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Telling the Kind Truth: A Consultant’s Journey with Joe

Jun 21, 2024

Earlier this year, just before our winter conference, I encountered a situation that deeply illustrated the principle of “telling the kind truth.” Joe, a client who had also become a close friend, disrupted a session by steering the discussion elsewhere. Initially, I allowed it, hoping it would be productive. However, as it dragged on, it became clear that Joe was playing politics and had an alternative agenda. Frustrated, I called for a break and debriefed with a colleague.

Upon returning, I chose to be vulnerable and apologized to the group for letting the situation affect me. My honesty helped refocus the session, and we made significant progress. However, Joe’s behavior continued to challenge the session’s flow. When he refused to participate in an exercise that everyone else had engaged in, I decided to address it directly. During the break, I told Joe, “You are difficult to facilitate today,” and provided specific examples and suggestions for improvement. Joe grew quiet, though I didn’t think much of it then.

After the session, it was clear he was pretty shaken. I reassured him the best I could and emphasized the importance of the team. But that didn’t do the trick. Later, I texted him to encourage him, but he was still unsettled. We stopped for a beer on the way to another session with a major bank where Joe was a board member. He was still upset and spent a while expressing his feelings. I listened and tried to balance between empathizing with his perspective and remaining firm with my feedback. It was a difficult and tense conversation. 

The following session with the bank was one of the best I have ever facilitated – his participation was much improved, and the session was a resounding success. On the drive back, he processed the difference. He saw the positive but also had a lot of internal tension.

About one month later, I had this sixth sense that things were still not well. I wrote him and asked him if all was good between us. He confessed it was not, so we had another conversation. He expressed more of his feelings while also noting his appreciation for my initiative and acknowledged that my gut was right (he was not still over it).

The final twist came two months later during a workshop on the “5 Temptations of a CEO,” where I invited spouses to join. His wife came up to me and, with a very serious look on her face, said, “Thank you for your influence in Joe’s life! No one has ever been so honest and vulnerable with him!” I was taken aback and felt so confident about what we do! It reinforced my belief in the importance of balancing honesty with empathy and telling the kind truth.

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