Watch What You Say

  By Michael Neidle  |    Tuesday June 25, 2024

Category: Columns, Expert Advice, Productivity


The Crucial Elements that Bind Us Together Are Communication and Honesty

In a world rife with misinformation and fleeting commitments, the currency of trust and honesty is more valuable than ever; this is our so-called post-truth era; our definition of these terms is often what one says it is and is not taken as the coin of the realm or at face value. It used to be said that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but in some circles numbering up to a hundred million people, language, values, honesty, morality, etc., people are entitled to their own opinions, but now their own facts. As in the 1984 novel, ignorance is strength, and freedom is slavery. When facts are fungible, and there is no true north, our nation’s foundational pillars will be gone. The unspoken social contract will disappear when an individual’s word and deed can no longer be honored. Replacing this will be distrust and skepticism, and the fair application of the rule of law will be upheld for the privileged, well-connected, and the rich.


The Weight of Words in Action

Honesty manifests itself most clearly through the congruence of words and actions. When people say they will do something and follow through, it strengthens their reputation and builds confidence among those they interact with. This is especially crucial in high-stakes environments like politics, international relations, and business, where promises and commitments are often public and highly scrutinized.


Political and International Commitments: The Paris Agreement on climate change is a notable example. Nations worldwide publicly committed to taking specific actions to combat climate change, with tangible targets and timelines. The nations that have been transparent about their progress and challenges in meeting these commitments have maintained higher levels of trust internationally.

A more recent example of not watching what you say is, of course, “The Saga Kristi Noem,” the governor of South Dakota., who was supposedly on the short-list as a potential Vice President on the 2024 ticket headed up by the prior President of the United States, Donald Trump. When she said in her book “No Turning Back” tells how she killed her 14-month-old puppy and then followed this up by shooting her goats. This, in an apparent way, endeared herself to Trump by coming across as the next best thing to the former governor of Alaska, Sara Palin, who once said that a gun is no more dangerous than a cricket bat (when in the right hands). 

Kristi Noan is not the only one jockeying for the VP slot. Kerri Lake, the unsuccessful run for governor of Arizona, has been an uninvited guest at Mar-A--Logo many times to get to see Trump, and security has needed to turn her nicely around.   


To Look Macho as to Business Integrity: In the business world, Elon Musk’s handling of Tesla’s production targets showcases the impact of honest commitments. Despite skepticism, Musk has been relatively open about the challenges and setbacks in meeting production goals, which has helped maintain investor confidence even during turbulent periods. But then he goes against common sense action to rid himself of racists, homophobes, and the like and rid them of “X.” 


Personal Integrity: On a personal level, consider a leader who promises to improve workplace culture and commits to specific measures like regular feedback sessions and transparent communication channels. By following through, the leader not only improves morale but also earns the trust and respect of the team.


The Danger of Being Dishonest and Unprincipled 

However, the communication landscape is often marred by instances where commitments are made with the intent to deceive. Such dishonesty can have far-reaching consequences, eroding trust and undermining relationships.


Misleading Political Promises: A historical example is the broken promises made to Native American tribes in the United States, such as the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868. The U.S. government failed to uphold the commitments made in the treaty, leading to significant distrust that has lasted generations.

More recently, the Supreme Court has tarnished its once-stellar reputation for fairness, impartiality, and settled law by overturning the Roe decision when the newest appointees to the bench committed to refraining from overturning well-established precedents and not intervening in obvious racially gerrymandering decisions.  


Deceptive Business Practices: Anyone can promise you the bag in his hand is full of diamonds and another precious gem, but anyone with an IQ above freezing understands this can only scam with a bag of common rocks. Nevertheless, this nonsense is acceptable in the law. It is called “puffery,” and it’s essentially like bragging. For example, if you join our gym, after 30 minutes, you will turn into the Hulk, as most humans understand this. But theft, cheating, and being unprincipled are very different from puffery.  


  Several years ago, Volkswagen cheated on a pollution emissions test, which cost the company $20 billion and damaged its reputation. 
  The deregulation of the airline industry almost 50 years ago created chaos. This industry was guaranteed a profit under the price and profit umbrella of the FAA safety guidelines. Ewel managed legacy carriers like UA, AA, and DL did just fine. But those under poor management did not (TWA, PanAm) and were slow to adapt. Their proverbial bones were picked over the survivor. Then, new companies formed with low costs in every element of the business and bought idle planes, which were mothballed and repurchased at pennies on the dollar and no no-frills; the great shakeout happened. Eventually, there was a shakeout that we have today.
  In the staffing industry, the IT services group of Tata Consultants, several senior executives accepted bribes to provide jobs to their candidates. who were fired, amounting to over  $1 million) last year. 


International Relations: The Yalta Conference post-World War II saw promises made by the Soviet Union about the freedom and independence of Eastern European nations. The subsequent establishment of Soviet influence in these regions reflected a stark deviation from the commitments made, affecting U.S.-Soviet relations for decades.


Addressing the Grey Areas

Not all situations of dishonesty are outright lies. Often, commitments are made based on circumstances that change unpredictably, requiring a reassessment of feasibility and intent. In such cases, the honesty of the initial commitment may be questioned, even if the change in circumstances is legitimate.


Adaptive Business Strategies: For instance, a company may commit to not laying off employees but then face an unexpected economic downturn. The subsequent necessary layoffs, though contradictory to the original promise, might be a responsible decision given the new circumstances.


Remedies and Resolutions

When promises are broken, or honesty is in doubt, individuals and organizations can pursue several remedies. Legal and written documents often serve as binding agreements that provide a framework for accountability. Contracts, treaties, and official records are traditional methods of ensuring that parties adhere to their words.


Legal Recourse: In business, contracts are essential for delineating each party’s responsibilities and commitments. The contract’s breach allows for legal recourse, including penalties or mandated performance of the agreed-upon duties.

However, there are scenarios where legal remedies are impractical or insufficient. The law might offer little solace or resolution in personal relationships and informal agreements. In such cases, the damage to relationships and trust can be significant and irreparable.

Ethical and Personal Remedies: Beyond legal solutions, fostering a culture of accountability and integrity can be equally powerful. This involves setting clear expectations, providing regular feedback, and creating environments where honesty is valued and rewarded.



The alignment of words and actions is crucial in all spheres of life. From international diplomacy to personal interactions, the integrity of one’s commitments shapes the trust and credibility one holds. While legal and formal remedies provide a safety net against dishonesty and being unprincipled, the ultimate remedy is fostering a culture where honesty is practiced consistently and valued deeply. In doing so, we enhance our personal and professional relationships and contribute to a more transparent and trustworthy society.

Mike Neidle is President of Optimal Management incorporated 1994

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