A few weeks ago, I re-posted a piece on Huffington Post that essentially said, “Tell your boss the truth.”

Here’s what readers said:

  • “Yet another ‘helpful’ article written by someone who obviously does NOT toil in the trenches.”
  • “Please… this is just nonsense.”
  • And my personal favorite, “This guy has clearly never worked for a living.”

Hmm… In the immortal words of Flight of the Conchords, “Be more constructive with your feedback.”

After I picked my tiny little feelings up off the floor and tucked them back in my hip pocket where they belong, I started thinking about what this outflow of contempt and venom said to me.  Here’s where I landed:

  • Man, a lot of people hate their jobs and have lost all respect for their leaders.
  • That’s sad. It’s understandable. But it’s mostly sad.
  • Organizations waste a lot of effort when leaders can’t – or won’t hear – from people who are closer to the frontline.
  • Many employees are stuck in situations that make them pretend. And pretending – a form of lying – always takes its toll on people.

With prodding and encouragement of my friend Amy, I decided to respond directly and positively to the posters. HuffPost’s comment limitations made me shorten the response, but here it is in its full form.

Hi All,

Thanks for all of your responses. I clearly hit a nerve – and it’s a nerve that I completely understand having been part of corporate America for 20+ years – first as part of a corporation and now as a consultant with whom people regularly share the real scoop on what’s happening in their jobs.  That real-life experience – and my frustration with it – is what provided the material for this post. It’s also one of the reasons that two of my guilty pleasures are Dilbert and Despair.com.  Through humor, they point out what is obvious to most of us – that life in the trenches for many, many people is pretty rough. It’s also one of the reasons I started my own firm. I’m better at visiting big companies than being a full-time resident.

Here’s my point though: there are a lot of fantastic, talented people in companies who are really trying to do great things – for customers, for colleagues, for our society as a whole – and this sick dance you all point out just gets in the way. Our bosses don’t act in an open and trustworthy way, we suck up or shut up, our bosses get even more remote and stuck in the clouds, we resent them more. And on and on it goes. Several of you pointed out quite eloquently how much this stinks. I couldn’t agree more. And I personally think bosses need to take the first step in changing that dance which is why I posted about bosses seeking the truth before I posted this one on employees giving the truth.

Several of you rightly pointed out that speaking the truth may get you into hot water. And I totally agree that getting the posthumous Silver Star for bravery in a meaningless struggle would be pretty stupid if you could be tucked snugly into bed at home instead. That’s why I advise that you pick your spots – only stick your head above the parapet if it’s for something you really care about and if you think there’s a chance you can get your boss to listen. That usually means finding the angle that will appeal to what they’re trying to do, just like @Lindytindy suggests (minus the false flattery:)).

If you truly have a meaningless job with a lousy boss, I say keep your head down. Meanwhile start looking for a job worthy of your best energy and a boss worthy of your admiration. Maybe you’re understandably stuck in that job with that boss. Maybe your cause then is to watch out for your colleagues and to help someone who does have options fight for something that matters to them. Vicarious purpose is better than no purpose at all.

Bottom line: I think many parts of corporate America are sick too. The deception dance is frustrating, demotivating, and a huge waste. Deep down, I believe most people long to do great work that benefits people beyond themselves. We need to change the game and wherever possible, it needs to start with us – whether we’re bosses, employees, or both. We also need to resist the urge to give up hope. The people we most admire as difference-makers (think Gandhi, Mandela, and MLK) had to fight for change with wisdom for a long time.  

Thanks again for all of your responses. Let’s keep the conversation going.

The best part of this story to me? Several of the originally hostile posters engaged in a really thoughtful, interesting conversation with me.  And that proved that telling the truth – while risky and sometimes painful – really can change the conversation.

Click here to check out the whole conversation on HuffPost.