Uncomfortable Truths: Friend or Foe?

A Missed Opportunity?

I drove by a local jewelry store and saw that it is now closed and out of business. Just 6 months ago I spoke at length with the owner about working with her to boost her revenue after a disastrous 2018 holiday season. She declined, and now she is out of business.

What’s on my mind since I saw the out of business sign is what I did—or more correctly, what I did not do. During our lengthy conversation, she listed all the steps she believed she needed to take to generate revenue. And while she was ticking them off on her fingers, my mind was whirring with a dozen different options. But it seemed wrong to tell her she was wrong. There were 2 powerful reasons: her tactics were too expensive and were inappropriate for her small, freestanding and independent jewelry store.

Why didn’t I share my thoughts? Mostly because it felt uncomfortable. Here I was, trying to build a relationship with her, eager to work with her. Wouldn’t being critical of her cause the exact opposite outcome?

I am far from the first person to face this challenge: do we tell uncomfortable truths and put a relationship at risk, or do we tell uncomfortable truths, knowing that if the other party welcomes them, they will become the foundation of a solid working relationship?

I am feeling an urgency to the need for sharing uncomfortable truths.

Whether you discuss them or not, uncomfortable truths will come up to bite you. So, put them on the table, have the conversations you need and live with the outcome.

When you calmly and reasonably face uncomfortable truths you will reduce unnecessary delays or failures.

Since we’re on the subject of uncomfortable truths, here a few other examples that arise frequently. Which ones do you recognize, and how could you respond to them?

What are Uncomfortable Truths?

I think uncomfortable truths are those ideas and thoughts you have that contradict what the other person says and believes. My focus is on business situations where your expertise and recommendations may contradict the other person’s beliefs.

Uncomfortable Truths in Business That Need to Be Told

1) “We’re focused on productivity.” This statement becomes an uncomfortable truth when it illuminates a company or individual that is very, very busy, but not making progress towards any goals. Busyness and productivity are two different things.

I recently became aware of an accounting firm that boasted about their 350 clients. But the average billing per client is $1100. They are very, very busy during tax season and barely busy the rest of the year. True productivity would be providing an array of valuable services to 200 clients for an average fee of $5000 per year.

2) “We track our numbers. I know what everyone is doing all day.” One owner said this to me while struggling with the seasonal revenue roller coaster.

Tracking numbers or KPIs can be helpful to measure progress towards goals. Unfortunately, the solution to a problem may not lie in improving KPIs. This time, I did share the uncomfortable truth but for a long time the owner refused to acknowledge it. When this owner finally changed his mind about the skills needed by his front desk person, the KPIs didn’t change—but the amount of revenue shot up.

We need to start by identifying and tracking the activities that truly lead to the goals.

3) “We know our buyers.” I am delighted when business owners have excellent and close relationships with their clients and customers.  However, sometimes within this is an uncomfortable truth: our confidence in our deep knowledge often blinds us to accepting that there may be something about them that we don’t know. You believe they’re not going to be interested in this innovation or that improvement or suggestion. There well may be a part of them that would be receptive to that innovation or idea. Design an easy, low-cost experiment to test their receptivity. If they’re not interested, not much is lost. If your buyers love your new idea, then implement it on a larger scale. This is what my book Tinker is all about.

4) Some of the hardest uncomfortable truths to face and acknowledge are ideas we tell ourselves. I’m thinking of when we don’t acknowledge how our own behavior contradicts what we expect others to do.

This is a big issue when your business is based on intellectual property, expertise and creativity. If you want people to pay you for your IP-based services do you always expect to pay for the IP-based services and ideas from others?

How often does someone ask you: “Can I buy you a cup of coffee and pick your brain?” Or tells you “We don’t pay speakers. You’ll get a lot of exposure.” That grates, doesn’t it?

How often do you ask others for free advice? People know that there’s a certain amount of giving away that they need to do to get attention and build credibility, so I’m not faulting people for giving things away. But the contradiction when people sell their IP and try to get others’ IP for free is an uncomfortable truth everyone should confront, acknowledge and stop.

Increase Your Awareness of Uncomfortable Truths

It’s hard when that truth-telling voice in your head says “Hey, that’s not right!” as the other person is speaking. Many of the times when we’re faced with “Do I tell an uncomfortable truth here or not?” we are in the midst of conversations with people we know and like.

I’d rather that you make note of it and get back to the idea that raised the uncomfortable truth a bit later. Later in the present conversation perhaps, or later in the day or week. Not too much later or the value would be lost.

Couch your response something like this: “I sometimes have a thought that may be uncomfortable for me to say and for you to hear. I just had one of those. May I share it with you?” You gain a few moments to gather your courage and ensure that your tone of voice and words aren’t hostile or accusatory. You’re giving the other person a bit of time to prepare as well. And I think it reduces the temperature to a neutral one where both of you can actually converse rather than simply trade perspectives or opinions.

I wish I had said this to the jewelry store owner during my conversation with her. Maybe she would still have chosen to close her business, but maybe she would have taken a few steps with me to increase revenue and remain in business. I’m trying to be better at sharing uncomfortable truths in ways that further the conversation. Will you do that too?

If you’re wondering what ideas I might have for your company that would increase profitable revenue this year—there is plenty of time to make 2019 a great year—I would love to hear from you. Give me a call at 703-801-0345.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.