When the value of harmony trumps telling the truth

Truth has many adversaries. W Somerset Maugham’s classic The Moon and Sixpence tells of Charles Strickland, for whom beauty is more important than any other human value, truth and integrity included. Thus, the shock value of the novel, both then and now.

Of course nowadays, fake news is the number one public enemy of the truth. Yet fake news is but one of many. 

Yet truth has another adversary: the preference of harmony in social relations; this presents a huge challenge for fast moving organizations which need to transmit accurate information quickly to get the job done and remain one step ahead of the competitors.

Let’s meet Eddie Yu. Eddie believes that social harmony is more important that telling the “so-called” truth, because harmony is Truth, for Eddie.

Eddie is VP of Asia based in Taiwan. He  thinks that Sandra, his peer and young US-based  VP of Strategy should not meet with a certain Mr Ocampo on Sandra’s next tour of Asia Pac. Ocampo serves as a potential clients’ Manila-based CEO, who known is to be very conservative. Eddie firmly believes that much more harm than good  will come from such a meeting.

Yet Sandra asked her  CEO (Stan) to meet with Ocampo, and Stan told Eddie to set up the meeting.

When asked by Sandra what messages she should emphasize when she meets with Ocampo, Eddie stated that “your message should be low tone and understated, because of the complex nature of such meetings”. Sandra thanked Eddie for his input and promised to “send you my PPT slide pack for your further comments.”  Eddie reviewed Sandra’s ppt; he was shocked and said nothing.

Eddie is not “afraid “to tell Sandra or Stan the truth. But Eddie thinks that there is no value in doing so. Quite the opposite; Eddie believes that telling Sandra or Stan “the truth”  will destroy harmony and upset the smooth chain of command, which is far more mission critical than any bothersome fact. 

Sandra met with the client in a short and tense meeting, during which the 69 year old Ocampo felt very uncomfortable with 31 year old Sandra. Ocampo also made sure that young Ms Sandra waited one hour and 45 minutes in the waiting room.

Eddie is ok with this. He thinks he has been a good corporate citizen. No harm done; Sandra will go home and Eddie will nurture the dialogue with Ocampo over the next few years until he gets a deal.

Sandra told Stan that “Eddie screwed things up, because he thought I was treading into his territory”.

Next month, Eddie to going to a course on Authentic Communication, which has been commissioned by VP HR Gloria Ramsbottom, to enable better alignment between corporate and field organizations.







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5 thoughts on “When the value of harmony trumps telling the truth

  1. Great post as always, Allon!

    It’s so revealing to see how we over and over again assume everyone else thinks the same as we do, has the same facts – and more importantly, interpretation of the facts and underlying assumptions about the world around us. We never cease to be amazed when they “don’t get it” or the meeting didn’t go as we had expected, because we all have our own set of “cultural lenses” through which we view the world and fail to recognize that others may in fact have different lenses than our own.

  2. Read the short story – A Temporary Manner – by Jhumpa Lahiri – when is truth righteous and good and when is it a cudgel that creates lasting harm

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