How Tom Brady Could Benefit from Proactive Honesty

We live in a society that regularly distorts the truth about others without any sufficient evidence of what is real or not. Such was the case with the Tom Brady “Deflategate” Controversy.

Last week, I was invited to News Channel 8 to talk about Tom Brady, professional sports and proactive honesty. Proactive honesty means using full disclosure to bring issues to light instead of letting silence do the talking. In the absence of data, people usually make things up and oftentimes, that means moving to a more negative space.

Watch the interview to learn my take on “Deflategate” and to find out more about proactive honesty and why it matters.

Want to weigh in with your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter. Feel free to Tweet me @Steven_Gaffney about your feelings on Tom Brady, honesty in professional sports and the idea of proactive honesty.

One Helpful Tip to Inspire and Motivate Others

Motivating others to change can be a difficult task at times. You may bump up against people who are resistant to change, who are content where they are or who simply don’t see the benefit or value in making a move in another direction.

Inspiring others to take action is easy when you know how to approach the situation. One of the primary differences between someone who can inspire others and someone who can’t is their perspective.

Watch this video to learn one helpful tip to inspire and motivate others. When you’ve finished watching the video, Tweet out one tip you learned from the video and be sure to tag me – @Steven_Gaffney – so that I can see the benefit you saw in motivating others.

Beware of These 5 Communication Myths


Myth #1: Time Heals All Wounds

The truth is, that time usually deepens wounds. If time really healed all wounds, people would not blame their behavior on their childhood and past events as they often do. In fact, time can deceive us into thinking that problems with others have been resolved, but all it takes is to see them again or something to remind us of those previous unresolved issues and we will become upset all over again. In essence, our unresolved past is lying around waiting to strike us in the present.

What to do? Do not rationalize by thinking, “Well, they are not saying or bringing it up, so I will just let it go.” Just because they are not bringing it up does not mean that they have let it go. They may feel awkward or embarrassed or they may not know how to bring it up so they have decided to bury it. The key is to proactively bring up issues and resolve them.

Myth #2: Don’t Rock the Boat

The truth is, if you don’t rock the boat, the boat will probably sink. Faced with an issue or problem that is bothering us, many people rationalize, “I am not going to say anything. It is not that big of a deal. I don’t want to rock the boat.” The problem with this way of thinking is if we don’t say anything, the issue is unlikely to be resolved. Then what was once a small issue may fester and grow into a big problem.

What to do? As stated above, proactively bring up issues as they happen.

Myth #3: Be Diplomatic

The truth is, if we are too diplomatic, the point we are trying to make will not get across and nothing will get resolved. Have you ever had someone claim that they told you something, but you really don’t remember or didn’t understand the message they were trying to send? This happened because the message being conveyed to you was so subtle that you missed the point.

What to do? When we have to communicate an issue, bringing it up in a respectful way is important, but make sure the issue and what you want done is clear and direct.

Myth #4: Sandwich What You Really Want to Say Between Two Compliments

The truth is, the “sandwich method” is so obvious that people immediately identify the strategy and feel manipulated. The sandwich method is when you place what you really want to say between two positive compliments. “I appreciate how hard you work, but blah, blah, blah… and thank you for working with me on this.” This communication trick can permanently damage relationships.

What to do? Tell people the truth. People are smart, but we are lousy actors, so be honest and clear. If you have issues, talk about them and get right to the point. When you have something nice to say, bring it up in a conversation unrelated to the problem so you can get the most benefit out of the conversation.

Myth #5: More Communication Leads to Resolution

The truth is, simply having more communication can lead to wasting time and possibly more misunderstandings. Sometimes it is believed that the more people talk about something, that easier the message will emerge from the sheer volume of information. But how often have you been in a meeting where people “talked about things” and nothing got resolved.

Consider this: if the solution were simply to increase communication, wouldn’t you expect that the increase in e-mail, cell phone use, and video conferencing would have significantly reduced communication problems? In spite of all of these extra tools now accessible to us, it seems that there are more misunderstandings, mistakes, and conflicts than ever before. And people still complain that they don’t receive the feedback they need to do their jobs properly.

