Just Tell The Friggin’ Truth

It seems to be human nature to not want to admit error or cop to mistakes.

And that probably makes sense, in an evolutionary way. Those ancestors who leaped up to take the blame too eagerly were likely punished in severely unpleasant ways… and could have also been seen as too wimpy for mating with.

Those folks who clammed up tight and denied everything stood a better chance of surviving the wrath of the community. It’s certainly the way politics still works.

And, as I recall from my bachelor days, truth was a scarce resource in the dating world.

But this is no reason to adopt denial and lies as “standard operating procedure” in your business. In fact, it’s probably hurting your bottom line much more than you think.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. We’re doing business with a joint that is very good at talking the talk of “quality control”… and the way they tout their customer service, you’d think they had discovered super-human powers.

But it’s all talk. In our short business relationship, we now have experienced dozens of situations with these guys where quality control was a delusion, and customer service failed utterly and completely.

And they will not accept this as reality. It doesn’t jive with their internal world-view… and thus must be wrong. There are no problems. Everything’s fine. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

It’s irritating, far beyond the inconvenience of not getting what you paid for. Denial is stubborness that gives the finger to reality. When people dig in behind a lie, reason is the first casualty.

In life, and in business, you can avoid compounding many problems simply by copping to the truth of the situation. If you screwed up, you screwed up. Lying about it, or trying to cover it up, may work some of the time… but when you get caught doing that, well, pretty soon the fan can’t handle the volume of shit that hits it.

In politics, it’s a well-worn (and well-ignored) cliche that it’s not the crime that does you in… it’s the cover-up. People will tolerate exaggeration and bloviation, but get very, very nasty when lied to.

Couple of examples: We just logged a much-needed five-day vacation over on the Northern California coast. We’ve gone to this one gorgeous old town, on a bluff overlooking the ocean, for years. Mostly, we resign ourselves to not having good cell phone service, and zero high-speed Internet connections.

But this time, we were intrigued by a bed-n-breakfast that advertised both excellent cell phone reception AND DSL as part of the package. Killer views, privacy, pets allowed… it seemed like a great deal. Both Michele and I had small bits of work we had to do, and we wouldn’t have gone to the coast this time if we couldn’t connect to the Web.

I was suspicious, because in multiple previous trips, the town seemed to exist in a high-tech-free bubble.

But the ad featured these new services. We called, and they insisted it was all true.

So we booked the joint.

And while you could use your cell phone in certain parts of the house — standing in specific positions — the DSL hook-up could not be coaxed into working at all.

We complained, they sent out a “technician” who insisted it was all fine, and we were told (in irritating superior tones) that different computers had different requirements for accessing DSL, and we were probably just doing something wrong.

In other words, it was our fault. Not their problem.

Obvious bullshit. We easily discovered a message board on their Website that was filled with complaints from other folks who’d been flummoxed trying to use the DSL. It wasn’t just us — their Internet connection was certifiably screwed up, and had been for some time. (Michele had to hang out at the local coffee shop to get online, using their free wireless.)

When we pointed out that their own Website had proof they were lying to us, they offered a partial refund. Reluctantly. Exasperated at our childish insistence that their version of reality might be wrong.

And we had to put our work plans on hold. We’ll recover, but we feel cheated.

This was just insane. They lied, and pissed us off, and it was all completely avoidable.

Compare this experience to another: Yesterday, I had to book a room in another hotel, in another city. I called one cool place I’d stayed in before, and asked about their high-speed services (because, again, I’ll have to work on the trip). The lady on the phone admitted they really wanted to get their DSL working, but it wasn’t. There was a single, cramped hot spot in the hotel lobby where you could get wireless, but it wasn’t all that reliable.

She was being totally honest with me.

And I didn’t book a room with them. But neither did I cross them off my list of future hotels I might stay at… cuz when they do get DSL in their rooms, I feel fairly confident they won’t lie about the quality of the service. And I still like the hotel — I’ll probably go out of my way to visit their cool house cafe (which overlooks a gorgeous lake) while I’m in town.

So, yeah, they “lost” a sale. But if they had lied or weasel-worded the situation, they would have had a very pissed-off customer on their hands, demanding a refund and telling everyone I know about the fiasco. (Just as I’m doing about the bed-n-breakfast on the coast.)

Way too many businesses believe their own hype. They get caught up in the enthusiasm of an aggressive “mission statement”, gulp their own Kool-Aid, and insist that all evidence to the contrary is either not really a problem, or just a temporary glitch.

I’ve had several experiences lately where — after phoning in to complain — I was hit up with a sales pitch for more services or products from the very company I was mad at. They have a severe myopia about their shortcomings… and, since I’ve worked on the other side of this situation (fielding complaints, back when I worked for The Man), I know that customers who gripe are actually considered the “real” problem.

It’s the CUSTOMER’S fault the gizmo’s screwed up. Somehow. Some way. Sure, it LOOKS like it’s our fault, but who are you gonna believe — our hype, or your own lying eyes?

Just tell the friggin’ truth.

In life, and in biz. Lying about snafu’s just pushes the problem a short way into the future, at best. It will gain size and power as it thrives in the shadows of denial, and can bite you on the butt in ways that far exceed the damages you would have experienced had you just copped to the screw-up in the first place.

The really sad thing is, this isn’t something new that just popped up in business or human nature. It’s always been the case, and always will be the case.

