Life is full of things that reside in perpetual tension. Sometimes that tension is constructive. Other times it undermines and destroys. Persistence and flexibility are two such attributes. Sometimes I must persevere, but other times pivoting is the best course. Both attributes are good things. Yet taken to either extreme creates a destructive imbalance. Continued persistence in the face of contrary facts is just plain stubbornness. Excessive flexibility lacks any sense of grounding and projects a weather vane of instability overly responsive to the last opinion or piece of information.
Another such dynamic duo involves the principles of Grace and Truth. Those may sound like metaphysical concepts with no application in the workplace, but hang in there with me. For those of the Christian faith, the Bible describes Jesus as a man “full of grace and truth.” If you read about the life of Jesus, you will see numerous occasions where he extended a grace and truth in challenging situations. So, if it was good enough for Jesus, that suggests it’s good for you and me, too.
What is grace? When I extend grace to another individual, I grant them favor or just plain old kindness that reaches beyond common courtesy. Grace confers esteem upon and respect for the other person; sometimes before it’s earned. Grace is not performance-based merit. Rather, grace is often extended irrespective of how the other individual behaves.
What is truth? Truth can be as simple as the facts or data which describes a particular situation. Truth can also be grounded in principles distilled from observing the repeated consequences or outcomes of certain types of behavior, whether in humans or the world around us. In my own worldview there also exist certain universal truths that link the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual worlds. Even if that last point is a bridge too far for you, I encourage you to keep reading.
When we practice grace it feels like a good thing. We are loving on others. We are accepting them with their foibles and failures. We are not judging or otherwise giving offense. However, grace without truth can be harmful. When we avoid the truth, are we truly loving the other person or merely sidestepping the pain that sometimes accompanies honesty? Practicing grace alone invites a world where every person gets to define their own reality, and we risk losing the “common” in community. Unless we are lovingly authentic with others, we constrain effectiveness in their personal and professional lives and indirectly bring harm to the extended community affected by their life. When we extend grace without truth accountability dissipates and individuals and teams experience needless chaos and frustration.
We all know people who boast of their willingness to “tell it like it is.” These self-proclaimed realists often make bold assertions with little or no regard for how their declarative statements impact others. They see themselves as some ultimate arbiter of truth. Through their own lens they attempt to counterbalance perceived wishy-washiness or pollyannaish outlooks in others around them. However, their graceless approach destroys relationships and eventually causes others to tune them out or just plain avoid them. At times truthsayers make penetrating observations but these helpful insights go for naught if no one is listening. When our truth is not accompanied by grace our visage takes on a harshness that makes us seem unapproachable, and people who could benefit from our insights struggle needlessly in continued ignorance.
The key to speaking truth is object of your expression. Are you speaking truth to tear down the other person or sharing truth to build them up? Our hearts are sensitive antennas, and we can tell the difference. The Biblical admonishment to “speak the truth in love” perfectly encapsulates this principle. When we speak truth we must do so with the other person’s best interests as our aim.
Speaking for myself, striking the proper balance of grace and truth is HARD. We all have a natural bent toward speaking grace or truth and struggle to appropriately practice the complementary trait.
How do I practice grace AND truth in the workplace?
- First, identify which trait comes more naturally for you, and recognize that you have to consciously practice its complementary cousin?
- The next time you’re facing a challenging situation stop and ask yourself, “What is the proper blend of grace and truth in this situation?”
- As leaders pay attention to the mix of peacemakers and truthsayers when forming teams since their effectiveness needs a blend of both attributes
- This next point may seem antithetical to the theme of this post, but I find it most effective not to mix messages. While we should practice grace AND truth. There are times and places for each alone. If the honey of your extended grace is usually followed by the more bitter medicine of truth, then your grace loses its impact.