Have You Just Been Giving (or Receiving) Lip Service?

I grew up in the historic town of Concord, Massachusetts, a couple miles from Thoreau’s Walden pond, the site of the first battle of the Revolutionary War, and a dozen other things that would probably bore you as much as they did me as a kid.

In third grade, my class took an intrepid field trip about a half mile from the school to the Alcott House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote her novel Little Women.

Here’s the kitchen with its cast iron pots and pans. Here’s some homemade applesauce for you all (I still remember the taste of iron). Let’s go into the family room!

Suddenly the Alcott family entered, one by one, as if they were just going about their day.

“Marmee, the applesauce tastes sour. Did you add honey?” a drably garbed woman called, entering stage right with a wooden bowl in hand. (It was probably just the metallic tang, I thought.)

“Oh dear, I may have forgotten. Add it yourself, dear,” her mother replied, hurrying in from stage right in her own pleats of white and grey cotton, “Louisa, how is that book of yours coming?”

Throughout the whole performance, I was completely distracted. Didn’t these people live a long time ago? Shouldn’t they be older, or dead? I was only seven. I didn’t know the dates. No one gave us any context for this. As I searched for some clue as to what was going on, I saw smirks on the teachers’ faces that made me feel I was the object of a joke. It turned out most of us felt that way.

Afterward, we ate lunch from brown bags and 80s lunch boxes outside in the crisp autumn air. We were all confused. I distinctly remember when a friend said angrily, “I dunno what I think about this fake Marmee crap.” That was when I got that it wasn’t real.

Children can feel when they’re being deceived or talked down to, and they don’t like it. But they also rarely tell you that. This is appeasement, and it’s something we all learn to do early in life, to fit in or behave in a way that maximizes acceptance.

I often see this paradigm playing out between managers and their employees. Managers speak in an artificial, affected “professional” tone designed to maximize compliance and buy-in. They speak in business cliché. They “position” changes as being in their employees’ interest, in broad sweeping terms:

  • “This is going to help you serve your customers better.”
  • “This is going to make your job easier.”
  • “This is going to be fun!”

Employees roll their eyes when you’re not looking and nod their heads when you are. But when managers don’t mention that it’s saving the company money, or because the rumor was true that you just lost a key client, or because last quarter’s revenue was way below expectations, you feel left out at best, lied to at worst.

It’s not the whole truth, and everyone knows it. Why haven’t you, the employee, been told? Because they can’t trust you to manage your childish, emotional reactions, or keep things confidential, or otherwise use your head.

Withhold information from your people and they’ll fill in the blanks with their imagination. This furthers the “Us vs. Them” dynamic that causes disengagement. (Click to Tweet)

Managers fear that if they tell their employees the entire truth that something bad will happen. Their people will lose confidence in the company, respect for their managers, or they’ll worry about their job security. This is sometimes reasonable, but usually not.

If you treat your employees like children, they’ll behave accordingly. If you don’t respect them enough to be straight with them, they will resent you—but only always. But they’ll never tell you. They’ll just bring forward the less mature versions of themselves that you’ve been talking to.

And you’re perplexed as to why your people won’t step up, right?

Your workplace is one where either immaturity or maturity is trained and rewarded. If you’re not consciously doing the latter, then it’s probably the former. (Click to Tweet)

So the next time you’re strategizing a management performance to spin a new initiative, consider the long-term cost of crumbling aspirin into their applesauce. Instead, consider teaching them how to swallow a bitter pill, which is what grown-ups do. It may not be easy, but they’ll thank you for it later.

One of the primary roles of a manager is to help employees face reality, however uncomfortable. How do you do this effectively? How do you actually show employees what’s in their self-interest without it being soaked in corporate spin? Clear and Open Members learn how to become people who do it automatically, as an expression of their own authenticity. This is what inspires employees to engage, when you’re so strong and real that they want to be like you.

Right now, you can get a FREE 30-day trial membership. Why not try it on for size?

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