However, this makes it an opportunity to stand out from the pack. Both as an individual, and as a business, being honest with people puts you in a rare category.

You don’t even need to go overboard, and become a Tourette-style truth-teller who can’t shut up, and hurts people’s feelings and reveals company secrets. Respecting truth doesn’t mean it’s suddenly your job to point out everyone else’s faults, or to share inappropriately.

It’s okay to be circumspect, thoughtful, and to keep your secrets.

It is NOT okay to blatantly lie about something in order to get what you want.

It is, in fact, dumb.

So let your competition be dumb. Take the higher road when you have a choice… even if it means losing a sale. Business cycles are relentless, and very cruel to charlatans and crooks. There will be multiple chances to win that sale back later.

Trust me on this. You’ll sleep better when your waking hours aren’t built on a web of lies and deceit.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

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  • John,

    Sorry to hear about your sketchy DSL experiences.. whish I could have been there to help!

    I like what you have to say here. I think if I’m open and up-front with my limitations, people see that I am real honest and the bridge of trust is built. This is very important to me.

    I remember working for a company once where a co-worker advised me “never admit it was our fault” in order to avoid additional expenses and looking unprofessional in front of the client.

    I think telling the truth simplifies your life, you have nothing to hide behind and dont need to remember any special ‘story’.



  • Tim King says:

    “People will tolerate exaggeration and bloviation, but get very, very nasty when lied to.” Yes, the converse is also true: People are surpisingly tolerant of bad news, as long as they feel informed and in control.

    The best manager I ever had taught me this lesson in a powerful way. I was a software engineer in a development shop. I had told our customer we could probably deliver a certain feature, which he was really looking forward to. I was putting it together when my manager intervened. She decided, for corporate reasons, not to deliver that feature after all.

    So she picked up the phone and dialed the customer, got his voice mail. She didn’t make a big deal out of it. It was just, “I’ve called to tell you we will not be delivering such-and-such a feature after all. Please call me if you have any questions.”

    When I commented on how gracefully she did that, she simply remarked, “Well, he had to be told.”

    Yeah. Why didn’t I think of that.

    The customer was of course disappointed that we couldn’t do what he wanted when he wanted it. But it was better for both of us for him to find out earlier rather than later. If we had tried to keep it secret in order not to look bad, he would have found out eventually. And we would have looked even worse.


  • Will Hamilton says:


    Great message. Especially “Denial is stubborness that gives the finger to reality.” Now that’s the truth.

    It reminds me of a quote I wrote in ’85. “Facts keep the confusion out. Confusion keeps the facts out.” You find the facts in what you experience, not your theories, ideas, plans, etc. Confusion won’t let some people see the truth of their situation. They were not only giving the finger to reality, but to their customers as well. Hopefully the facts (lost business) will help them clear out their confused beliefs to see the error of their way. But I’m not putting any money on that one!
    Will Hamilton

  • As a self admitted, reformed liar, I can attest to the fact that it is
    a million times easier to just tell the truth. It’s liberating, and refreshing
    to know that you don’t have to ad lib your way through an answer.

    When operating from a place of truth, things are simple. The truth
    may not make everyone happy, but they will respect you for it most
    of the time.

    Sadly, lying becomes so habitual that most people can’t stop. Even decent
    men who you’d assume were the nicest guys on the block can’t stop their
    fibs. It’s buried deep within and many don’t even realize they are doing
    it. They pass on the blame to others, so they don’t have to deal with their
    own shortcomings.

    I’m so thrilled to live in truth. And on the occasions when a subconscious
    lie tries to creep into my thoughts, I quickly squash that and check myself
    on my own B.S.

    Living a lie is pretty much death. It eats at you core, and impedes any
    ability to grow. It’s sad because in this marketing game I’ve come across
    so many men who I thought were the real deal. Turns out, they are a wee
    bit better then some street cons.

    I love this post John. Lying is something that I had to confront hard core
    about a decade ago and it made me feel like shit at the time. I did not like
    who I had become.

    However, after a few years of intensely trying to live in the realm of truth,
    there is no way I could ever go back.

    The Truth Shall Set You Free!

  • Telling the truth is usually the easy way out these days, thats because people expect you to lie and all of a sudden you dont. They feel like they have to go easy on you as you’re atleast being honest. Theres nothing worse than making a mistake and then lying about it when it clearly is your mistake.

    Thats when people get offended as they think you think they’re ignorant and stupid.

  • Carl Picot says:

    This has got to be one of the most “home hitting” articles I’ve ever read John.

    I call people at the top who are in denial about the real goings on in their establishments “Drinking their own piss.”

    Having come from the Internet Marketing game and being totally burned by people who could “Talk the talk” however when it came to doing what they promised when they took the cash…

    …were a million miles away from being able to walk the walk…

    …and YES I also experienced the same “told (in irritating superior tones)” that it was my fault because I was lazy — once it was too late to get my “coaching” money back.

    Yes I told everyone and actually saved a friend from being badly burned by the same person who’s previous high profile on the net has now diminished to a few “likes” on peoples posts.

    The IM game is riddled with half truths and lies and it’s a shame as there’s some very good people who are genuinely helpful in there getting tarred with the same brush.

    I could talk about this for years – however this is a great post and I can’t agree more with you about truth telling (especially when selling).

    cheers Carl

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