Book Review

What Is the Emperor Wearing? Truth-Telling in Business Relationships

by Laurie Weiss, Ph.D.


Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1998
217 pages, $18.95 US, £6.99 UK

Reviewed by Russell E. Osnes

Laurie Weiss has written a marvelous book, and I feel privileged to write this review. I appreciate Laurie's skill, knowledge, and creative applications of both some old theories and many new ideas. Laurie is a therapist, consul-rant, workshop specialist, coach, and author. She has served the ITAA in many capacities, including as a member of the Board of Trustees and as an Ethics Committee member for ten years.

Her new book, What Is the Emperor Wearing: Truth-Telling in Business Relationships, is written in a captivating way: Each chapter begins with an opening story of real-life situations in which ordinary people wrestle with truth-telling in their business relationships. Laurie introduces the book by giving the opening story of each chapter in the introduction.

The title story is the age-old tale of the emperor who loved clothes and was conned into buying some that were made of supposedly magical cloth which others, who were stupid or unworthy of their positions, could not see. Nobody wanted to be labeled stupid or unworthy, so they all said nothing. However, a child reported the troth of what he saw: "The emperor has no clothes." The lad had either been taught to tell the truth or was too naive to go along with the deception, which others dared not expose. The question to each of us in light of this story is, "Do we know the truth, and do we dare to tell the troth?"

Laurie tells her personal story of discovering something important about truth:

The words we use to communicate about what we perceive describe only a small part of what we have observed. I understood that, in a sense, we all create our own reality by the choices we make about which bits of information to attend to and which to ignore .... I have learned how important it is to be able to examine and discuss the assumptions we make, instead of insisting that they are the truth. (pp. xvi, xvii)

Truth seems to be a simple word, yet it is a profound one. It is easy to think you know the TRUTH when you grow up in a world of either/or, black/white, and win/lose mentality. Just telling the troth seems easy until you discover your truth may be different from another person's truth. Most people agree that telling the troth is a good idea, yet deception is routinely practiced by these same people.

This book has two sections. The first is "Why Not Just Tell the Truth?" In the eight chapters in this section, Laurie introduces us to some real-life situations, including "When People Won't Listen," "when Discounting and Denial are Prevalent," "What to Do When the Truth is Bad News," "when Your Truth is Different From Another's,"" The Problem With Groupthink'," "Knowing What the Truth Is,"" Passive Aggressive Behavior, Responsibility, Initiative," and "Truth-Telling, Ethical Dilemmas, and How to Decide Whether or Not to Tell the Truth."

The second section, Chapters 10-23, presents "Tools for Becoming a Truth Teller." Some of these tools include examining assumptions, knowing yourself first, using your intuition, telling your truth with compassion for yourself, "others' reality isn't what it used to be and perhaps it never was," and the "what I feel like saying" process.

Laurie presents this challenge as she writes about the results of troth-telling communication: "It can be startling. Teamwork, synergy, innovation, and responsiveness increase. Trust and loyalty, and self-esteem develop. Turnover decreases and profits expand. WHY NOT take the risk of learning to tell the truth?" (p. 71). The reader is given valuable illustrations, examples, and suggestions, and growth-inviting questions close each chapter.

The introduction to Section 2 includes the following comment:

Becoming a truth-teller involves seeing the world as it is rather than how you would like it to be. It means seeing beyond your illusions and then communicating your truth in such a way that others can accept it. To do this you need to learn that others may see the world, and the truth, differently than you do. (p. 70)

Later, in Chapter 22, Laurie details this con-cept under the title, "Using Agreements to Create Dialogue Instead of Conflict": "It is important to any truth teller to realize that your truth is not THE TRUTH and neither is anyone else's. Exploring different perspectives on the troth instead of arguing about which is correct can best be accomplished in a safe environment'' (p. 175). She then outlines the safe environment process developed through a system called "Agreements." Read this part of the book for a fresh look at business, professional, and personal relationships.

Laurie emphasizes the importance of choice and personal integrity as she teaches each important lesson. For example, she wrestles with the dilemma that truth-telling can be an invitation to disaster. What does one do when truth-telling might result in injury to another or ourselves? What about our own integrity? We need to consider and evaluate the risks and rewards of telling the troth in some situations. With great wisdom, Laurie urges us to be fair, forgiving, and understanding. She is clear about her subject and skillfully invites the reader to use these tools as a guide to solving the issue(s) presented in each chapter. The result is serious thinking and self-examination surrounded by permission to search out and find one's own troth as well as to appreciate others' truth as well.

Readers should note that it is important to read the Preface and then the Introduction to this volume or you'll miss the core message and theory wound which the book is built. Some of our treasured transactional analysis concepts are woven into the text to illustrate the lessons, and to her credit, Laurie has done this in a way that will make sense even to someone unfamiliar with transactional analysis.

This groundbreaking book has the potential for profoundly impacting our business world. It is a thorough, articulate, insightful, valuable resource on the growing need for coaching and consulting during our fast-paced movement into the information age.

I once heard a speaker say, "If I read a book and get one good idea from it, it is well worth the cost." This book offers is a gold mine of ideas. The first few pages provide more than one's money's worth. I predict, however, that you will continue to read, drawn forward by the captivating real-life incidents and the wrestling with the truth that ensues. And after you have finished, you will want to recommend it to others.

Russell E. Osnes, Ph.D., TSTA (clinical and educational), is a psychotherapist in Forest City, Iowa, U.S.A.

Vol. 29, No 2, April 1999 Transactional Analysts Journal 155