Building Trust – Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?

When we were little kids, we were taught that we should always tell the truth. Never lie, that’s not the right thing to do! Nobody will trust what you say.

Always telling the truth sounds great on the surface, but as we grow up we learn that things are not always so black and white. Brutal, raw, honesty can hurt feelings. It can expose others to criticisms. It can burn relationships. It can share information that we weren’t allowed to share. So is honesty really the best policy?

#DevRel needs trust

It seems obvious that if you want to be trusted by somebody, the best approach is not to be putting out mistruths, lies, and deceits. You should be giving your honest opinions and being transparent. In an era of fact-checking and “Fake News”, mistrust of information is at an all-time high. Trust is a huge importance in customer relationships and something every brand is trying to build.

Developer Relations: Not sure what it is? Want to know more?

Check out this great article by Mary Thengvall: What is Developer Relations (And Why Should You Care?)

When it comes to developer relations, and advocating for somebody else, your relationships are built on this trust. You will succeed only as much as your audience trusts that what you are giving them is helpful and true. In DevRel, we *need* this trust to hear what issues people are having and advocate for them inside the company. Advocates need to take on the role of the trusted advisor who is there to help and guide.

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Walking the line… into a ring of fire

Being honest is a bit of a balancing act. You need to figure out how to find a fair and appropriate harmony between:

  1. Being an easy person to work with
  2. Respecting personal privacy
  3. Not revealing sensitive corporate information
  4. Meeting legal requirements of your various contracts and NDAs
  5. Your ethical obligation to present yourself as a trusted advisor
  6. (… probably many more).

 

SO. TIRING.
That’s a lot of mental gymnastics that you sometimes must do on the fly, on stage, while somebody is asking you a question with a mic.
This is starting to get awkward.

 

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Taking on the challenge

Sometimes you can just throw out the old “I’ll take that back to the team and find out for you, let’s chat after and I can get your details”. This is an easy way to buy you some time, but eventually you’re going to have to figure out how to handle this. It gets you out of a public situation and into a private one, usually online, and usually on your terms. A little easier to deal with.

But you still have the same hoops to jump through.

Let’s run a scenario:

You just finished presenting on the latest cool thing you or your organization built and somebody asks you:

“Hey, didn’t I hear that [so and so] from [online social channel] said that [some tech] is about to be superseded by [some other new tech, probably based on JavaScript]? Are you going to support it?”

 

Now, you could reply with:

“Oh, yeah, I heard about [new tech]. Sarah in Engineering said she was working on something for that, but I told her that it was pretty garbage tech and we shouldn’t waste our time. But, she didn’t agree, and I was told we’ll have something out by the end of the year for that.”

 

That doesn’t sound…. great. While this might get a laugh, it’s not how you should act as a professional representing an organization.

Okay, so, let’s unroll that and try the balancing game!

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1. Being an easy person to work with

Part of building your advocate relationship is making yourself easier to work with. Try something that invites collaboration or continued contact, not being negative and shutting down. You, and your organization, will be glad of your positive approach!

Thanks for bringing that up! I have heard about [new tech]. Sarah in Engineering said she was working on something for that and we’ll have something out by the end of the year.

Have you looked into it yourself? What do you think about it? Do you have anything you’d like to see?

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2. Respecting personal privacy

Even though a name was mentioned in the question, you don’t want to pull in specific people, their contact information, or generally drop any sort of names if you don’t have to. Keep it generic and noncommittal.

“Thanks for bringing that up! I have heard about [new tech]. Engineering said they were working on something for that and we’ll have something out by the end of the year.

Have you looked into it yourself? What do you think about it? Do you have anything you’d like to see?”

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3. Not revealing sensitive corporate information

You might already know that “the team” is working on supporting the new tech, but that’s not open public knowledge, and business priorities change. Best to keep things a little open.

“Thanks for bringing that up! I have heard about [new tech]. I’ll follow up with the team to see about future support, but we do keep a pulse on these and strive to choose the best options for our community.

Have you looked into it yourself? What do you think about it? Do you have anything you’d like to see?”

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4. Your ethical obligation to present yourself as a trusted advisor

Now a tricky part here might be if the new tech is not really that great. You plan on providing support because it’s popular, but you really don’t think it’s a good idea for production use. We trimmed out the content about ‘garbage tech’ because it wasn’t a positive way to interact, but if you have personally looked into it and have opinions to its usage, you should respond appropriately.

“Thanks for bringing that up! I have looked into [new tech], but honestly was not very impressed with its capabilities concerning [some issue]. I’ll follow up with the team to see about future support, though you may find [current tech] is a more viable option for production use.

Have you looked into [new tech] yourself? What do you think about it? Do you have anything you’d like to see? Did you have ideas to work around [some issue]?

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5. Meeting legal requirements of your various contracts and NDAs

If the individual you are speaking to is under NDA with your company, you might be able to share something individually or in an NDA-protected forum. Still, there might be some parts that you have to be careful about, like specific releases or dates. However, you are usually working with these individuals more closely and trying to be more open.

The important piece here is to make sure they know that the information you are giving them is subject to the contract they signed, otherwise they have no way of knowing this is not public information.

“Thanks for bringing that up! I have looked into [new tech], but honestly was not very impressed with its capabilities concerning [some issue]. Since you are covered under an NDA, I can confirm that we plan on supporting it in the future, though you may find [current tech] is a more viable option for production use.

Have you looked into [new tech] yourself? What do you think about it? Do you have anything you’d like to see? Did you have ideas to work around [some issue]?”

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6. BONUS ROUND: “Find me”!

In general, regardless of how you respond, you want to create a connection with this individual, so make sure they know what is the best way to find out more in the future. You are unlikely to direct message them the next time this topic comes up, so use something like:

“Make sure to keep an eye on my Twitter feed or the blog for updates in the coming months.”

Is that completely honest?

In the example above, even in the ‘NDA’ situation we are withholding some company information and not being as open about our feelings on the new technology. This is a balancing act of knowing what is the “right” amount of information to give out and how to do so professionally and objectively. You want to be helpful, you want to present your opinion truthfully, but you cannot disclose private company secrets just to make connections with individuals, nor say things unprofessionally just to get a laugh.

I wouldn’t call this lying, or dishonesty, more of a controlled truth. It is honest, mostly transparent, but not 100% transparent. Oftentimes, people don’t actually need those details, they just want them. What they need is somebody who is not just shoving their services/product down their throat and will help them through their problems.

The most important part here isn’t about giving out information. The most important part was about soliciting a conversation and helping the individual you are connecting with feel like they have somebody who is willing to listen to their ideas. People want to work with a person, not a brand. Be a person!

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Back to the question: Is honesty always the best policy?

It is always the best policy not to slander, lie, and cheat. This is usually also very illegal.

I would say that a controlled truth is what you need to have. 100% transparency and honesty might be achievable sometimes, so do it when you can. This will earn you valuable “trust points”.

Make sure to add those other filters when providing information so you can vary the transparency and still meet your ethical and professional needs. Be the trusted advisor your community needs!

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