In fact, communication technologies can also help people spread misinformation with blazing speed, sometimes leading to devastating results. Communication technology is not inherently bad. However, the way people use it is often ineffective. Increasing the amount of communication through multiple channels is not the answer.

What to do? Instead of just increasing the amount of communication, make sure that people know how to effectively use the different methods to communicate. These methods can make the critical difference in successfully resolving issues as they arise.

Take Action

Pass this tip on to people you care about; your co-workers, your boss, your employees, your family and friends. Use it as a basis to talk to the people around your office, in your organization, and your personal life. Have an upfront conversation about the “myths of communication” and assess what everyone is willing to do differently. This way everyone will benefit from the knowledge and wisdom we all have to contribute.

Create Moments of Honesty Every Day

Last week I was invited to appear on Good Day DC to celebrate National Honesty Day. We had a great conversation about honesty and the impact it has on both personal and professional relationships.

Here are just a few of the things that we talked about during the interview:

  • Why the unsaid is often more harmful than the things that are being said
  • The reason the “sandwich method”, often used to deliver criticism, is manipulative and what to do instead
  • Why appreciation is something we need to practice on a much more regular basis

Although National Honesty Day is now behind us, we want to encourage you to create moments of honesty every day. Getting the unsaid said, appreciating each other more and being honest in our communication will lead to more successful relationships and business interactions.

Watch the interview and, once you’ve had a chance to tune in, Tweet your thoughts to me at @Steven_Gaffney with the hashtag #HonestyEveryDay.

National Honesty Day, April 30th

National Honesty Day brings us a healthy reminder to examine your current level of honesty. This holiday challenges people to evaluate just how honest they are.

Lying is not just about making false statements. It also encompasses everything that is conveniently left out, avoided or withheld. In my nearly 20 years’ experience advising top government leaders and Fortune 500 executives on increasing the bottom line through open, honest communication, I have seen the mounting costs of such withholding.

A survey of 1,000 adults reported in James Paterson and Peter Kim’s book, “The Day America told the Truth,” found that 91% of people lied routinely. I like to add that the other 9% probably lied when surveyed.

Open, honest communication is often the antidote to the hidden costly problems that inhibit organizations’ teamwork, collaboration, innovation and growth. This National Honesty Day, try it out. Discover the opportunities honest communication brings in both your professional and personal life.

If you struggle from withholding the truth, there are a few things you can do to change your behavior and in turn change your life. I invite you to take that challenge today, National Honesty Day, in discovering the hidden truths in your life.

Watch this video clip from Fox News for practical advice on how to incorporate more honesty in your relationships, company or work place.

I’d also love to hear from you on Twitter or over on our Facebook page. I want to know how your honesty day went and what you learned from it.

The Law of Reflection


Abide by the Law of Reflection

The Law of Reflection states that what we give out is what we tend to get back. You may also know this law as the Golden Rule, or by the phrases “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “What goes around comes around.” 

We have all heard these phrases in various forms and often recite them ourselves, but what strikes me is how easy it is to forget the powerful role this philosophy plays in honest communication.

Just think about it. How often have you experienced someone who does not listen to you or is not fully honest with you? In the spirit of National Honesty Day, be truly honest with yourself. Have there been times when you did not listen to that person or when you failed to openly share with them? As leaders, parents, colleagues and friends, we must model the behavior we seek.

When people blame us, we tend to blame them; when people accuse us, we tend to accuse them right back; when people withhold information from us, we tend to keep information from them. It also tends to hold true in the positive direction. When people take responsibility for their actions, we tend to take responsibility for ours; when people apologize, we tend to apologize back; when people focus on the solution; we tend to do the same.

Abiding by the Law of Reflection motivates you to be honest with others and compels others to be more honest with you. Be honest in acknowledging your mistakes, communicating your concerns and expressing your appreciation. Doing so will encourage others to do the same. Take that a step further and really listen to people if you want people to listen to you. Listen, no matter who are speaking with.

As National Honesty Day quickly approaches, abiding by the Law of Reflection is one way to increase your level of honesty.

