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Straight Talk #2

Last week we talked about how important candor, straight talk, is in all relationships. We discovered the vital link it is to business success and satisfaction. This week, let’s think more about how it is developed.First, and perhaps most importantly, we have to realize a culture of candor cannot be created or developed over night. Business author Jim Collins calls this the “Stockdale paradox” after Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was tortured repeatedly as a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam war. When asked by Mr. Collins how he survived his long ordeal, Adm. Stockdale replied that it was by never losing faith he would eventually get out. When asked who didn’t survive, Stockdale replied that it was the “optimists” – the ones who thought, wrongly, they’d be out by, say, Christmas.“This is a very important lesson,” Adm. Stockdale told Mr. Collins. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Great organizations and great leaders get it. They are unstintingly honest in confronting the obstacles they face. There are plenty of obstacles to straight talk, and it won’t become company culture instantly. But it will happen if you persevere in these directions.Invite perspective. By taking the time to ask others to share their perspective, you are demonstrating that their ideas matter. Sometimes when you ask others to share their thoughts, they may be reluctant to offer their ideas. Recognize that people may not have had positive experiences with this type of interaction previously. It may take time for your team to come to believe that you are sincerely interested in what they have to say.Be patient, and listen for what is really important. If people don’t or won’t share with you, be patient. Change takes time. Keep asking questions and offering invitations, and eventually people will get the message that you really want to hear from them. Once you get people talking, make sure you actually listen to them. Sometimes people have negative things to say, or they may complain about what they don’t like. Don’t just decide they are negative people—ask yourself, “What are they telling me is important to them?”If you take the time to really listen and try to determine what they value, you will hear something in their message you have never heard before. If after listening you are unclear about what matters and what we need to understand, ask clarifying questions to help define what the person is really expressing and why they are saying it.Don’t be pushy. If you are sharing an idea and you begin to experience resistance, quit pushing your point of view and ask questions. When people resist your ideas, it is often because they feel like they are being excluded.Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to do straight talk, or to respectfully disagree and offer an alternative view. When this happens, stop sharing your opinion for the moment and explore their perspective. When they are clear you have taken the time to understand, they will give you their time and attention to understand your perspective. They will be encouraged to talk straight.Take plenty of time. Difficult conversations on tough topics take more time than you might expect. Schedule the conversation when you have sufficient time to avoid interruption, then give your full attention to the person with whom you are speaking. Don’t be in a hurry to get it over with. Being preoccupied with other issues, checking your phone, being in a hurry to leave will send the message that the person and their ideas are not important. Candor has no chance.Don’t assume anything. Carefully challenge assumptions and negativity. Straight talk can invite passionate, even heated conversations. Listen for people to make wild assumptions or even negative prophecies about the future. This “catastrophizing” tactic is often used to avoid talking about issues. Listen for facts to actually support a person’s point of view. If you don’t hear any evidence that backs a person’s opinion, ask for it. People often base their thinking on experience or current concerns, and often they are not correct.Likewise, don’t assume that a person has understood you even though you think that you have clearly explained your position or given clear direction. Summarize what you think they have heard and ask them to confirm or disconfirm what you have shared. Don’t be surprised if you discover that there has been a misinterpretation of what you thought was clear. We all have filters that cause us to hear things differently. Take time to clarify what you think you heard and they think they heard.Don’t make it personal. When people become defensive, it signals that they have a different perspective. If you respond defensively or critically, your conversation is bound to spiral out of control. Candor has lost. When negative emotion arises, remain calm and ask questions to try to understand the other person’s point of view. Asking questions helps you remain calm, and shows respect for the other individual.If in the course of your conversation you find that a person is struggling with something, don’t hesitate to offer support or encouragement. You might even ask if there is something you can do to assist the individual. Look for opportunities to use your expertise to support and help others.Always make others glad they shared. Thank others for sharing. If you ask people to share their perspective or invite them to push back and disprove your point of view, always thank those who have the courage to do so. When others are willing to disagree with us, we should take that disagreement as an opportunity to learn something that is outside our perspective. Unfortunately we often shut down straight talk by resisting ourselves. resistance.Be sure not to take “Talk Straight” too far. Never use this concept to justify being cruel or brutal in communication. Always speak with kindness, authenticity, and respect. Utilize tact and skill and good judgment.Work on your own skill.

  • Ask yourself: What keeps me from talking straight? Is it a fear of being wrong? Unpopular? A lack of courage?Work to identify the reason(s) and recognize the benefits of being honest and the price you pay when you’re not.Stop and ask yourself in the middle of a conversation,Am I talking straight?” If you’re not, figure out why, recognize you are paying a price for it, and work on your integrity and intent.

  • Get to your point quickly. “Less is more.” People are more likely to engage in short time periods. Use simple language.

  • Don’t “spin” or distort facts. Don’t leave false impressions.

Reward candor whenever you see it.. Jack Welch, former GE CEO, called for developing a corporate culture that encourages and rewards honest feedback. "You reinforce the behaviors that you reward," he explained. "If you reward candor, you'll get it."Welch says, “I have always been a huge proponent of candor. In fact, I talked it up to GE audiences for more than twenty years. But since retiring from GE, I have come to realize that I underestimated its rarity. In fact, I would call lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business. What a huge problem it is. Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer. When you’ve got candor—and you’ll never completely get it, mind you—everything just operates faster and better.”Welch talks about how significant candor and straight talk is when he says, “Forget outside competition when your own worst enemy is the way you communicate with one another internally!”Success and significance is within your grasp. You can talk straight to yourself and build a culture of candor in your company.

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