Dream Team: Facing the Fear

Published on
11 Jan 2022

During the early days of AP Logic, I had an employee come to me and ask for a demotion. I had promoted this person from a web development role to a project management position. Shortly after, I found that he was stressed out, customers were not getting consistent feedback, and I was frustrated by the entire situation.

At this point, my employee had a clear choice: to admit it wasn’t working or to try and push through.  As mentioned above, he chose the former route. I remember the day he walked into my office and declared (paraphrased), “Jim, I’m really good at doing things in order, consistently, every time. If you ask me to put up a fence, I can dig post holes consistently, accurately, in order, and I won’t mind doing it over and over. But prioritizing competing needs and responding immediately without complete information isn’t my strength.  Can I go back to my old position?”

His honesty both impressed me and shocked me. But the result was earning my trust and respect in a way that few people have done before or since.  I chose to not cut his pay and in fact he went on to become our point-person for customer support – someone that was deeply appreciated by all our clients.  So here’s the question:  Do you think his career suffered or benefited because he was direct and honest?  Here’s a hint:  we’re still good friends many years later.

Another story: A few years ago, a Senior Software Engineer and I were struggling to figure out the best way to work together.  He was frustrated by certain types of work we were doing and felt like he was all alone trying to handle complicated situations.  We discussed his personality and the realities of our business and came to the conclusion that we would try to change some things and if those changes did not work, we would be up-front with each other about our intentions and form a plan for his exit, together.  This was to ensure there would be no hard feelings or surprises.  A year later, he left the company and went to a position that was better suited for him. And some time after that, he referred a friend to our company who is now a key leader in the business.  Again, we were able to maintain a friendship and still to this day respect each other greatly.

I tell these stories because whether you are employee or boss, trust and fear are two opposite sides of the same coin.  If anyone in the situations I recalled had feared getting screwed and made unilateral moves, that would have made things worse. Trust is what made those situations work!  Yet typical counter-arguments run along these lines:

  1. If you show your cards by being honest, you’ll be at a negotiating disadvantage;
  2. “I can’t afford to lose this person (or lose this job) at this time, so I’ll lay low”
  3. Employment decisions are things that you should decide in quiet on your own, make your move and then dictate your terms to the other party so you don’t get “negotiated”.

My response to these?  Regardless of whether you are the employee of the boss, you’re better off calling the shot first because you will actually appear more confident and confidence engenders respect.  You’ll put yourself at a negotiating advantage by having the confidence to tell someone the truth and propose something that works for you both.  They will see you as proactive and not afraid of the outcomes. Also, you’ll typically get some good tidbits in return for your overtures and will be better educated to plan your next move as well.  Trust wins over fear. And if someone is really out to get you, you don’t want to work with them anyways because it will blow up eventually.  In my experience, it’s been far easier and quicker and more profitable to be candid.