Audit Your Relationship Honesty

Enough of the touchy feely – time to take account the honesty of our relationships.


Enough of the touchy feely – time to take account the honesty of our relationships.

You’re in the car driving home after dinner with friends, and you turn to your spouse: “I wanted to mention it, but there didn’t seem to be a good time.” Or two co-workers, leaving a meeting, are overheard in the elevator: “I was about to say something, but the topic never came up.” 
That’s the way it often goes: the most important topic – the burning message that we have to communicate – comes out in the last two to five minutes we’re together. And by then it’s too late; there’s simply no time to address issues properly. By then the unspoken words have begun to percolate, seeping into the relationship and causing tension. We become lost, trundling down life’s path without a map. 

From personal experience, I can tell you that after the first four meetings of the envisioning process for the Woodward’s development, we were going down a path toward a low-end, inferior product. We were lost. At the end of each meeting, I had this uncomfortable feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was being paid to do: to bring the tough questions to the forefront.

And so, at meeting number five, I blurted out, “The unemployed – the homeless – don’t buy condos.” We couldn’t scale back our ambitions just because the project included social housing. From that outburst came clarity, a road map: German cabinets. Hardwood floors. The provocative positioning line that told buyers to Be Bold or Move to Suburbia. It was a pivotal, game-changing meeting – one that established the right mix that would allow us to succeed in selling Woodward’s to real buyers as well as introduce 200 non-market housing units and bring SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts to the landmark Downtown Eastside complex. 

Getting the truth out early in a relationship is critical, and one way to ensure that important but uncomfortable issues aren’t ignored is to do something I call the three-month audit. It’s a key tool for our business, where we’re guided by the motto “Whoever gets to the truth first wins.” The audit is a way of getting all those silent observations and sensitivities and putting them in one spot, giving them a time and place to come out and be heard. Everybody knows it’s coming, and everybody is prepared to discuss it when the time arrives.

So which relationships should you audit? The simple answer is, any relationship you truly value. You need to agree, after a first or second “date,” that as things progress, be it professional or personal in nature, you need to find time to stop (I say after 90 days) and take stock of all the grey areas in the relationship that are causing tension. Letting loved ones and colleagues know what we can’t do and don’t like is every bit as important as letting them know what we can do and do like.

Imagine what might have happened if somebody had done an audit in one of those Wall Street boardrooms back in 2006 or 2007. What if someone had blurted out, “You need a down payment and a job before you can buy a $500,000 home”? What if a banker had questioned those bait-and-switch interest rates and those “No Decs No Docs” mortgages? Or what if a hedge fund manager had stopped to think about what might happen when house prices stopped rising and mortgages went into default? 

Well, that person would probably have been declared crazy – or considered “not a team player.” But we can’t be afraid to bring up the tough topics. And we need to foster a business environment where it’s OK to be wrong, because if something really is wrong, not dealing with it is just going to make things worse. 

If the audit works – and nothing is foolproof, not even honesty – everybody will be reading from the same map and will be better able to navigate our relationships going forward. Remember, “Until next time” only really works with your psychiatrist. n