The value of straight talk

It’s important that we consider what we’re actually saying when a business owner identifies an organization’s goals and values for employees, writes business expert Paul Butler. (MC)

One of the attributes most admired in the workplace is straight talk. It’s a universal principle that shareholders, customers, employees, colleagues and vendors all prefer people who talk straight.  

Is this attribute one of character or of competence?  I’d suggest — both. To speak, is a behavior and therefore it’s what we do. But behaviors come out of who we are — which is character.

When I served as a regional finance director with a major hotel company it didn’t take me long to second guess what my leadership meant when they’d use phrases such as: “business process re-engineering”, “right-sizing” or “optimizing the workforce.”  What I realized they really meant was: “layoffs,” which also translated into long days behind closed doors with an organizational chart and a calculator.

I hear that same lack of straight talk today from many in the workplace. What does, “that could work” even mean? Is that a yes or a no? How about this one? “I’ll try to get to it by Friday?” Does such a statement fill you with confidence it’ll all be wrapped up by the weekend? When someone tells you they’re “crazy busy,” “slammed” or “buried,” do you feel they’ll give full and focused attention to your request?

Three words we often hear in tight succession today in the workplace are: “diversity,” “equity” and “inclusion.” Collectively, they’re commonly abbreviated to “D, E and I”. Standing alone they all sound like quite positive words but when pulled together, I fear they’re causing more harm than good.

Having diverse opinions in the workplace can be very healthy indeed. Some of the best outcomes I’ve observed on complex work projects have been derived by individuals who had completely different personalities; came from varied backgrounds and contrasting ways of seeing the working world.  What such individuals came up with as a team was far greater than the work of a lone genius.  I’ve seen the fruit of synergy fall from the tree countless times, in teams where differences of opinion were actively sought out and encouraged.

The word “diversity” today doesn’t mean the same thing. They’re not talking straight. What such deceptive individuals are really saying is that jobs and vendor contracts should be awarded based on factors outside of someone’s control —namely skin color, gender or sexual orientation.  That’s just plain wrong,

As a recovering accountant, I recall that “equity” is the difference between assets and liabilities. Whereas assets are what the organization owns, liabilities are what the organization owes.  The delta is equity — what the organization owes the owners as they own the business. Translating this into the workforce, I believe each and every employee is owed the right to be treated fairly and have the same opportunity to make a positive contribution and be rewarded rightly for the efforts they make. 

The word “equity” today doesn’t mean the same thing.  The implication within the new lexicon, is that institutional wrongs committed many, many generations ago need to be corrected today. The thought process being, more inequity creates equity. That’s just plain wrong and is a form of double-speak. It’s not straight talk.

To be “inclusive” in today’s workplace is indirectly, and in a roundabout kind of way accusing organizations of having explicit or implicit bias, which creates an exclusive culture. I can’t see the wood for the trees on that definition — can you?  All I know is that having worked in various countries around the world and across 28 states as an employee and now as a business owner — we just cared about getting the job done.  Male, female, religious affiliation or sexual orientation were not, and are still not, matters on the collective table for discussion.  We just wanted the best person for the job.  

I believe what organizations need more than ever today is, men and women of impeccable character and unquestionable competence. Who they are and what they do, will chart the direction of their work teams and organizations for many years to come as they sail through these temporal stormy seas.  

A reliable compass is one that shows true north — straight talking is such a compass in an upside-down world.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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