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Are You Intellectually Honest or the President of Fantasy Land?


Are You Intellectually Honest or the President of Fantasy Land?

If you practice intellectual honesty you will have influence and credibility – it’s a simple and powerful formula but so many get it wrong.

As seasoned managers, we’ve had many, many staff over the years; and those who stand out as the most credible and influential were not just honest, they were intellectually honest.

People who are intellectually honest have the most influence with us because we know that we aren’t just being lobbied for someone’s own self-interest, we are getting the unvarnished truth – which is what managers need and rely on to move the business forward.  

So what’s the difference between honesty and intellectual honesty?

Honesty is telling the truth, intellectual honesty is adopting an unbiased attitude in pursuit of the truth. An intellectually honest argument does not twist, or omit facts to give a misleading impression, and will in fact acknowledge any shortcomings.    

Intellectual honesty is seeing things for what they are—not what you want them to be—and then using the acknowledgement of that truth to move forward effectively.

Consider this scenario. You have a co-worker who is very difficult to deal with and has many shortcomings, but has some important skills as well. The truth is, you can’t stand her. Your boss refuses to address this employee’s performance issues which creates tension and disruption among the staff. You approach your boss to recommend that the lines of authority be re-drawn to minimize her impact in areas that do not match her skill set, thereby helping her focus on areas better suited to her skills.

In doing so, you acknowledge where her skills lie and address where she has deficits. This is an example of intellectual honesty. Rather than lobbying for the changes by painting a purely negative picture, you look at the situation for what it really is, putting your personal feelings aside, and making an intellectually honest argument to correct the problem.

Here are examples of what intellectual honesty looks like in action. Practicing these things is a surefire way to build your influence and credibility.

Be willing to participate in an honest exchange of opinions. If you are unable or unwilling to admit when someone with an opposing view raises a good point or makes a valid criticism, it demonstrates an unwillingness to participate in an honest exchange, and that inflexibility diminishes your credibility.

Publicly question your own assumptions. All of us rely on assumptions when applying our worldview to make sense of a situation. And all of us bring various biases to the table. You will expand your understanding of the world when you discover that your assumptions were wrong and be willing to openly express it. You will learn and grow in the process and you will be more credible as a result.

Acknowledge where your argument is weak. Almost all arguments have weak spots, but those who are trying to sell an ideology will have difficulty acknowledging when their argument is weak and would rather obscure or downplay any weak points. Not all workplace problems are easily solved and honestly working through the grey areas, by acknowledging where your argument is weak, gives you more credibility.

Admit when you are wrong. Those who push an ideology have great difficulty admitting to being wrong, as it undercuts the rhetoric and image that is being promoted. Your credibility will actually increase when you admit to being wrong. However, if you fail to admit to being wrong – even on small matters, your credibility and influence will take a significant hit.

Too many people cower at the thought of acknowledging another way of thinking, even when it has merit. It’s this fear of acknowledging other possibilities or acknowledging that “my original line of thinking has changed” that inhibits the pursuit of the best outcome. The damage created in its wake is diminished credibility and degraded influence.

Do you prefer to live in fantasy land or in reality?

Those who are intellectually honest live in reality and make better decisions and recommendations because of it. As a result, they are the most credible and have greater influence.

Practicing intellectual honesty can be uncomfortable at first but after you get used to it and see your credibility and influence grow, you’ll never go back.  

Question your assumptions, ask for advice, consider the dissenting opinion and admit when you’re wrong. It’s not easy, but who wants to be the president of fantasy land?

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