Cure Your Email Headaches!


Do not hide behind your keyboard to avoid uncomfortable or difficult conversations.

In the spirit of National Honesty Day, let’s be honest. We have all decided to send an email to deal with an uncomfortable or upsetting issue instead of having a direct conversation. Do emails really help resolve issues or confusion more quickly and effectively?

Research shows that 90% of a message’s meaning is conveyed by tone, body language, context and source; not just words. Therefore with email, tensions rise and problems escalate when people hide behind their keyboards to avoid the discomfort of talking directly about issues. This leads to distorted one-way conversations that lack the tone, context and body language that clarify messages in two-way dialogue. Thus, email wars erupt, clutter mailboxes, eat up time and thwart collaboration, morale and productivity.

Email can be a terrific, quick and efficient form of communication, or it can be horrific. It all depends on how it is used. Below are a few tips for how to effectively use email:

Use email for its four main purposes: to communicate information, to receive information, as a form of documentation, and for friendly correspondence.

For example, use email to keep everyone informed of a project’s status, to verify what was discussed in a face-to-face or phone conversation, to ask a quick question, to say hello, and to compliment.

Do not use email to resolve emotional upsets.

In other words, if you are upset with someone or someone is upset with you, do not use email. Call the person or go talk to the person face to face. Given the inherent difficulties with communication via email, it is not a good way to communicate emotions or resolve difficulties.

State the purpose of your email immediately.

By stating the purpose in the subject heading or in the first sentence of your text, you minimize the possibility that the recipient will misinterpret your message or delete it before it is read.

Write email as you would a newspaper article.

The first paragraph should contain the most pertinent information, with details following in subsequent paragraphs. People are busy and need the highlights. They may never finish the email and may miss important information if it is buried in the body of the text. If appropriate, have a quick summary sentence at the end.

If an email volleys more than twice, pick up the phone.

If you email back and forth with someone more than two times about the same issue, it is time to pick up the phone and get clarification. When emails volley back and forth about the same issue, it is often a sign that something else is going on (someone is really upset, doesn’t understand, is being resistant, and so on).

If you don’t want an email published in a newspaper, don’t send it.

You never know what will happen with your email or to whom it will be forwarded once you press send.

This National Honesty Day, choose to use email for the right purposes. If you are upset, confused or have a serious issue to resolve, pick up the phone or walk down the hall and have an honest two-way conversation. Do not use each stroke of the keyboard to brush issues under the rug. Remember, email can be either a terrific or horrific tool. It all depends on how it is used. Be careful!

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s honest communication tip in honor of National Honesty Day (April 30)!

Did this tip help you? We welcome your feedback at or 703-241-7796.

How to Deliver Bad News

Steven - 2015 profileBad news about us is better coming from our own mouths than from someone else’s.

As National Honesty Day approaches and you consider your own level of honesty, you might find yourself in the “Truth vs. Lies” trap. This trap leads many to believe that if they simply refrain from lying, they are honest. That’s a great start, but as I’ve said before, honesty goes beyond not telling lies. It also requires us to share ALL details (the good and the bad) and to tackle difficult conversations head-on. These aspects of honesty are particularly challenging when it comes to delivering bad news about ourselves.  

Sharing bad news is part of everyday life. The key is to proactively share such information before the other party discovers it. In the end, people usually find out the truth. Therefore, honest communication is critical to establishing credibility and trust with our customers, potential clients, co-workers and staff, as well as our family and friends. You can tell how open and trustworthy a relationship is by how willing someone is to share things that are difficult but important to hear.

When it’s time to share bad news and difficult information, keep in mind these four techniques for effectively delivering the message:

Deliver it immediately.

Bad news about us is better coming from our own mouths than from someone else’s. If someone else discovers our bad news before we divulge it, it undermines their trust in us, and they may begin to wonder what else we are hiding.

Take 100 percent responsibility for your actions.

Remember, no one makes us do anything. We choose our actions for a variety of reasons. Great leaders and coaches take responsibility for their team’s actions as well as their own. Taking responsibility helps others receive any news favorably. Consider Ronald Reagan. He began slipping in the polls during the Iran-Contra affair until he took full responsibility. After taking responsibility, his popularity rose again.

