A powerful dichotomy for understanding the quality of our relationships can be found in the tension between truth and harmony. We naturally privilege one quality over the other in our relationships. Especially with those who are important to us.
Truth-over-harmony relationships emphasize the candid search for answers and realities, sometimes at the expense of compromise and peaceful expression. This is not to say truth-over-harmony relationships are always conflictual or rarely enjoy tranquility, but the need to find truth takes precedence over the need to get along.
In harmony-over-truth relationships, it is more important to find agreement than it is to fight our way to the right answer. When harmony is front and center, we often suppress truths so as not to create conflict, hence the expression “go along to get along.” This is not to say harmony-over-truth relationships don’t enjoy candor, but the underlying emphasis places more weight on cooperation than on honesty.
Our relationships can best be described as either truth-over-harmony or harmony-over-truth. While one relationship may emphasize one side and another relationship the other side, we don’t typically vacillate back and forth in a given relationship. The composite of how we interact and engage one another in a relationship grounds us with truth taking the first seat or harmony receiving the primary attention.
In intimate family and friendship relationships, we may prefer harmony-over-truth as a way to enhance happiness and build goodwill. The same may often be true for client and customer relationships, although radically candid client relationships are sometimes the most meaningful.
But when it comes to working with others to achieve results, as we do professionally, the best leaders chose truth-over-harmony. While building consensus is an important quality of great teams and leaders, arriving at the right answer and the best decision always takes precedence for exceptional leaders.
In the movie, The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is offered the choice between a red pill and a blue pill by the rebel leader Morpheus. The red pill reveals the truth, while the blue pill keeps Neo in a blissful state of happy ignorance. Leaders always swallow the red pill.