Make It Safe to Tell the Truth


Are your people as forthcoming with bad news and negative feedback as they are with good news and positive feedback?
The higher up you get in an organization, the more insulated you are from the truth. The phrase "make it safe to tell the truth" is talking about you, the leader, owning the responsibility to make it safe for others to be truthful. To help make it safe for others to be truthful in your presence:
  • Genuinely ask for specific examples.
  • Encourage them to give feedback.
  • Do not defend or refute.
  • Show sincerity in wanting to know their truth. (We say their because not everyone’s version is accurate, complete, or helpful.)
  • Build their confidence that there is zero downside to speaking up (no retribution, punishment, or risk).
  • Convey that you respect their point of view and will be vulnerable (especially to associates junior to you).
  • Prove through continued experience that you won’t dispute or challenge their position, defend your behavior, or dismiss their feedback out of hand.
  • Perhaps most important, show through your new behavior that you value their risk-taking enough to improve.
  • Don’t lure someone to the “safe” side of the pool and then push their head below the surface.
  • Show how you valued others who provided you with feedback, and that there was only an upside in them doing so.
  • Carefully consider the physical setting. Don’t invite someone into your office and sit behind your massive desk and gargoyle-themed garniture expecting courage. Find neutral ground to show you’re not above them or anything they have to say.
  • Take notes and ask for clarification.


  • Consider what you’re doing to encourage or discourage others from sharing with you their truth about you.
  • Assess your current organization or team. Is lying or spinning rewarded? Is truth-telling unsafe?
  • Communicate that mistakes are inevitable and candid feedback is welcome.
  • Show that you value feedback by changing your behavior and thanking the giver.
  • Above all, when someone does take the risk to provide feedback, don’t dismiss it, disregard it, or defend yourself. Listen, show appreciation, then discern on your own whether it’s worthy of acting on. Some feedback will be more about the person offering it than about you.

Learn more about how to make it safe to tell the truth by watching this short clip with Scott Miller, author of the book Management Mess to Leadership success.


Go from a management mess to a leadership success. Join Scott Miller for a live webcast and learn more about the 30 challenges that all leaders face. 

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