When the line between good manners, the truth and effective management become a bit blurred….

Pinocchio learned the hard way about telling the truth
Why are there some instances when we find it so hard not to lie?

I’m sitting in the doctors surgery waiting for my regular MOT & wondering idly if I’m going to catch a cold from all these folk coughing & sneezing. Many folk know each other, either neighbours or regulars to the surgery as is often the case amongst a certain age group. As each arrival sits down they ask ‘how are you doing today?’ politely & their acquaintance replies ‘oh not so bad thanks…’ & proceeds to discuss their recent ailments & mishaps on holidays. I can’t help but wonder what it is that makes us still ask how someone is doing if they are sat in a doctors surgery, & what makes the replies so positive when they clearly aren’t.

At one point a gentleman about to leave the surgery bumps into an acquaintance coming through the door. ‘How are you?’ the person entering asks with a smile.. ‘I’m at the doctors so how do you think?!’ is the curt retort. I wanted to cheer, but it seemed rude!

We do this all the time at home, work & play. There’s a certain etiquette & set of manners which seems to make masking the truth a more polite & acceptable way of behaving. I am a strong believer in good manners & I certainly have no objections to the door being held open for me by anyone, man or a woman, but there are times in the work place where honesty really would be a better policy.

Here are a few of my honesty bug bears which can hamper projects:

  • Being scared to give negative feedback – too often the success of a product is hampered because honest feedback wasn’t given early enough. This can be due to a number of reasons including someone’s position within an organisation (we have a kind of inbuilt warning system that prevents us criticising the boss!), not wanting to offend the creator, not feeling confident enough to speak out, but in almost all cases there is a way to provide feedback that is constructive and still polite even though it may appear negative. An example of this could be if you spot an issue with the layout of a webpage which could affect the usability of the site then it is important to raise this early as reworking it later can cost time and money, and it’s totally possible that nobody else has spotted it. If you raise it and it’s been considered and the end result is still the same then at least you understand the thought process behind it.
  • Identifying real reasons for wanting something (aka ‘the hidden agenda’) – this is all too often the case if organisational politics get in the way of working well as a team, and sadly it’s often the case if there are organisational restructures under way. This is often not really lying it’s just not telling the whole truth, and often it is totally understandable in the delicate employment climate we are living in. However, unfortunately, as a project manager it can be very difficult to ensure a quality end delivery if you don’t understand the whole picture. Often by bringing out into the open the real reasons for wanting something an approach can be found which will take this into account and is less likely to affect the end quality.
  • Talking about money (what’s my budget/what will it cost) – this is a particularly British curse. When I was travelling around Asia I discovered the  joys of bargaining and it was an accepted culture that both parties haggle and meet in the middle and everyone is happy with the outcome. However we are not good at haggling in the British culture, possibly because of a competitive spirit, and I suspect possibly because money is so often a taboo subject, but in all honesty I don’t know why. Never the less this often results in long drawn out conversations about what the cost will be for certain work where both parties are trying to ‘win’ – either by paying less than they wanted or charging more than they expected. Recently I had a very refreshing experience where I was liaising with someone who was really pushed for time to agree a cost. So in order to speed things up I was told a fixed budget and asked to come back with an approach which meant I could fit within it. I was then able to come up with the most efficient way to get them the most amount of work in that budget. It may have felt slightly awkward and not in normal every day etiquette to begin with but with both of us being up front and honest we were able to get the best out of the arrangement for both parties.

There are plenty more instances where it’s deemed acceptable not to tell the whole truth in a work situation and I suspect that a bit more honesty would actually be helpful. Have you any good examples or ‘bug bears’ where a bit more honesty rather than perceived good etiquette would have helped you to deliver something a wee bit easier? I’d love to hear about them.

The Girl Effect – I’m a product of it… are you?

When I heard about the Girl Effect blog week I just had to get involved. I come from a family of strong, educated women and am proud to share their story, and the great things that have come from it. It would be nice to hope that stories such as ours help to inspire future generations of women and raise the cause of educating women around the world, and help to raise lives from poverty.

