus, org politics. Wherever people and hierarchy exist, there will be struggles for power. Why complain about this? Why not just embrace it as people simply being people, and they continue their power struggle as they have for thousands and thousands of years? Makes so much more sense to me. To not embrace it is to not embrace the human condition, and why would you do that?
For those of you who desire to “opt out” of the power struggle, you may have it the worst of all. There is no opting out. You’re in it, too, especially if you work for a public company. Because the harsh reality for everyone in a public company is you are a number on a spreadsheet to them, to the folks making decisions on who gets to stay and who must go quarter by quarter. Bad quarter? Well, let this cohort go. Great quarter? Well, they get to stay for another 3 months. Sound harsh? It is. It is also reality. The only way to opt out of this is to quit or be fired. You’re playing organizational politics whether you admit it or not. Why not learn how to play the game and become a true player in it to win it? A great start is to learn to deal with inevitable conflict in your life.