Book Summary: What Is The Emperor Wearing?


This article is based on the following book:

What Is The Emperor Wearing?
Truth-Telling In Business Relationships
Butterworth-Heinneman
ISBN 0-7506-9872-1
217 pages

This book is inspired by the popular tale "The Emperor's New Clothes". It provides stories of ordinary individuals in the workplace who are in the predicament of confronting the unlikely benefits of "deception" and steering away from the risks and dangers of "truth-telling".

Unfortunately, "truth-telling" is justifiably perceived to be difficult, risky, and unrewarding. More often than not, others will try to invalidate your truth with what they believe is true rather than discover the true nature of the problem.

Take the case of Rita. She tried to tell the truth to her manager, Kerwin, but he refused to listen. Her predictions were correct, but it was only after the scandal broke out in the media that Kerwin realized it. Clearly, Rita's truth was ignored.

Robert, however, was reluctant to accept that his store manager was stealing supplies from his dry cleaning establishment. Robert lost money in a store that seemed to be doing very good business simply because he'd rather not know what the truth is.

Truth-telling has become more risky and difficult to some of the characters in the book. Basically, they had hard times telling the truth when:

  • the truth is bad news

  • the truths collide-that is, when your truth gets fabricated along the way

  • you'd be happier if you know what the truth is

  • you're not sure if your truth is really true

  • your integrity is sacrificed

  • it makes better sense not to tell the truth

The genuine stories of Rita, Robert and the other characters of the book proved the profitable side of truth-telling. In the long run, it has become obvious that truth-telling is always more beneficial than "deception". To practice the skill the following is recommended:

  • Examine Assumptions. With the fear of jeopardizing her position by confronting the manager, Kathleen decided to carefully examine her opinion that her boss is behaving inappropriately at meetings they attended. Eventually, it dawned on her that her objectives are different from his.

  • Know Yourself First. Irwin, a telecommunications executive, was not aware of his alcohol problems. It took near disaster before he realized this. Looking back, Irwin identified that incident as a major turning point in his life and career.

  • Use Your Intuition to Guide You. Elizabeth rarely understood the reason for crying at meetings. When the team examined the situation more carefully, they discovered that Elizabeth's intuition was warning them when something subtle was wrong with some proposed action.

  • The Truth Will Set You Free, but First It May Make You Mad. Pete's team confronted him on his ineffective leadership style. It was difficult to hear the negative feedback, but as he listened and responded, the team members' animosity changed to offers of help and support.

  • Get the Information You Need Without Being Gullible or Paranoid.

  • Ask Questions with Grace and Skill.

  • Tell Your Truth with Compassion for Yourself and Others. Valerie struggled with herself about how to inform her client that she suspected he was using drugs. As she prepared him for job interviews, she started to think that other interviewers might notice the subtle symptoms and mannerisms she had observed in him. She carefully examined her own internal conversation and her fear of alienating her client. Her commitment to her own integrity helped her find an appropriate way to take the necessary risk while continuing to support her client.

  • The "What I Feel Like Saying" Process. Staff meetings were becoming a waste of time in Monica's mortgage banking office. Staff members would come late, leave early, and barely pretend to participate. Introducing a simple exercise at the start of each weekly meeting allowed everyone to gradually learn to work together more effectively.

  • Is Something Sinister Going On? Everyone at the meeting was frustrated. People were repeating their points several times, but they were not reaching any resolution. A simple matter that should have taken five minutes had been debated for an hour. After a brief recess, Barry raised a new issue that concerned everyone. When the discussion of the new topic was completed, they went back to considering the original issue, and they reached agreement on a solution almost immediately.

  • Using Agreements to Create Dialogue Instead of Conflict. It is important for any truth teller to realize that your truth is not THE TRUTH, and neither is anyone else's. Exploring different perspectives on the truth instead of arguing about which is correct can best be accomplished in a safe environment. A variety of organizations use an ever-evolving set of agreements to create and maintain a context in which truth-telling can occur.

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