I had the good fortune to spend Easter in the mountains with one of my sons.  And there, I had a real ‘aha!’ moment – on truth. It came from some conversations with my partner who was at home in the rain in London. I realised that I feel the most alive and thrive when I am being truthful and fully sharing what is going on for me. This is especially so when I share something that has been bugging me for a while – hence the expression to get something “off your chest “.

And then the bigger ‘aha!’ – in order for me to be fully truthful, I have to feel safe. Safe that I can express myself without a negative consequence.

What I realised is that my partner and I have created such a safe environment between us that I feel safe to share everything. And when I say everything, I mean absolutely everything.

Returning to London, I happened upon a BBC Radio 4 programme on secrets – being the opposite of truth. A few things really deepened that ‘aha!’ moment. We keep secrets to stop being vulnerable yet when we do share them it is like releasing a burden and when we share, secrets we get closer to the ultimate truth. On the plus side, sharing secrets helps us to create bonds with others. And not sharing can be really damaging.  They interviewed a former spy on the impact of holding so many secrets and quoted a study that shows that holding secrets can be physiologically damaging. Postsecret.com has even been created to give people a space to release those deep secrets they feel they can tell no one.

So how does this effect businesses? Surely a company full of truth tellers is going to thrive more than one full of people holding secrets.

I believe it works the same way in companies as in one-to-one relationships. To thrive, there must be truth and for truth there must be safety. Hence, the key to a company or organisation thriving is to create an environment where everyone feels safe to share their truth. Then, everyone in the company will feel heard, clear, and like me (and those who bearing their secrets on Radio 4!), alive.  And in being alive, I and others can be at our absolute best in our work.  And I know that when I am my best and fully alive at work, I can and do make a real difference to those around me, be they colleagues, customers or members of the community.

Let’s look for a minute at the opposite, which is where fear dominates.  For example, “I am afraid to tell my boss the truth as she’ll punish me.”  Or,  “I can’t point out an obvious mistake my co-worker is making as he’ll be mad at me.” The Radio 4 programme even went as far as saying that people who hold secrets are likely to find some tasks more difficult.  So when you are afraid to tell your boss or a colleague that the job he/she has asked you to do is a waste of time or worse still damaging to the company, of course you’ll find it harder to do it. Yet hands up those of us who have done this (I raise both mine).

As humans, when we are fearful, we are small and cautious. So here is the choice; would you rather your company was full of alive, thriving and truthful people or full of afraid, fearful, small and cautious people holding secrets?

It may have taken me years to realise this and an hour to write it. However, achieving it in a company is not easy task.  When I say, “achieving it,” I mean getting to the point where everyone in the organisation feels they can be truthful with everyone else – all the time.

Within Heart in Business Limited, there are seven of us and I think given our focus on being heartful and all the work each of us have done to get to a place where we can open our hearts to each other, we are getting there.

At Thornton’s Budgens, with a hundred of us and from much more diverse backgrounds, we are on the road with a fair way to go. The Heart Programme got us on that road and the steps we are currently taking will get us closer to our goal of being a business with heart.

So how does your organisation feel on the truthfulness scale?  If you are really truthful (excuse the pun), it probably has a fair way to go. However asking the question, being curious about this and seeing the potential for a different way of being means, at least, that you are looking for the road – the first step on the journey!

This article originally appeared on the SparkLDN website.

Andrew Thornton runs Thornton’s Budgens in Belsize Park, London – a commercial retailer which follows environmental principles and puts its employees at the heart. He has also been involved with The People’s Supermarket in central London. He passionately believes in creating businesses with purpose and heart. His new project, Heart in Business, does exactly that – “putting people and our planet first, trusting profit will follow”.