Honesty is always the best policy

imgresYears ago I remember a family down the street from us decided to let their babysitter/nanny/housekeeper go.  I don’t remember the reason but what I do remember is that they told the kids that the woman was going to move back to her country so she was going to be leaving them.  A few months later this woman shows up working for another family and the kids didn’t get it.

My kids came home and asked me about it and who knows what the kids of the family thought.  I remember telling my kids the truth, they fired her.  I don’t know why but they did.  Years later we hired a woman who I had to fire.  Our kids were 9, 7 and 4.  She was with us a year and I let her stay longer than I should have.  I fired her on a Friday afternoon, told her to pack up and leave and gave her a hefty severance so she had enough time to find something else.  I told her exactly why she was being fired, I didn’t make up excuses.  It was not pleasant.

That afternoon I picked up the kids at school.  We all went out to a pastry shop for an afternoon treat.  I told the kids I fired the woman who was working for us and told them exactly why I fired her.  At first they were taken back but over the course of our afternoon treat I found out that they weren’t so happy with her either and not surprising I found out a few more things.

I know that was a learning moment about honesty.  It was also a learning moment about having to do something that isn’t pleasant.  I get emails all the time where I say no this business isn’t for me and sometimes people come back and ask why so they can understand where I am coming from.  I am pretty honest and I know it has been helpful because many of those founders have returned to my box over the years saying that I was the only person who was completely honest and now it makes sense.  Obviously sometimes I should not have said no but that is part of being an investor.

When I was a kid my Mom owned a plant store in Georgetown called the Green Scene. It was the mid-70s and that plant store was very cutting edge.  There were two people who worked for my Mom and her partner, Sharon and Richard.  They were probably in their late 20’s but I thought they were much older.  At one point Sharon stopped wearing deodorant and it was unbearable to be in the same room with her.  I had injured myself at camp that summer and worked in the store every day because there was nobody at home to watch me so I knew all the ins and outs of what was happening in the store.  My Mom told me she was going to talk to her about it.  She obviously did because the body odor was no longer reeking throughout the store.  She also told me that she talked to her.  I remember thinking that must have been a tough conversation to have but she owned the business so she had to do it.

Not sure what sparked that memory in my head this week but you learn from somewhere.  Being honest with your kids, your friends, your business partners, the people who work for you, your partner/spouse is so important.  They are learning moments for everyone.  When you bury something under the rug it always ends up creeping out from under.

Comments (Archived):

  1. falicon

    +infinity – the right thing to do isn’t always easy, but it is always right. Truth in a respectful way is always the right thing to do.

    1. Gotham Gal


  2. JimHirshfield

    Love this. Thanks.

  3. Oskar Ag.

    Not my native language you write in. “I don’t know why but they did but they did”.I do though agree with the content of your blog post, address the issues sooner rather than later.

  4. Sunchowder

    I agree with on every level, I raised my children this way as well. Having my business later in my life has shown me that so many do not operate in this manner. It would save so much time and energy if only more would do so.

  5. Anne Libby

    …but over the course of our afternoon treat I found out that they weren’t so happy with her either and not surprising I found out a few more things.This invariably happens when you let someone go…

    1. Gotham Gal

      It sure does.I have found that every time a company lets someone go, the rest of the team lets out a huge sigh of relief.

      1. Anne Libby

        It’s a hard lesson to learn the first time around.

  6. aminTorres

    Damn! I read this whole thing and did not blink once. well done, well written, thanks for sharing the wisdom.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thank you!!

  7. Alison Winer Dinerstein

    Honesty works every time. Lying will always come back to bite you in the ass!

    1. Gotham Gal

      and bite hard!

  8. Dad

    Bravo and respect to you for telling people the honest reason you didn’t invest. Twice in my life I *really* needed someone to do this for me (why wouldn’t sell me medical insurance, and why wouldn’t hire me even though I was extremely qualified). Both times the person who was willing to take the time and be honest even though it was more difficult or awkward helped me and my family in significant ways. I’m still grateful to them over a decade later.

    1. Gotham Gal

      thats really great to hear.

  9. Erin

    There’s an obese woman who comes in to sub at my school and you can smell her several paces away. Her smell makes everyone take several steps back from her when she strikes up a conversation, and I have to get up from my desk and stand at the back of my office when she comes in. Every time I see her I’m like “what the f*** is she doing here again?!” How can someone so stinky work with children? I would DEARLY love to say something to her, but something about unions and frowny faces at the board office make me question myself every time. This fall I’ll get informed about what I can and can’t say.

    1. Gotham Gal

      She’d probably appreciate it.

      1. Erin

        I’ll keep that in mind.

    2. LE

      I would DEARLY love to say something to her, but something about unions and frowny faces at the board office make me question myself every time.It’s not clear why that is your problem. [1] If you smell something say something. It creates a bad environment for the kids as well as other employees.Interesting that with my step kids (who are 14 and 12) I am going through the issue of having them shower everyday. It’s the way I was raised. They think they don’t have to for some reason. I think this is something that is drilled into you as a kid.[1] What am I missing? Who cares about unions and frowny faces at the board office (what is that anyway)? Why suffer?

      1. Erin

        Hey LE, you’re right. I had envisioned myself saying, “Please don’t come back here until you’ve showered and used soap”, but I could probably say something less dramatic.

  10. jeffgrillo

    For what it is worth, this is one of my favorite posts. I look forward to more amazing content.

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks Jeff.

  11. LE

    Well there are two sides to telling the truth. The other side is when you lie to show someone you have enough respect for them to lie (so you don’t hurt feelings) instead of telling them the truth.Here is an example that actually happened to me (where I didn’t lie).When I was younger and newly married my ex wife had an old great “rich uncle” that lived in NYC. He was maybe late 80’s at the time and was being honored at some synagogue on the lower east side for something (that to me) was stupid and a waste of time. It was happening on the weekend in the summer and I had a new boat that I had bought and a shore place that I had worked very hard to get. I didn’t want to go to this event in the worst way (required missing a day and driving etc.) and in particular it was a nice weekend and as you know when you have a summer place not every weekend is nice especially for boating. So of course we fought about it but I ended up going and sitting in this basement and I was miserable. Later I was honest with the uncle (BIG MISTAKE) and told him why I didn’t want to go thinking he would understand. Well of course he didn’t. He thought I should be there to see him get this honor (I barely even knew him). I should have just lied to him. Would have worked out better.Another example is when someone invites you to an event (social) and you feel you have something better to do with your time or you don’t like them that much. You aren’t going to tell them the truth (that you have something better to do) you will somehow fudge what you have to do to make it seem that you are already booked. In no case will you say “well to tell the truth my wife doesn’t really like your wife”. In that case I think people are cool with the lie because it means “I care enough about you to not make you feel bad that I can’t accommodate you”. I am curious what others think of this. (Relates to kid play dates and a whole host of social situations..)Last example (they keep rolling in to me) is when I was dating after getting divorced. I drove 90 miles for a date and was super dissapointed. At the end of the date I told the girl I wouldn’t be calling her again. And she got really upset and literally told me that I should have said I had a great time and would call her again. True story. So much for honesty.

  12. Steven Kane

    great post, 100% agreethe ancient secret to getting what you want:tell people what you want:)

  13. jason wright

    …very cutting hedge.

  14. jason wright

    A thing allowed to festers becomes more of an issue than that thing when it was fresh.

  15. pointsnfigures

    Agree with you a million times. It’s amazing in this day and age when you are transparent and honest, and blunt-people get taken aback or offended! I really dislike the term “fake it till you make it”