Get ahead of the curve on bad information.

If the future looks bleak or more bad information is possible, find out as much as you can and share it as quickly as possible before someone else discovers it. Years ago, tainted Tylenol killed people, yet the company survived the crisis in part because company officials quickly and openly shared what they knew with the public.

Take immediate and widespread action to correct the situation.

People feel more secure when they hear and witness someone doing something about the situation. Unfortunately, organizations and individuals often take a reactive wait-and-see approach – only to have the situation worsen. How we respond to mistakes defines us. Consider the Tylenol example again. The company immediately pulled all the potentially deadly products off store shelves. They did not wait to be forced to take action; they proactively told the public what their company was doing to correct the situation and prevent further accidents.

No one likes to share bad information, but doing so honestly is imperative to maintaining the bond of trust. Trust is the foundation of all relationships, and honest communication is the key to developing and building the relationships we desire.

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s honest communication tip in honor of National Honesty Day (April 30)!

Did this tip help you? We welcome your feedback at or 703-241-7796.

The Cancer Wake Up Call


Some of you may not know, but I am a survivor of testicular cancer. In honor of Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, I want to share my story with you.

Although I am cancer-free and completely healthy, there were a few things that remained and those were eight very important life lessons that I learned during my journey.

* * *

It was 9:00am on April 13, 2009. I was healthy. Or so I thought. By lunch time, I was not healthy. The roller coaster of life was about to take some major turns…

I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The doctor gave me an interesting perspective when he said, “If you have to have cancer, testicular cancer is a good one to have. It’s virtually 100% curable.”

On one hand, I felt extremely fortunate and relieved of the prognosis. However, on the other hand,  I was shocked. I had the BIG ‘C’.   Several thoughts ran through my head:

“Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”
“I never get sick.”
“No one in my family has had it.”
“Why me?”

Then I felt guilty for feeling sorry for myself. I tried to “motivational speak” myself into sucking it up and dealing with it.

Let’s fast forward to the end of this story. I was fortunate. My doctors caught it early. I had an operation. I went through nine weeks of chemotherapy treatment. As of today, just as my doctor predicted, I have a clean bill of health. While the BIG ‘C’ is gone, I have learned invaluable lessons that will stay with me forever.

Truth be told – before April 13th, 2009 – I lived like the Teflon Man. I had heard of many tough situations – health challenges, people passing, tough breakups, financial worries, and more – and thought, “Wow. That situation is so awful; so challenging. I feel so sad for that person.” But, after some time, I wouldn’t think too much about the situation and would continue on with my life.

On April 13th, 2009, the Teflon came off. What stuck, changed my life. I’ve outlined the lessons I learned from my experience. I truly hope these lessons will help you as you deal with life challenges.

Lesson 1:  The worst lies you ever tell are the lies you tell yourself.

I have been teaching strategies on how to use honesty to resolve issues and conflicts. As I reflect on my experiences, it took that single day in April for me to shed the Teflon and really get honest with myself.

Yes – I’m the president of my own company, an author of three books, and for fifteen years, a professional speaker who teaches people to use honest communication.  But, yet, as embarrassing as this is to admit, I had not been honest with myself.

I had been wasting time – years – thinking I needed to pay my dues before I could take the time to sit back and enjoy my life. I thought I could compensate for the time I was giving up. In other words, I thought that one day, it would all pay off. I always thought:

“One day,  I will spend more time with my loved ones.”
“One day, I will start a family.”
“One day, I will travel around the world.”

It was as if someone was keeping a ledger on my life. If I made enough deposits I could always cash it in later and reap the rewards – the other aspects of my life that I was missing.

Although the doctor did say my prognosis was virtually one hundred percent curable, I couldn’t help but think:

“What if that one day of pay off never comes?”
“What if it’s too late for my ‘I will do it later’ mentality?”
“What if those days to make good never come?”

Honestly, I was living as if time was in endless supply, even though I knew the fragility of health and life. I realized that I just didn’t get it.