In the UK, in general, there is no real reason why a girl shouldn’t achieve as much or even more than a boy, at school and beyond. In fact I’m one of those people that don’t believe in corporate glass ceilings, I truly believe in choice and I think that often women choose of their own accord that they would rather not play office politics at the top of the ladder. I don’t think this is a glass ceiling, I just think that women don’t need to prove themselves in that way – we have more sense! Some people may be shocked by my attitude but I am lucky – I have a history which shows me that the opportunities are there in this country for those who want to take them, and I believe they have been for some time.

My Grandmother
My Grandmother: An amazing and inspiring woman who would have loved The Girl Effect

On my Mother’s side, my Grandmother was a doctor. I have a picture of her with her class at Edinburgh university and she was the only girl in the class. After she graduated she looked after her brother’s doctor’s surgery in Orkney whilst her brother and her husband went away to war to heal the wounded there. She ran the doctor’s surgery and then after the war she set up a doctors surgery in Yorkshire with my Grandad and they both worked there until they retired when they moved back to Scotland, their real home. My Grandmother must have been in her 30s when my Mum was born, partly due to the war and partly due to her work commitments. 

My Mother was a dentist, when I was young I remember being amazed that my Mum could recite Latin, Shakespeare and Burns by rote (my memory is that of a gnatt and I still struggle to recite poetry I supposedly learnt at school!). After my Mum separated from my Dad and left home, she started again from scratch so that she wouldn’t impact the education of my brother or I. She set up her own dental practice in a different part of the country and built a new life with her new husband. We continued to see her regularly but that must have such a brave decision to make.

For my teenage years I was brought up by my Father. He must have had the patience of a saint to put up with my typical teenage rants, but he continued to encourage my education and bravely rose to the challenge of being a part time Mum as well as a full time Dad.

On my fathers side, my Grandmother was a midwife. She saw many things during the war years which would probably make your hair curl. Her husband was a drunk and violent man and she  threw him out of the house to protect her family,  in a decade where women just didn’t do that. Her sister, my Great Aunt worked in a factory during the war and took the secrets act she signed so seriously that even since her death we do not know what service she was able to provide this country.

With genetics like this, and no knowledge of a life where woman are not strong, independent and capable of standing on their own two feet, I did not even question whether I should go to university; nor did I question undertaking a technical degree. I have always enjoyed the outdoors lifestyle, I was a member of Venture Scouts, and was always surrounded by boys as peers rather than as ‘the opposite sex’. It is probably as a result of this that I never see the people I work with as being male or female, I see their qualities as they are. I do not believe in feminism, I believe in equality – true equality where either sex can prosper in equal fashion or alternatively stay at home and live the family life if they so choose. I see being in a couple as a partnership, and believe if you have children then you should share the responsibility in the way that will be best for their upbringing, whatever that may be.

Unfortunately not everybody is as lucky as I am, and across the world there are thousands of girls who believe that they should leave school early to keep a home and raise children, that is if they get a choice or an education at all. What little research there is shows that by educating women you are increasing the chances not only of the individual girl’s survival and well being, but you are improving the chances of any family she may have. Like the women in my family before me have inspired me, I hope that these girls can be given the opportunity to inspire their children.


  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. *1 
  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent. *2
  • Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between better infant and child health and higher levels of schooling among mothers. *3
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man. *4


If this article has inspired you or moved you in any way please leave a comment, and do go and check the Girl Effect website to find out more. Or if you’ve got a story to share, whether you are male, female and whatever your age you too can help the campaign to spread the word through the Girl Effect Blog Week.  Take the time to read some of the stories there, they are moving and heartfelt – voices of women and men who are speaking up for girls across the world.

*1 United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990
*2 George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].
*3 George T. Bicego and J. Ties Boerma, “Maternal Education and Child Survival: A Comparative Study of Survey Data from 17 Countries,” Social Science and Medicine 36 (9) [May 1993]: 12 07–2 7.
*4 Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.