Honesty In Retail

Honesty In Retail

The other day I wrote about Authenticity In Retail, at the conclusion of that article I wrote, “The benefit of this [authenticity], as a retail leader, is that everyone our team, every one of our coworkers, and everyone we interact with knows that we are a passionate and committed truth-teller, even when we have to carefully and thoughtfully communicate that truth. That makes us trustworthy as a coach, a mentor, and a leader in our industry and this, ultimately, defines our professional brand.

A committed truth-teller. It sounds so simple – yet so many people are incapable of communicating the truth. This may for any number of reasons:

  • We are trying to spare someone’s feelings or pride
  • Not wanting others to think badly of us
  • Our image or reputation is on the line
  • Protecting our ego by avoid potential embarrassment
  • Helping others to save face
  • People complain when you are honest with them, so it’s not worth the hassle [this is a big one in retail]
  • We want to get someone in trouble so we communicate passive-aggressive half truths [this, also, happens with frightening frequency]

If honesty is really the best policy, why do we use excuses like these to either shade the truth, excuse the truth, or justify “picking our battles” because some people cannot handle the truth in retail. And if we feel betrayed or angry when someone isn’t honest with us, then how can we possibly justify those little white lies and thoughtfully crafted exaggerations? The fact of the matter is that honest people who act with integrity don’t lie. Dishonest people who lack integrity do – even if they can [and usually try to] justify it.

The Honest Truth About Honesty


On the surface, the concept of honesty seems simple enough. All we have to do is tell the truth in every situation, right?! Then why is it that otherwise truthful people will justify lying by omission, or telling half-truths in certain situations? If being honest makes life simpler and happier then why do so many retail people and organizations purposely complicate things by being even a little dishonest?

Lots of situations exist in the retail workplace that quickly test our resolve to be completely honest. The tendency seems to start when we are little because we want to avoid punishment. Fear gets the better of us and we say something in an effort to avoid the consequences of whatever it was that we did. If it worked, then just learned that lying is less painful and requires less courage than honesty. Eliminating pain is a super strong human motivator, we quickly learn to fall back on dishonesty anytime we think it will spare us from painful consequences or uncomfortable conversations. Lying becomes the strategy of choice and as long as we don’t get caught we feel no guilt or remorse.

Companies that encouraged honest feedback among its staff, and that rated highly in the area of open communication, delivered a 10-year total shareholder return that was 270% more than other companies—7.9% compared to 2.1%. [Source: Corporate Executive Board]

Anytime we need to justify our actions [especially to ourselves], it’s because we have approached something incorrectly. Making excuses may soothe our mind temporarily, but it doesn’t do anything for the internal conflict that we are forcing ourselves to deal with. When we deliberately do something that violates our core values, it sets in motion emotional conflict. The end result will be the erosion of our values and extreme self-sabotage. Never mind the mess created when dishonesty permeates a retail culture.

99% of professionals preferred a workplace where co-workers discuss issues truthfully. By encouraging employees to tell the truth, potential issues were identified early on, and executives were armed with the information needed to make the best decisions for each organizational initiative. [Source: Fierce, Inc.]

Candor doesn’t happen organically. Organizations must proactively encourage employees being forthright and reward them accordingly. According to the Fierce, Inc. study, “70% of respondents believed a lack of candor impacted their company’s ability to perform optimally“. When employees are comfortable telling the truth without repercussion – obstacles and challenges can be identified early on, and leaders are armed with the information needed to make optimal decisions.

False professionalism is a challenge in many retail organizations. Being polite, politically correct or sensitive to other people’s feelings shouldn’t be the organizational priority. A survey uncovered a disturbing statistic, “37% of respondents felt their organizations suffered from the malady of “terminal niceness,” valuing politeness over the pursuit of the best ideas and perspectives.” Dishonesty actually impedes progress and business growth.

  • 30% of people admit that they’ve lied to get out of trouble at work [Source: PsychTests]
  • 73% of people would tell a boldfaced lie in order to protect the feelings of someone they care about [Source: PsychTests]

Honesty Requires Tremendous Courage & Tact

Being honest requires courage because it makes us vulnerable and accountable, especially inside a culture that doesn’t practice or value honesty consistently. To avoid stepping on the feelings of others with our honesty also requires tact. Honesty in retail leadership isn’t about being a jerk – it’s about being committed to your team’s growth and well-being.

Research shows Americans tend to tell an average of 11 lies a week. And three out of five people will tell at least one lie in a 10 minute conversation and not even realize they are doing it. [Source: Live Science]

Why do we lie? To make ourselves look better or to make someone else feel better are two reasons. And the minute our self esteem is threatened, we tend to pour on the exaggerations, falsifications and outright lies, according to the research done at the University of Massachusetts. But as tempting — or pathological — as it is to lie, there are plenty of benefits to cultivating an honesty habit.

