“Hey guys, why is the app not working at all?! :) ;)”

You can feel it boiling under the surface, hidden in the forced smiley at the end of that Slack message. It’s been included to take the edge off, but it still cuts through you like a knife.

It’s not a winky face. No, no, no. Definitely not a winky face. It’s more an angry, nervous & uncontrollable tick. The passive aggression inevitably emerges, like steam forcing its way through an air-vent. You can feel the anger, the veiled threat. All hidden in those cute, seemingly innocuous little emojis.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism? Maybe they believe the smiley reflects how they think the world perceives them? Maybe they genuinely believe we will be deceived into thinking they are a chilled-out, nice, friendly person too. That they are ‘down with the little people’.

 

In our company, every crash or bug identified from our CEO holds a veiled threat. It may seem like nothing. An outsider would most probably assume he’s a nice guy, even. It doesn’t seem that offensive right? A simple smiley? What damage could that ever do?

But this requires knowing the person. It requires a certain skill of translation – or intepretation, if you will.

What he says:

Hey team, just thought you should know that I can’t sign up with my email address 🙂

 

What he actually means:

Hey people-I-have-to-pay-to-do-my-bidding-that-I-would-really-prefer-not-to-deal-with, I can’t believe you didn’t pick up on this really fucking basic problem. It is yet another sign of your incompetence &, as usual, I am the one that has to step in to resolve it.

P.S. I’ve included a nice, friendly little smiley so you can’t openly say I’m not nice to everyone! It’s there to sow a seed of doubt, but you know deep down that I’m pissed off. You know that underneath that smiley lies my anger, my threat.

 

And don’t think this is over-thinking it. Interpretation is required because we are not honest with each other. And that comes from the top. People don’t say what they think, out of fear, so they default to veiling their intent behind cute little rounded smileys.

That doesn’t mean we are dishonest people. It means that the culture is dishonest.

If you build a culture where everyone feels comfortable giving honest feedback to anyone else, regardless of position, then people say what they think.

Rather than veiling what they think, they say it as it is – undisguised.

A good company praises, encourages & nurtures honest feedback. A good company realises that people need to grow so that they company may grow. It realises that only through radical honesty can you discover truth & therefore make the best decisions possible.

 

It doesn’t matter through what medium it manifests itself, passive aggression is a sign of a culture of dishonesty & lack of respect. By identifying the symptom, you’ll identify the disease.

It may seem small, but it is the tip of the iceberg.

Therefore, you must ask yourself: are you willing to put up with that?

 

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Lying Creates a Toxic Work Culture

Yesterday I realised for the first time that my manager had lied to me. Coincidentally, I had just finished listening to Sam Harris’ short book on the subject, Lying, & armed with my new approach to the subject, I decided that the lie did not sit well with me. It also had far-reaching implications.

The lie was not a clear statement that could be disproven. It was an idea calculated to deceive; an idea designed to intentionally deceive me & others where honesty was expected.

We were sold ‘the mission’, which was that we would revolutionise an industry & reduce the ecological footprint of millions through our work. This is just not the case. The case is that ‘the mission’ is to pursue lucrative funding contracts. The purpose of our work is, in essence, to unlock each stage of funding.

This deception has consequences that do not permit it to be considered in isolation. The knowledge that I have been lied to makes me also think it highly likely that I have been lied to more than once.

It suddenly brought into question everything. Every decision & interaction. If somebody can lie to you once, then what else is a lie?

 

Why honesty is important

Without honesty, trust breaks down. When trust breaks down co-operation breaks down. Without co-operation, human relationships break down. Without strong human relationships & trust, society breaks down.

It seems pretty obvious, yet we rarely adhere to honesty, despite it being in our collective interest.

When was the last time you lied? Almost definitely within the last few hours. It was probably so small & imperceptible that you didn’t even notice it.

“Sorry, I’m busy this evening.”

“Sorry, I don’t have any change for you.”

“I think I’ve got a sore throat coming, so I’m going to have to cancel.”

 

In a company, the habit of lying is toxic. It starts small, but insidiously works it’s way into every aspect of our human relationships.

If you know – or even just suspect – that somebody has lied to you, then by extension everyone is capable of lying to you.

If lying is known within your company culture, then every activity becomes suspicious; that doctor’s appointment, that day off you took when you were ill, that afternoon you worked from home.

Mistrust does not tend to manifest itself overtly. It is, however, very much implicit in many practices you may find in your workplace. Some examples from my current company:

  • Refusal to allow employees to work remotely
  • Adherence to set working hours (you may have ‘flexible working hours’, as we do, but culturally this is essentially false & it is implicitly signalled by management that the expectation is to work from 9.30am-7pm)
  • A scepticism towards new initiatives from employees
  • A need to always be online on our communication channel, Slack

 

In your personal relationships, it is also toxic. If you lie to somebody successfully, Sam Harris suggests show you will then trust them less. If a friend hears you lying to somebody else, they will expect the same.

By lying you are not only bringing into question the trust of those closest to you, but in many cases you are preventing yourself & those you lie to from confronting a difficult truth.

