New Manager

'Withholding' a problem in relationship building

TT Srinath | Updated on January 09, 2018


'Lying is a problem in organisations but not nearly as big a problem as Withholding'.

This is how the authors of the book 'The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership' commence their chapter on 'speaking candidly'. They go on to write 'most firms and leaders practice selective candor, or put another way, they withhold'. 'Withholding', they further clarify 'is refraining from revealing everything.'

People tend to withhold at three levels; at the level of facts, thoughts and feelings too.

I have myself held back at all three levels and paid the price often of compromising my 'integrity.' More about integrity shortly.

I was commissioned to assist a large organisation rediscover its waning energy. I facilitated a workshop where there was mirth, laughter and much back slapping, resulting in a sense of camaraderie.

The President, assuming, that I had cracked the problem for lack of energy asked me to continue engaging with his organisation. This therefore meant spending individual time with each member of his leadership team.

My first interview itself, with the Financial Controller hit a road block when the gentleman revealed to me inconsistencies in how money was being spent. He cautioned me that The President was aware of this and therefore I should not bring it up in conversation with him.

Consuming this information without investigation, when I met The President shortly after, I steered clear of sharing what the Financial Controller had revealed.

The President was intent on knowing the truth and I, owing to a combination of perhaps fear and anxiety that I may lose the contract said all but the truth.

Within a few weeks, encountering more of such data and not sharing it appropriately, I made a few cosmetic suggestions, all of which The President may have seen through, for my contract was terminated. Not revealing the fact jeopardised this consulting assignment.

In another instance, when consulting for a medium sized organisation, a family-owned business, I found that I did not agree with conclusions the CEO was arriving at about the strategy to adopt to grow the business. He was bent on driving numbers, while I thought it was important to align people and get their buy-in before foisting number targets on them.

My sensing came from my understanding that unless there was psychological endorsement and comfort, the leadership team would pay lip service and even silently sabotage outcome.

I was aware of a study conducted by Patrick Lencioni where he highlights the reason why teams do not perform. Yet I did not share this either with the CEO or the leadership team and instead used convincing arguments to have the leaders and managers agree to the number target. Sadly when results were reviewed at the end of the quarter lack of achievement was the only point discussed from the agenda.

In the third instance, I was coaching a senior member of an organisation on his slipping performance and while the avowed intent was to get him up to speed it was important that I show my empathy and understanding. All through our first meeting he was emotionally challenged and incoherent. My urgent need to get on with the task and discomfort with handling his fragility shut me up and I shared little of how I was feeling. In so doing I think I drove the coachee away and he did not show up for our next session or thereafter.

Introspection on the outcomes of these engagements and derailing of my efforts has helped me realise that in withholding I had in effect ‘blocked’ the flow of energy. Blocking the flow resulted in 'relational disconnection'.

When we withhold, as I seemed to have done, when I pull back from the other, I stop engaging. All sorts of defence start playing up and I become incongruent, misaligned and inauthentic.

The prophylactic for this, the authors of the book I have quoted write, is 'being truthful: tell the other my reality accurately; be open; say everything I need to and be aware: aware of what is going on in me'.

This, therefore, requires me to practice and demonstrate 'my integrity'.

Integrity, the authors I quote, write, 'is a breach that interrupts or blocks the flow of energy'.

Integrity has three strands: congruence, alignment and authenticity.

When I am congruent what is experienced in me and what is expressed are aligned and this alignment helps me speak my truth, which is my authenticity.

I am able to speak up, with candor and I commit to reveal and not conceal.

I choose to reveal because I trust, myself and the other. I am unashamed sharing my vulnerability and infuse my words with gentleness, yet with honesty and sensitivity.

The old adage which says 'use soft words yet be truthful when you speak for one day you may have to eat them' could not have been said better.

(The writer is an organisational and behavioural consultant. He can be contacted at

Published on August 17, 2017

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