I was working with an executive coaching client recently who mentioned that some organizational cultures emphasize peace over truth. I hadn't quite thought about it this way and found the statement profound. In this case, my client was a very forthright individual, and he was being asked to tone down his style. I have also worked with executive coaching clients who needed to be more assertive and strong in speaking up. Both individuals needed to adapt to cultures who emphasized either peace or truth.
Likewise, I have worked with a number of leaders who are upset when some of the most critical business issues are not raised at meetings. Every business has inevitable functional conflicts. For instance, sales needs to make product modifications to win the business. On the other hand, manufacturing is rewarded for process efficiency and output. Or, R &D wants to develop the perfect product and values innovation and constant change. At the same time, the operations group needs consistency and stability. This type of task conflict is normal. It is critical that issues that threaten the ability of a company to sell, produce, and ship products are raised, discussed, and resolved. In reality, though, in many organizations, the default norm is --- keeping the peace, or harmony, is more important than the truth. Important issues are pushed aside. People find ways to work around the truth. Why is this?
There is no easy answer!
The truth is that this is a tangle of cultural norms, leadership styles, power dynamics, and the degree of trust within any one team. Solving this requires correct diagnosis of the underlying reasons, and a solution that correctly matches the problem. It is also important to note here that there is nothing inherently wrong with a culture of peace. These are companies that experience a high degree of camaraderie. Employees enjoy coming to work. The atmosphere is friendly and collegial.
Companies that value truth are also very effective and have a very different culture. Tough issues are raised. Leaders encourage employees to openly disagree and healthy conflict is welcomed. Companies like these, and there are a few here in the San Francisco Bay Area, pride themselves on searching for the best ideas. Employees working in these companies need to be tougher skinned.
Several years ago, I worked for a global human resource development and training company. Some of my colleagues made a sales call on a company that values truth over peace. These male employees left their sales calls a bit shaken. The internal staff minced no words in explaining their needs, what they wanted and expected, and how difficult it would be to get the sale. On the one hand, they left knowing where they stood (truth).
Somehow, I believe that the right answer is a balance between truth and peace. I spend a lot of time helping those in cultures that value peace learn ways to, as a colleague of mine recently said, “disagree without being disagreeable.” I also spend time coaching clients to be truthful without being hurtful.
Is yours a culture of truth or peace?
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