Before my diagnosis, I was living as if others would be around when I was ready  to enjoy them… you know, when I fulfilled the goals I was working towards.

I felt silly and selfish for thinking this. After all, if I could have something like the BIG ‘C’, others could have a lot worse. And, the sad truth was, at least in some respects, it actually was too late. Some people were gone. It was too late to enjoy them. I missed the opportunity. Friends have moved on and were gone. My grandparents and several relatives were gone.  Vanished. Done.

Don’t wait until tomorrow to start living your life, make that one day be TODAY!

Lesson 2: Be responsible for what you say.

I would like to say that everything that came out of my mouth during this time was positive. But, alas, that would not be true. I made many mistakes in how I handled this situation. For example, after I had the realization of the number of doctor visits and potential issues that I might have to deal with, I was on the phone with a friend and made a flip, insensitive remark:

“Maybe I will just get hit by a bus. And then I won’t have to deal with all of this.”

I hung up the phone only to hear my girlfriend – now fiancée – who was in the next room, start crying and say, “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”  Ugh! Note to self: Don’t be selfish. Be responsible for what you say.

Lesson 3: In the absence of data, people make things up.

I knew if I withheld information about my cancer to my family and friends, they might make things up and would probably worry more. I decided to be as open as possible so they would be less likely to fill in the gaps.

I used this principle on myself. I realized that the Internet can be a great source of information. I also realized that it can be a source of misinformation and misinterpretation. When I did not know something, I stopped the speculation, guessing, and assumptions. Instead, I searched for someone ‘in the know’ who could answer my questions.

Lesson 4: When people are afraid they say and do silly things.

Chances are, when bad things happen, people don’t know what to say. So, often, they just don’t say anything.  At first I was hurt until I realized that there were times in my life that I had done exactly the same thing to other people.

Others did say things, but what they said did not always come out exactly right.  For example, some people shared about how I didn’t take care of myself or how I work too hard. In essence, they were saying – without coming right out – that somehow I brought this on myself. I wasn’t upset by this. I realized they were trying to rationalize how they could prevent this from happening to them. They were just afraid.

Some reacted to my situation by expressing their own worries. Or, I’d hear cancer horror stories they had heard. Others launched into “fix it” mode and started to lecture me on what I needed to do and how to eat better. Instead of wishing the situation were different, I took control of these conversations and simply responded with: “I understand.” And then, I redirected the conversation. I changed the topic using questions and/or I turned to something more positive. This way, I got the value of their contribution without having to dwell on the situation.

I realized that there are many people who are alone and have no one in their lives. I was very fortunate that I had people in my life who cared about me.

Lesson 5: Ask for what you want. People can’t read your mind.

People would inevitably ask me, “Is there anything I can do?” Most people are not honest with their answer and say, “Nothing.” I chose a different path. When people asked me that question, I was prepared and honest with my response. For example, I asked people to call and comfort my parents. I wanted to help reduce their stress and worry. How could people have known what I wanted if I wasn’t honest with them?  People aren’t mind readers. Be honest and clearly state your requests or desires.

Lesson 6: Besides the “official” patient, there are others who are affected by this disease that go untreated.

As the patient,  I was at the center of things. But, there were other patients – the loved ones. The loved ones are patients too. As I learned, family and friends often feel helpless. For the most part, all they can do is watch, pray, and hope things turn out well. To make matters worse they often store their emotions in an effort to stay strong. Here’s the irony: there’s great patient care but not enough care for the unofficial patients – the loved ones.

Lesson 7: Your perspective dictates your attitude.

Most of my doctors and nurses had great attitudes despite how sick and close to death some of the patients were. How could that be? I asked about this and learned that it was because they wanted to make a difference.  The doctors and nurses were in an environment that was gloomy. But, they chose to look at it as an opportunity to contribute.

As I received my chemo, I met patients – patients who were going to be fine, patients who were not sure, and patients where the end was inevitable. I knew my treatment was short and the outcome was not in doubt. This helped me keep perspective and be appreciative of how lucky I was. My grandfather’s words rang true, “Things can always be worse.” I received a heavy and hopefully life altering dose of medicine – keep the right perspective and appreciate my life.

