Every decision that we make has “unspoken assumptions” that shape the final outcome. These assumptions range from personal desires e.g. I want to look good in front of my colleagues, to professional desires e.g. I want the organization to achieve 10% growth this year.
For example, you may greenlight certain projects inside your company because they will provide long term growth, but they also align with your next career jump. You might not willinging tell others, except perhaps while sitting on a comfortable couch and talking to your therapist, but these assumptions, nonetheless, guide your decision-making.
My contention is that you should become aware of these unspoken assumptions to ensure that you’re making the best decision possible. Rejecting them or pretending that they don’t exist, will lead to dissatisfaction and regret.
Many years ago, a book called Radical Honesty came on the market. It promoted a new philosophy for dealing with others, and life in general. Simply say whatever is on your mind at any moment. Do you think the person across from you is ugly? Tell them. Do you think your partner is being dramatic or unhelpful? Say it. Do you think your colleagues are being lazy? Stop the meeting and tell them.
The book argued that we constantly tell “white lies” to maintain social cohesion. These white lies are more damaging to us in the long-term than whatever short-term pain we might experience from sharing them. It was better to live a transparent and open life, than one hidden in the shadows of these lies. If you adhere to this philosophy, then you would have told your colleagues that you chose certain projects, in part, based on their potential impact on your career.
I don’t agree with the extreme approach from Radical Honesty but I would be lying if I didn’t consider or fantasize about it. There’s something appealing about just saying whatever is on your mind. It removes the burden of mentally processing thoughts, leaving you “lighter.” However, the social cost of speaking random thoughts will likely be worse in the long-term.
Making decisions without knowing all the forces that influence us is not what we should strive to accomplish. When I meet with executives, I always ask how a specific decision will help them personally. Some recoil from the question and pretend they are Mother Teresa, simply making decisions in service of the organization. I’m skeptical of this “sacrificing mentality” that some leaders adopt. If it were true, then why even take a salary?
Leaders in organizations need to fully embrace all their assumptions, unspoken or not, before making a decision. Deciding on a specific project because it will help your career, alongside the company, isn’t bad. That’s a win-win situation but you can only make it if you’re present to what is being said, inside your mind and heart.