Writing for honesty and integrity

Honesty and integrity are important, not just for personal and social reasons, but for business reasons, too. Being honest (to others and ourselves) about our decision-making helps us make better decisions. That is better for our work and our organisations.

But sometimes this can be difficult—not because people aren’t basically decent, but because we have so many pressures acting on us when we make decisions. I often find that the greatest pressure is time—a decision can’t wait long and there are so many other things to do, that there’s pressure to cut any deep analysis, research or consultation. The problem may be in both the result (making the wrong decision) and also the noise that follows if anyone questions the reasoning.

One of the things that helps me make better decisions is writing things down. The audience for this is not so much myself, but others who will read that text.

I first found this many years ago when I was hiring. If I said No to a candidate I wanted to tell the recruiter why, and wanted to explain in at least a paragraph, not just simply say No. There were many reasons for this, not least of which was that I wanted to demonstrate that their work was not dismissed lightly. But in the process I found that I often had to think hard about my words. Sometimes I wrote down my reasoning, read it back, and found that it sounded terrible. I needed to alter not just my wording, but my thinking. What did “not a good fit” actually mean? Why was an answer “disappointing”? These are things I needed to be clear about in myself, and then put into words. And then it helped make future decisions.

Since then I’ve found the same thing happens for explaining processes, technical decisions, purchasing decisions, and often just replying in email. Explaining the decision in writing for someone else (or even for a potential someone-else) heightens the need for sound logic and ensuring all the options are explored and explained. Of course, sometimes that logic isn’t sound, or some options have been missed. But that’s not bad—the writing (and rereading) process has exposed that and shows that extra work is needed.

Making decisions quickly is great. But while writing things takes longer, it often yields better longer term results.

Photo by r. nial bradshaw

2 thoughts on “Writing for honesty and integrity

  1. Nice post +1

    I’m a strong advocate of writing down decisions too; it has helped me think through options more deeply (perhaps a side effect of practicing some of the Gilb techniques).

    I’ve worked in a number of environments where this was against the norm and looked upon with suspicion. There are some organisational environments where – in the name of exigency – people rush through decisions without consulting those who would be affected. Those same environments typically have a number of people who belabour every possible decision they get wind of and bring decision making to a standstill. The net result is usually mistrust and incoherence.

    Good clear written and living decision making needs a collaborative frame, and in turn when exercised well it creates a collaborative frame where more voices are heard. I would love to see more companies define and run with an explicit “decision making HOWTO”.

  2. I don’t know I’ve ever seen a decision making HOWTO… beyond things which say “write a document using this template”.

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