Lesson 8: You don’t always have control over what happens to you. But, you do have 100% control in how you respond.

I realized I didn’t have control over this situation. It was what it was. I was 100% responsible for gleaning the value from my experience. I was brutally honest with myself. I became a lot closer to the people I should have been closer to all along. I became more spiritually connected. I appreciate my life, the people around me, and the work that I do in more ways and dimensions than ever before.  My Teflon shield is gone. My experience has helped me move from living the “One day I will…” to deciding that the “One day is today.”

As I half-jokingly and half-seriously said to a friend, “OK! If someone was trying to get my attention, they got it!”

* * *

This article was taken from a speech I gave at Penn State University’s “Relay for Life” Cancer Foundation benefit on April 9, 2010.

The Truth about Assumptions

We all know the infamous saying about assumptions, and it has given assumptions a bad reputation. In fact, I have discovered that some of the best leaders have assumptions that empower them in their work and in their lives. Let’s take a look at a few of those empowering assumptions.

Assumption 1: There’s More to the Story

Always assume that whatever someone tells you is not the full story. This is not about being suspicious, it’s about uncovering the truth. Great journalism is a good example of this. When journalists assume there is more to the story, they ask probing questions to find out what is really going on.

This assumption is a great tool in the workplace because problem solving is critical. By assuming that there is a bigger story behind the story, you can remember to ask a lot of questions to get to the heart of the matter. Approach employees and coworkers like a journalist simply looking for the real story. Journalists are out to get the truth, not to make accusations. Great leaders get to the truth.

This approach can also help to solve genuine conflict. Think about a time you tried to solve a problem with your partner or a friend. When people are upset, they may use inappropriate language or the wrong tone, and then you are likely to react by shutting down the conversation. This is how and why we remain mired in the same problems. An effective way to stop this is to think to yourself, “There is probably more to this story. I’m going to let this pass and then get to the real issue.” When you can sidestep the reaction, you don’t get hooked and you’re empowered to continue the conversation later and resolve the conflict.

Assumption 2: Good Intentions

I’ve never heard anyone say, “Listen. Don’t tell anybody, but I’m trying to really screw things up here.” In reality, most everyone is trying to do the best they can with what they have. By assuming that everyone has good intentions, you will use a better tone in conversations with them — and tone has five times the impact that our actual words do.

This assumption encourages people to open up in conversation, whereas assuming ill intent shuts down conversation. Making this assumption doesn’t mean ignoring problems. Not at all. It simply specifies that you will approach people about problems by assuming they have good intentions. This helps to build relationships and resolve issues.

Think about a classic interaction that occurs in homes on a daily basis. Your kids are down in the basement and you assume they’re up to no good. So you say, “What are you doing down there?” and your tone is accusatory because you think they’re doing something wrong. It’s easy to see how assumptions can tear at the fabric of our relationships.

In the workplace, great leaders assume that employees want to do their best. In making that assumption, great leaders actually help their employees to do just that. And when something does go wrong, employees have greater freedom to communicate openly and honestly about the real problems because the leaders assume good intent. Open, honest communication means problems get solved faster.

Assumption 3: You Could Be Wrong

Have you ever met somebody who assumes that they are always right? These are self-righteous people, and they have the power to shut down teamwork, a whole organization, and a home. They’re difficult to deal with because they’re basically saying, “I have nothing to learn,” and they don’t ask questions.

But if you make the empowering assumption that you may be wrong, then you are going to probe and ask questions—because you don’t think you already know all the answers. Of course, asking questions is not enough because that can be done disingenuously; you have to listen to the answers and believe you really might learn something.

I call believing we may be wrong the humble assumption. This is where we say to ourselves, “Life has so much to offer and people are really wonderful and I’m going to learn from them.” This builds relationships and teamwork, thereby enabling innovation and problem solving.

When you are entrenched in familiar problems and you don’t know why, check your assumptions. They operate under the radar and undermine us without our knowledge. Great leaders empower themselves with beneficial assumptions to the benefits of their employees and their organization’s innovation, growth, and profit.