Corporate Culture: Truth vs. B.S.
April 25, 2008 ‐ 3 comments

beyond-bullshitI just read an interview with Samuel Culbert—a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and the author of Beyond Bullsh*t—arguing that how people talk to each other at work affects the success of their businesses.

Culbert asserts that “bulls—t has become the etiquette of choice in office life,” and that it can undermine a workplace because “it makes people feel beaten up, deceived—even dirty.”

He defines “bulls—t” as “telling people you what you think they need to hear.” He maintains that—even though bullsh--tting sometimes keeps “the corporate peace”—it is “always self-serving” since it “may involve finessing the truth or outright lying.” This in turn suppresses the real, or best, ideas and so the company suffers in the long run. Straight talk at work, then, signals a more robust work environment and healthier company because it indicates a workplace that has a culture built on trust and good ideas.

So—any thoughts on the tradeoff between truth and hurt feelings? Have you come across any workplace tips for encouraging truth (and don’t say staff meetings or cc’s on emails!) On the other hand, do you have any examples of yes-men or –women bringing a company down?

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May 28, 2008 6:51 pm
There's Truth and then there's how Truth is delivered. The latter goes to a lot of the real issues in communication. It also goes to the idea that your audience can't take in more than a 3 second message. To deliver the Truth effectively, you have to work to understand your audience and, when you have a difficult or complex message to deliver, start with where they're at. People will typically only listen to those things that speak to their concerns. When you start from that place, it becomes possible to open up a more nuanced conversation. This is not "spinning" a message. It is, in fact, an act of greater integrity and concern for the audience than blurting out the bare bones of the Truth. In terms of organizational culture, the expectation of having a nuanced conversation can be built. Like any kind of cultural change, it takes time. It first must be consistently modeled by those who are influential (not always hierarchically) and repeated until people begin to understand that the approach offers them a consistent opening to also speak the Truth.
May 28, 2008 4:56 pm
Truth will be embraced only so far as it's promulgated by management; the owner/CEO/manager must communicate clearly, honestly, and authentically to send a signal to the workforce. Since each of us leads in some capacity, we must take it upon ourselves to communicate this way to our colleagues and lead by example.
May 2, 2008 5:56 pm
Truth first last and always! Although in my annual reviews I'm consistently told I need to find a kindler gentler version of myself...

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