How to Create an Atmosphere of Honesty in the Workplace

An honest workplace opens itself up to new and potentially productive ideas.
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With headlines full of embezzlement scandals and employee mistreatment, workplace honesty seems like a memory of a bygone era. But good old-fashioned truth doesn't need to be a product of the past -- honesty at work is still entirely possible, and once it starts, it's positively infectious, as is the sense of creativity and energy it breeds. Honesty, like many forms of workplace ethics, begins with openness and communication.

    Step 1

    Inspire by example. This is perhaps the most crucial and most challenging step. If you have a leadership position in your company, be honest with yourself and with your employees. Dishonesty includes withholding and covering up your own mistakes -- own up instead. If your employees sense you withholding or hiding things from them, they'll likely do the same. Encourage transparency from the top, however, and the practice catches on.

    Step 2

    Let your team know you trust it. Express your faith in co-workers' ability to do their jobs, and verbalize your trust in your company's policies and the abilities of the individuals around you. If people feel trusted, they're more likely to share truths.

    Step 3

    Alleviate feelings of fear. Steven Gaffney, author of “Honesty Works! Real-World Solutions to Solve the Most Common Problems at Work and Home,” says that fear is the number-one reason people lie. If you chastise, punish or criticize people for being honest, you inhibit the truth from arising. Encourage discourse, but avoid being defensive or argumentative. Accept and welcome honesty, and it will thrive naturally.

    Step 4

    Build rapport. Ask questions of those around you, and do so in person. Ask about specific projects you know others are working on, find out their interests and always follow up. Be inquisitive; when someone comes to you with an issue, don't be afraid to ask questions until you fully understand the problem.

    Step 5

    Encourage employees and peers to say what needs to be said -- withholding information puts a haze of dishonesty over the workplace. If workers harbor pressing issues, they're likely to boil over. Let people know that it's OK to voice a contrary opinion -- in a polite way, of course -- and, tough as it may be, it's all right to be the bearer of bad news sometimes. Remind the staff that no one likes a yes-man, especially if the yes is strictly self-serving.

    Step 6

    Reward examples of positive honesty. Rewards don't have to be monetary. If someone comes forward with information that might be difficult to share but helps the workplace as a whole, say how much you appreciate the tip. If an employee's criticism seems genuinely constructive and heartfelt, reward him or her by listening and trying your best to implement that criticism. This shows that you not only respect honesty for honesty's sake, but that you're taking the employee's feelings to heart.


    • Mind the little things. Kathleen Hall, author of “Uncommon H.O.P.E.: A Powerful Guide to Creating an Extraordinary Life,” recommends adorning your desk with family photos or hanging your favorite inspirational quotes on the wall. By giving those around you a sense of who you really are, you'll encourage them to open up.

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