“Should I tell the boss what they WANT to hear or what they NEED to hear?”

Sparking a culture of speaking truth to power at work.

Kristen Sadler
6 min readJul 19, 2019


Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Sometimes it’s just easier to ‘keep the boss happy’ by only giving information they want to hear.

I’ve certainly done it. By avoiding specific details, we both got what we wanted: minimal discussion and no conflict. I convinced myself that the consequences were insignificant. I always felt a nagging doubt though. Had I acted with integrity by not sharing what I knew my supervisor needed to hear — the truth?

Even though it can be a rockier path, speaking truth to power at work leads to sustainable outcomes, strengthens professional relationships, is a greater service to the organisation, fulfils one’s professional responsibilities and improves workplace culture.

The concept is simple: share and be open to truth.

In reality we have colleagues with contrasting views and habits, deadlines, limited resources, known and unconscious biases, and sometimes a blurry line between truth and untruth.

If we have the fundamental aspiration, we can spark a culture of speaking truth to power at work.

Spark 1. Tell the truth.

Even the most reasonable supervisors can set unrealistic goals. They may not know your other commitments, that team members are on leave, or resources aren’t available to deliver an optimal result. After careful thought you conclude there will be problems if the supervisor’s directions are unconditionally accepted.

Rather than a confident ‘yes boss’ and anxiously hoping for a result while expecting failure, the alternative is to speak the truth. Concisely present them with options and expected outcomes along with your recommendations. For example, delivering by the deadline with current resources will result in 50% quality; extending for two weeks will enable full team strength and 100% quality; or adding temporary resources will ensure 100% quality by the deadline, which you recommend.

You raise awareness and support informed decision-making with minimal disruption. A competent supervisor will be open to the conversation and capable of rational thought to reach…



Kristen Sadler

Learning. Sharing. Running. Traveling. TEDx’ing. Advising. Speaking. Writing. kristensadler.com