Honesty: my greatest weakness

I’ve been thinking about answers to behavioral interview questions lately, as I am gearing up to start interviewing as soon as I pass my Professional Scrum Master 1 certification. I’m honestly not sure why companies are all stuck on this weird, passive aggressive backhanded interviewing method. For one, there are tons of sites out there with various methods on how to successfully answer these questions. And if you’re not sure if STAR is right for you, there’s always the time honored method of bullshitting.

But, here I am, reading that “tell me about yourself” isn’t really asking for you to tell someone about yourself. Rather, this is a prompt for you to boast about your accomplishments. You were probably wondering why I had such a harsh initial reaction out the gate with my opening statement, and now you know why. Interviewing is a game of deception and manipulation.

However, it’s a game we all want to play if we like other people paying us money. I’m a fan of that, so I’m preparing to get back into this game. What is my greatest weakness, then? You’re supposed to answer with something that might sound like a negative, and then you talk about how it’s really a positive for you. Over the years, I’ve used a lot of different answers, some made up on the spot.

I’ve spent the last 3 years rebuilding myself into a better person who strives to live each day as an improved version of myself, even if it’s just slightly better than who I was the day before. During this time, I’ve spent many moments in self reflection, and luckily I came out of it not hating myself. I feel that I’ve grown tremendously over these past years, and I am excited about the person I am becoming. One major impact I’ve had on myself is becoming honest with myself.

I used to be a very timid person who just wanted to wear a monochromatic greyscale and make myself as small as possible. I didn’t really like being noticed. I also did not have a healthy relationship with myself and I wasn’t a very happy person. In order to become a better person to my community, I first had to be a better person to myself. In order to do that, I had to stop avoiding thinking out certain internal issues, and it was time to have open, honest communication.

I know I have a long way to go. Don’t think that just because my signature clothing is a loud pair of tights that I’m suddenly this bold, courageous person. I do, however, keep track of my daily wins, even if all I won for the day was keeping up with my blog schedule commitment. Tracking my wins is my version of a gratitude journal.

One thing that I have noticed, though, is that other people do not really like honesty. When you’re working at a place that cannot take criticism, it drains the morale and turns toxic. Mind you, when I’m criticizing something, I’m not busting in announcing something is wrong and then deeming it bullshit. The introductory paragraph here is merely an old speech writer trick: grabbing your audience’s attention.

When I worked at BioWare, one thing our manager constantly reinforced that not all negative criticism is bad, and we should allow for negative criticism. However, it had to be constructive. Because we wanted to foster a healthy community having great discussions, this meant that we needed to at times teach the community how to provide constructive criticism. Saying something sucks is useless. Saying something might negatively impact what you’re doing with specific reasons, showing examples, and if possible, provide proposed solutions to overcoming any obstacles is how you make your argument heard and understood.

Unfortunately, I’ve worked at places that will not take criticism, no matter how hard you carefully work your words in hope that you will be listened and understood. These places generally also tout transparency and open door policies. These kinds of workplaces often brag about how great they look on paper, but the reality is that they just foster toxic behavior.

Another way this pops up is relying solely on metrics. Metrics are great if that’s all you care about. But, if you want employees to enjoy coming to work and are evangelists for your company, I recommend having ways to measure performance beyond numbers. I’ve worked at places where the only thing that mattered were metrics. Employees there were not only stressed out constantly, but many were routinely coming up with ways to deceive and game the system.

My opinions on how happy employees are the foundation to any great company are for another conversation, but I mentioned this because of how a dishonest company makes dishonest employees. In case you’re wondering, I chose the route of “always stressed out” while routinely trying out methods of workflow and productivity improvements over figuring out how to cheat to pad my numbers.

I did, however, speak up about it. A lot. People there confided in me often, because they felt that I had a better ear than management. I’d often become a conduit between employees and management. As I mentioned previously, often the places that do not want any criticism will state that they are transparent and have adopted open door policies. Instead, I have been told that I need to stop fighting other people’s battles; that if someone has a problem, they need to speak up; that I need to be less helpful to others; that they “don’t know where I get my information from” when I raise concerns over my team’s expected metrics versus my team’s publicly posted productivity scores. My all time favorite, though, is being told that this company did not have any communication issues.

In the end, I’ve decided that honesty is my greatest weakness, because my honesty gives others a strength they would not have on their own. I always want people to feel that I am approachable and empathetic, truly a servant-leader as taught in Scrum. I always want to be the person who champions for those who cannot advocate for themselves, for whatever reasons hold them back.

My greatest weakness is my honesty and I’m proud to own it.

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