Aaron Briggs/ May 18, 2018/ Knowledge

Aaron Briggs
VP Product at GoNoodle
May 17, 2018 · 3 min read


May 2018 Product Meetup: We’re All Liars (And That’s OK)

by Aaron Briggs

At the May 2018 Product Meetup, Jessica Katz -- Agile Coach at Eventbrite -- led a group of Nashville’s finest product people in a roundtable discussion that often felt like something in between professional development and therapy. The topic: self-deception, and how that plays in product organizations.

We started by exploring 7 types of lies we tell ourselves and others:

  • Willful or Strategic Ignorance
  • Reality Denial
  • Overconfidence
  • Self-Handicapping
  • Self-Enhancing
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Attributions

A poll of the room revealed that most participants could identify personal examples for each type of lie. It was helpful, then, to discuss why we lie or deceive ourselves -- that these things happen because humans seek to avoid fear, pain, and sadness or gain confidence, happiness, and pleasure. We’re human, we’re wired to lie (at the very least, to lie to ourselves).

The unfortunate truth, is that organizations are made up of people -- which means that organizations are often built on unhealthy self-deception that can stunt growth, erode trust, and eliminate transparency. The only way to shift to an organization is to shift the behaviors of the people.

With awareness as the critical first step, Jessica helped us identify practical ways to shift those behaviors:

“Choose to” Instead of “Have To”

Use language to shift your mindset and uncover what’s blocking you. Rather that saying “We have to include this feature in the MVP release,” shift the language to “We choose to include this feature in the MVP release so that we can…” Shifting this language in interactions can also be a helpful way to start the process of inquiry with stakeholders.

Ask “What” or “How” Instead of “Why?”

“Why” puts people on the defensive -- it’s language that asks for justification. Starting inquiry into requirements with “What” or “How” can eliminate the defensive which drives better collaboration, more honesty, and more transparency.

Leaders: Change “You Have to Do It” to “I Believe You Can Do It”

As product people or team leaders, we’re often in a position to challenge what or when a team can deliver. However, language like “you have to” takes a way a team’s consent and agency, which A) is a lie and B) erodes trust. Change the language and inspire your team.

Leaders: Express Vulnerability, Admit Your Self-Deceptions

When leading others, expressing vulnerability to a team is a powerful way to shift behaviors and empower growth, trust, and transparency. Consider admitting your own self-deception behaviors and committing to changing them. Lead the team by example -- for example, admit that a big decree like “We know this is the right strategy” are self-deceptions, and that any strategy is a gamble that the team will execute and adjust as they learn. Involve the team in the truth and ask them to play a role.

Not a lie: the next meeting of Nashville Product Meetup is our Summer Mixer -- June 20 at East Nashville Beer Works. RSVP here.