If, for example, I say that I am busy to avoid hanging out with someone, the only moral option is to tell them why I am avoiding them. This is a difficult conversation to have. However, it may lead both of you to address whatever issue you might have had with them, rather than leaving them left in the dark & confused by your excuses.

 

But what about…

The knock-on effect of lying can be drastic, as Sam Harris convincingly argues. Therefore each small lie must be considered within a broader context. It must be understood that lying ‘just that once’ can have drastic consequences for your own personal relationships & for society as a whole.

I now see it as inexcusable in the vast majority of cases & struggle when attempting to justify such behaviour.

I don’t like this behaviour in myself & think that my excuses are almost always borne from a desire to avoid confronting a difficult conversation or a difficult reality.

I do not expect my lying to stop completely & to live a life of saintly virtue, however.

I’m just trying to be more aware of it & to justify it more consciously. Lying for most is such an ingrained habit that it is not something you can change overnight.

 

My biggest lie

Ironically, despite my changed beliefs on lying, I have consistently lied for over 2 months & still see it as justifiable in this case, on the grounds that I would likely lose my job for being honest (which says something in itself about our work culture).

I decided to quit my job 2 months ago & will be resigning in a month’s time. I think many people at the company must suspect something is up.

I am clearly not happy, I am clearly apathetic towards whatever task I am given & am trying to avoid any extra work so I don’t need to stay late.

My boss, who I would also consider a friend, pulled me over last week & asked if everything was OK.

“Oh yeah, everything is fine. I was just a bit ill last week, so not feeling myself.”

 

This was very slightly true (I had been ill for a few days), but was a poorly veiled attempt to justify 3-4 weeks of unusual behaviour. In essence, it was a lie.

Theoretically, I could have said the following:

“No, everything is not fine. I hate my job. I am depressed most of the week. I am waking up at 6am to spend 3 hours working on a new business plan so I can get out of this place. I will resign as soon as it’s financially viable.”

 

This would make sense if I thought there was something I could change at the company, but it’s too far gone. It has just become a case of making sure I am not fired before I have saved up enough & prepared my new business enough to be ready to leave.

I justify lying on the pretext that I am protecting my job &, more importantly, that I will be 100% truthful once I’ve handed in my resignation. My short-term lies, which do not sit well with me, will be absolved by my future honesty.

 

Takeaway

So next time you lie, stop yourself & think: What are the implications of this lie now? In the future? For my future relationships? For the person I am lying to? For my company culture? For myself?

I hope that, as I have found, you find it pretty hard to justify.

 

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How Only a Verbal Punch in the Face Can Motivate You to Change

I am finally going to use the word. It’s been 3 months in the making & a few days since it has crystallised in my mind. I feel like I need to be honest about it with myself.

The fact is, I’ve thought of myself as ‘unhappy’ over the last few months in this job, but it would be more accurate to say ‘miserable’.

I am miserable.

 

There’s no point taking the edge off it or painting over the cracks. There are too many warning signs to ignore this truth: it’s affecting my mood at all times, regardless of what I’m doing & who I’m with.

It is important to be honest with yourself for piece of mind, true. But it is also dangerous. Lie to yourself & you trick yourself into believing a false reality.

If I start thinking it’s not that bad then I’ll start believing it. I’ll start thinking it’ll be fine to carry on working in a job I find unfulfilling for another year, maybe even two. I’ll start believing that my current, miserable state is the norm. That happiness is, in fact, just a fleeting feeling you might get once a week as you leave the office on a Friday afternoon.

Don’t avoid the bitter reality: if you are miserable, then write it down on paper & let it sink in. Just take it like a jab in the face. Let it sting & wake you from your apathy.

 

Let it fuel your fire

I don’t write this to garner sympathy or to feel sorry for myself. I write it to instil action in myself.

Could you look yourself in the mirror & accept that you will do nothing about being miserable? Would you not force yourself to confront the fact that things need to change? Would you be able to excuse inaction?

I know that I can’t.

By facing the reality that I am miserable, I am creating a deep, powerful drive in myself to change my circumstances. I am making a promise to myself that I will never return to such a state. That I will, at least, do everything in my power to live a happy, fulfilling life.

And the beauty of it? The worse it gets, the more driven you become.

I started realising this job was not quite for me 2-3 months ago. I started looking for the exit – doing a bit of writing, browsing for other jobs, having conversations with other entrepreneurial friends.

Yet everything was fine. The job was OK, the people were great, the perks were nice, I was out the office at around 6. It was all just fine, OK, nothing-to-complain-about.

In the last 2 months, I’ve come to face the reality that I was less happy than I realised – that I was miserable – & it was time to take concrete steps towards forging my own future.

So I went from browsing around for jobs twice a week to writing 1,000 words every morning, getting up at 6.30am & spending all of my free time working on a business plan & defining precisely what I wanted to do in life.

If I had just lied to myself & said that everything was ‘fine’, that I was ‘just a bit unhappy’? I don’t think any of this every would have happened.

 

Next time you look in the mirror, take a long hard look at yourself. Are you being honest with yourself? Are you willing to accept a life that’s just ‘fine’? If not, what are you going to do about it?

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