While most of us spend our 9 to 5s dreaming of ways to tell our asshole boss precisely what we think of them, Bridgewater Associate employees literally sign up for the privilege to do so.
Subject: Feedback on Meeting… “Ray – you deserve a ‘D-‘ for your performance today in the meeting… You did not prepare at all because there is no way you could have and been that disorganised.”
Ray Dalio, billionaire investor and founder of Bridgewater Associates, received the email above from a graduate at his firm. He proudly shared it in his 2017 Ted Talk, as evidence of the radical truth policy he attributes to Bridgewater’s success.
The “Steve Jobs of investing,” Dalio conducts his truth experiment with big money on the line. Bridgewater currently has over US$160 billion in assets and is larger than its two nearest competitors, combined.
Yet, he’s seemingly cracked the code of an honest and high functioning workplace, inspiring companies like Netflix, FitBit and Patagonia to follow suit.
How does it work?
Dalio reasons that the best ideas come only from honest and thoughtful disagreement amongst brilliant people with different opinions. And at an organisational level, if nothing’s getting swept under the rug, you can get a lot more done more efficiently.
But it’s not always pretty. Regardless of handling your shit well or terribly, you’re going to hear about it. Referred to as ‘public hangings’ in the office, his employees are not immune to scenes of tears, or worse, under the confrontational questioning and unique management style.
It’s sink or swim at Bridgewater. About 20-30% of recruits quit because they can’t hack it, and the survivors only fully adjust after 18 months. Today, Bridgewater has 1,500 employees who made it across the line and claim they will stay for good.
It would be tough to return to the typical workplace of politics, secrets and gossip, that we, the lesser evolved, know only too well.
Is telling the truth natural?
Yes, and no. If you’ve ever spent any time around kids, you know they are refreshingly filter-free and call it how it is. Psychologist Bruno Verschuere believes we come into the world as truthful human beings and develop lies only when we have sharper minds around age 5.
Neurologists claim we start lying to flex our independence but then continue for the same reasons; we lie as adults to protect the feelings of others.
Most of us beat around the bush at work, or in any of our relationships, simply to avoid the emotional difficulty of honest confrontation. Think of the hours you could save by going head-on with ‘shit job mate’, instead of stumbling over the keyboard for a more constructive and polite way to put it.
But even though it’s a learned behaviour, it still doesn’t feel good to hear the truth.
Dalio cites in his Ted Talk that our brain’s prefrontal cortex wants us to improve, and recognise our mistakes. But our amygdala, the fight or flight part, hates confrontation and always sees the truth as an attack to our self-esteem, status and preexisting beliefs.
How to handle hearing the truth
Giving it straight is easy for some, but being on the other end of it requires a serious amount of courage. From the turnover of Bridgewater staff, it’s clear the allure of the truth sounds a lot better in theory than when you’re at the epicentre of a ‘public hanging’ by the water cooler.
Still, there are ways to take on the truth like a champ;
- Don’t follow your gut on your first reaction
It’s your amygdala going ape shit; it’s not you. Taking a quick breather gives you more time to deflect your defensiveness.
- Remember it’s intended to be constructive
Not a personal dig. Sometimes we need to act before our mind’s catch up with us. Forcing your response to start with ‘thank you for that…’ can trick your mind quickly into having a positive reaction to the criticism.
- Listen, and try to ask meaningful questions to show you are listening
Sometimes, people just want to voice and have their concerns heard, more than they particularly care about the issue itself.
If you discover you’re part of the 20-30% who just can’t hack it, you still can tell your boss he’s a prick. Only it should probably be alongside your resignation.