Being honest may not always be the easiest or most convenient course and that’s why courage and tact is required. Regardless of the prevalence of dishonesty that we encounter in our retail environment, we all have the freedom to choose to live by a higher standard. People of integrity will always recognize and appreciate your honesty and courage. However, when you are delivering honest feedback and performance/career guidance you need to be empathetic to your audience and deliver the information in the best way it will be received by the individual.

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

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  • Look people straight in the eye and really “see” them: This is huge. I can’t say exactly why, but when you look someone straight in the eye, you’re initiating a connection that can’t be achieved any other way. It also shows respect, i.e. there’s nothing more dismissive than not “recognizing” someone by looking directly at them or being distracted throughout a dialog.

  • Be direct and genuine: The big problem with political correctness is that it’s hard enough to be straightforward and direct with people as it is. Political correctness adds layers of complexity that make it difficult to be straightforward in a work environment. But, the more direct and genuine you are with people, the greater their sense of trust and the more respect they’ll have. Remember: People of integrity will always recognize and appreciate your honesty and courage.

  • Leadership presence isn’t about power and domination: This is perhaps the biggest misconception about leadership because there are retail “managers” that lead by fear and domination of their teams. Truly strong leaders lead by inspiring, supporting, teaching, and involvement. Leadership doesn’t come from control, it comes from connecting and relating, from sharing your passion in a way that’s meaningful and motivational to others.

  • Learn to be a storyteller: This is a big initiative in business now. The human element. People relate to stories and storytellers. People don’t remember facts and figures [but I still love my statistics] as well as they remember stories. They also find it easier to connect with storytellers. If you really want to relate to people in a deep way, tell them stories they can relate to and build context for strong decision-making guidance.

  • Be open to feedback: How you say things is more about how you feel than what you think. If people have trouble relating to you or respecting you, chances are you’re not as self-aware as you think you are. Solicit feedback from your team, your senior leaders, and your business partners about your communication style and learn from what they have to say. When people see that your are open to feedback – they will become more self-aware of their development.

Benefits Of Being Honest

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Honesty disarms people: People can be disarmed by your honest response to a situation. Especially in retail where it is not practiced regularly – honest people stand out like a sore thumb. Being supportive and involved – your team will understand that your guidance will come from a place that truly in invested in their success – even the hard-to-hear-stuff will be heard.

It reduces stress: Keeping track of deceptions is exhausting, to say the least. Building a reality based on lies is the proverbial house of cards, and a dishonest person always has to train to maintain. Choose honesty and you never have that stress. Ultimately – lies are always uncovered…always.

It keeps you from lying to yourself: Cultivating honesty means cultivating awareness of what is honest, and when you are aware in that way, it is hard to lie to yourself about your motivations and your actions. Being honest, literally, starts at home and with ourselves.

Very little can come back to bite you: When we refrain from lying or manipulation in our interactions with others, we aren’t worried about negative actions coming back to haunt us. Why risk it or spend time worried about when, not if, it will happen.

It builds self-discipline around communication: A commitment to total honesty means paying a lot more attention to what you communicate. You’ll think about whether you really need to tell that white lie. You’ll own up to mistakes and learn from them.

It demonstrates personal and professional confidence and integrity: If you are dedicated to being honest, you better be comfortable with yourself. When you are honest, you are transparent about who you are and what you do. You believe in yourself. If you do have self-doubts, you’re transparent about them and work toward filling any gaps in your performance.

You attract better quality colleagues and business partners: When you act with honesty and integrity, others with the same qualities are drawn to you. I don’t mean the “I tell it like it is” bravado, which is usually a mask for hostility and manipulation by “managers” that lack any people skills. But an honest approach to all your dealings and communication just naturally appeals to other people who operate the same way. Birds of a feather…

It‘s good for your career and your professional reputation: When your organization values honesty and integrity, you become a trusted source of feedback and a voice for improvement. When your team understands they can trust you and that’s a non-negotiable that you have of them as well – you operate at an organically higher-level of performance and collaboration. Communication is clearer. Questions are asked for clarity. People don’t have to assume anything.  While it might seem that people who do anything to get ahead succeed, if “anything” includes deception, they ultimately are outed. When you are known as a retail leader who operates with integrity, someone who can be relied on, someone whose word can be taken seriously, the benefits are huge. Your reputation often precedes you – especially in the small world of retail, and credibility means everything.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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One thought on “Honesty In Retail

  1. my favorite paragraph, “Companies that encouraged honest feedback among its staff, and that rated highly in the area of open communication, delivered a 10-year total shareholder return that was 270% more than other companies—7.9% compared to 2.1%. [Source: Corporate Executive Board]”

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