“We become hopeful when someone tells the truth.”
How often do you observe counterproductive behavior, think to yourself “I should say something,” but end up saying nothing because you don’t want to create conflict?
The Dual Nature of Truth
Conflict can be costly. Candid feedback can cause hurt. Completely objective feedback does not exist; whatever we say will be colored by our values, preferences, and communication style.
These are legitimate concerns. The other side of the coin is the fact that telling the truth provides an opportunity for someone to grow. If your behavior was causing you and others problems and frustration, wouldn’t you want to know so that you could decide whether to make adjustments?
When no one speaks up, the opportunity to grow and develop as individuals or as teams goes away.
Imagine a scenario at work where a colleague constantly interrupts others during meetings. It’s really getting to be a problem. A serious conflict may soon erupt. If the other members of the team avoid the discomfort of addressing this behavior, the interrupting colleague remains unaware of the impact of the behavior. However, by mustering the courage to provide honest feedback on the observed behavior and suggesting alternative approaches, we give the colleague an opportunity to reflect and change the way they behave.
By embracing the truth, the team enables growth and enhances team effectiveness. The best teams will always develop a culture of open and honest feedback.
As an executive coach, I often give my clients candid and sometimes uncomfortable feedback on their mindset and behavior. I have no wish to harm anyone, especially someone I am coaching, but I know from experience that if I don’t give them feedback on self-limiting beliefs and potentially harmful behaviors, I am not doing my job as a coach.
The more senior the client, the less likely it is that anyone is telling them the truth about their behavior.
Clients always appreciate this, even if it is painful to hear. They understand that hearing the truth is necessary in order to grow.
If you are a leader, you know that you must provide candid feedback, both positive and negative, to help your team members become their best selves. If you’re a great leader, you don’t hold back. And if you want to grow as a leader, you ask your peers, your boss, and your team members for feedback on your behavior and impact.
Truth an Act of Respect and Care
If we genuinely care about someone, telling them the truth is an act of compassion and respect, even if we know that truth is always somewhat subjective. The recipient of our truth is allowed to respond, express disagreement, or feel that it is biased, but this does not diminish the value of honesty. By expressing our truth, we show that we genuinely care and are willing to engage in open and sometimes painful conversations.
Tips for Giving Honest Feedback
- Check your intention. If you are telling the truth primarily to make yourself feel better, I doubt your message will be well-received. Focus on how your message might help the other person before you decide to deliver it.
- Ask for permission. Tell the other person you would like to give them some honest feedback that you feel will be helpful. Ask them if they would like to hear it now—they may be in a rush or very tired. Give them the chance to tell you when and how they want to hear the feedback, if at all. If you are giving feedback to a subordinate, you don’t have to ask for permission, but you should help them prepare by first telling them you want to give feedback you feel they need to hear.
- Allow space to digest. Don’t expect an immediate response. Depending on the style of the person, they might need time to reflect on what they heard. If you suspect the person needs that time, ask them if they would like to think about what you said, and book a follow up conversation in the near future—the next day is ideal. This gives them a chance to come back with questions and maximizes the opportunity to learn from the feedback. If the person prefers to just listen and not have a follow up chat, that is also fine.
- Ask for feedback yourself. If you like to give feedback but don’t like to hear it, after a time nobody will welcome your feedback. Feedback is a two-way street, as they say. We all need to hear it, and we all should be willing to give it.
- Address the behavior and the impact. Do not give feedback on mindset unless you know the person very well. Focus on the behavior and the impact of the behavior.
- Discuss the future. It isn’t enough to tell the truth and then leave the person alone to figure out what to do. If your feedback was given with good intentions, and focuses on behavior and impact, allow space to talk about a better way forward. If I interrupt you a lot, tell me what I’m doing and the problems is causes, and then suggest that going forward, I might want to let people finish before I speak. Let me respond to what you say. Help me get better.
If you’re already a capable, bold truth-teller, I applaud you. I’m sure I could learn some tips from you.
If you need to increase your truth-telling moments, go for it. Do it because you care.
Yours in learning,
P.S. To hear more on this subject, check out the latest True Talk here:
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