This week I’ve been teaching a course on straight talk. I often refer to this skill as “Speaking the Truth with Love.” The crux of getting this right depends on three important aspects.
There are three elements to straight talk:
- Caring personally (compassion) – Caring personally about the individual who is on the receiving end of this conversation and demonstrating this care with your words in the conversation.
- Sharing your perspective and/or challenging directly – Or in other words, being clear about the issue that needs to be communicated and not beating around the proverbial bush.
- Inviting others to do the same – Creating the space to have a two-way conversation rather than merely talk at someone. Any straight talk conversation is a great opportunity for two-way dialogue and not merely a “dump and run.”
Don’t Bury the Lead
You’d be surprised how often we do the opposite. When it comes to challenging directly, I notice one thing in particular. I often sit in practice runs where participants are role playing a difficult conversation they need to have. I’ve seen people do a million times something I call “burying the lead.” At the end of the conversation, I ask the initiator what the issue was they wanted to communicate. The person on the receiving end of the conversation often had a totally different impression of what the conversation was about. The gravity of the issue had not been conveyed clearly or accurately. This happens all the time, and people walk away with completely different perceptions of a conversation or an issue. No wonder there’s so much conflict in our personal and professional lives!
Remember that honesty without compassion is brutality
But the caring personally aspect is just as important as challenging directly.
It’s crucial to remember that honesty without compassion can be brutality.
E.g. “I think your idea is stupid.”
I’m reminded of an old friend and colleague that I used to spend a lot of time with. She prided herself on her ability to give straight talk. She had mastered the art of being direct. On that front there was no one better I will admit. The problem is her words were often not couched in compassion. Over time it took a toll on my ability to relate to her, and eventually after I’d been stung enough times, I abandoned the relationship. It just wasn’t worth it.
So why don’t we engage in straight talk? Or why don’t we do it well when we try?
Mindset is Everything
Mindset plays a huge role when it comes to this skill. Do any of these sound familiar?
- It means being unkind.
- I must act professionally regardless of the cost.
- I can’t upset people.
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
- I must tell the truth at all costs.
- Silence is golden.
- I can’t challenge someone senior to me.
Which of these beliefs are true for you? And how are they getting in the way of the conversation that may need to be had? What could be gained by having that difficult conversation? And what is not having it costing you?
Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them. Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!