My inclination to tell the truth, under all circumstances, often caused dismay amongst my consultancy colleagues. It’s been bothering some students too who seem to think a marker should seek to boost their esteem, not tell them the truth.
In these circumstances, I refer back to Charles Handy’s The Empty Raincoat, in which he describes the role of the prophet throughout history. I’ve always thought it equally described the role of the PR adviser:
Prophets, in spite of their name, do not foretell the future. No one can do that, and no one should claim to do that. What prophets can do is to tell the truth as they see it. They can point to the emperor’s lack of clothes, that things are not what people like to think they are. They can warn of dangers ahead if the course is not changed. They can, and often did, point their fingers at what they thought to be wrong, unjust and prejudiced. Most of all, they can offer a way of thinking about things, a way to clarify the dilemmas and concentrate the mind. What the prophet cannot, and should not, do is to tell the doers what to do… The prophet can provide a chart but cannot dictate where or how the vessel should sail.