I was once asked what the #1 thing was I stood for when it came to how I show up and serve my clients in my business. What was my north star that I always without doubt did without question?
Without much thought I answered, ‘I tell people what they need to know, not what they want to hear’, in fact I honestly and openly tell business owners that when we start working together. I let them know that sometimes I might need to have discussions with them which they may not want to hear, but it’s what they need to know in order to move their business forward. I honestly feel as though I have an obligation, a moral obligation to do this – because anything else just isn’t honest and without honesty, I can’t possibly give them the support they are seeking in their business.
I was considering this recently and was reflecting on how this behaviour shows up in business owners and managers. I know from my own experience that it’s a whole lot easier to show this kind of unapologetic honesty when I’m an arm’s length from the team I am discussing – I was never quite as strong when it came to my own teams.
As leaders and business owners when we’re working with people day in – day out, showing this kind of honesty can be tough. We see their faces, we know the impact, we don’t like the discomfort for either them or us. But is telling them closer to what they want to hear and further from what they actually need to know really good for them?
Brene Brown says “clear is kind, unclear is unkind”. In her book Dare to Lead she talks about the risks of having a culture where difficult conversations, including honest and productive feedback. She says that quite often we default to avoiding these tough conversations either because we have built a culture of niceness where uncomfortable conversations aren’t ‘kind’ or we lack the skills, or courage, to actually tackle the discussion we really need to have.
What I found most fascinating when reading this part of the book (which I highly recommend), is that she points out that instead of building the skills to be able to manage this conversation, or changing the culture to see this kind of transparent communication, we end up spending time managing the performance and behavioural issues that show up as a result of our inability to have these conversations.
Ultimately this means we reduce trust, we stifle creativity and problem solving. “When we fix the wrong thing for the wrong reason, the same problem continues to surface, it’s costly and demoralising”
So why are we really so bad at this? I think fundamentally having to deliver news, information or communication which you know someone needs to know, but you know they may not want to hear, requires a level of vulnerability – you are walking into the conversation knowing that this may not be comfortable, it requires vulnerability from you, and is going to force the employee to also be vulnerable, which may be uncomfortable for them. Also, when walking into these conversations we may feel like we’re out of control, we don’t know how to or don’t want to deal with what might come next – we lack the skills to deal with the emotional fall out.
Being willing to be clear, giving the information that needs to be heard requires courage.
In spite of our own vulnerabilities around this topic, this is a great time to remember what it is that our team really want from us. Fundamentally they want to know what we expect from them, and how they’re doing against these expectations. If we’re telling them what they want to hear, we’re not providing them the leadership and guidance that they really want.
In fact, we’re insulting them by failing to be honest, by assuming they want to be lied to just to appease their ego. This only serves to undermine trust, which is a fundamental element to an engaged and productive team. If we can’t be honest with our team, what message does that sent to them about how they should communicate? It will only foster a culture of dishonesty, of niceties over honesty. Ultimately, we will lose our very best team members, and stifle the growth and development of those who remain. None of this bodes well for business growth and success.
So instead, how can we grow our skills and courage to be able to more confidently, courageously and transparently be able to communicate with our employees the information they need to know, even when we know it’s not what they want to hear?
Firstly, start by framing up the conversation, let the employee know you need to have this conversation with them, that the information you want to share may be challenging to hear, but that they deserve honesty to that you can both work through the situation and come to a positive solution.
Next, explain all of the why’s. Why is this important, why you need to have the conversation with them, why you don’t want to lie to them or sugar coat it, why you know there is a solution, and you want to work on them to find it.
Communicate the issue directly, specifically, authentically and with kindness. Delivering difficult information which may not be received well doesn’t mean you need to be harsh or unkind. From here open up the conversation based on possibilities and seeking to understand, listen and really hear what your employee has to say.
Finally get curious and work towards solutions. At all times be solutions focused but don’t be tied into any preconceived ideas you had formed, having the employee actively involved and engaged in the solution will make it much more likely to succeed.
Whilst this is of course simplifying what might feel like a really complex issue, things which might require detail, don’t always need to be difficult. There will of course be nuances in how you approach any situation like this, and this comes down to really knowing your team individually. Understanding how they best receive and process information, how they communicate, and how they want to be communicated to.
The best part of being courageous enough to get vulnerable and have these conversations is that you lead by example, and you begin to build a culture of respectfully honest communication. This in turn builds massive trust amongst the team, which builds engagement and ultimately drives productivity and profitability.
If you’d like to engage more with me in these discussions about creating amazing teams, whilst also connecting with other like minded business owners, leaders and managers, I’d love for you to join us inside our free Facebook Group: