I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t use the phrase, “I’m going to be honest with you”. Why? Because I’m always going to be honest with you.
If you’re hanging out with me and you have a piece of your breakfast on your face, I’m going to let you know that you have a piece of your breakfast on your face. It’s not an easy conversation to have but I’ve never had anyone say to me, “I can’t believe you told me that. How rude”. I don’t keep accurate stats but I believe 100% of the time the reply has been an emphatic “Thank you!”. I hope they would do the same for me.
I’m no different at work. Again, it’s not always easy to tell an employee, for example, that their latest project wasn’t good. Contrary to the “food on your face” reply, employees tend to take offense at first and it turns into a bigger conversation. And that’s exactly what I’m looking for. In my opinion, it’s the only way to improve. Not just for the employee, but for me too.
I have an open-door policy. That means I invite my employees, clients, friends and family to open my door, literally and figuratively, to the truth. I encourage everyone to tell me anything. I have an employee who has been with me for several years. He’s not quite 30 years old yet but he challenges me from time to time with Yoda-like wisdom. It’s exhilarating and sometimes frightening. It’s usually little things that I would never notice or think of. But when I begin to explore the criticisms more, they are little things that, over time, may snowball into giant problems.
For example, he recently spoke with me to let me know that I often send out calendar invites to employees where there is no indication of what the meeting is about. Even though the majority of the time, those meetings are simple catch-ups or information sessions. But how would they know that? And keep in mind, some of those meetings are scheduled several days out. So, I’ve made them nervous for several days, given them no opportunity to prep for the meeting and by doing so, have hurt the company and have treated them unfairly.
I’ve learned a lot about being a better manager and a better person just by listening to some tough talk from empowered employees. And I’ve been told they have learned a lot by being active listeners in the open, honest way I communicate with them.
There’s a big difference between being an open, honest a-hole and being an open, honest constructive and effective conversationalist. To be the latter, it takes practice. A lot of practice. Oh…and patience. I’ll go back to the “food on your face” conversation. There are two ways to have that talk.
- (Talks loudly in front of everyone)-“Hey, man. Looks like you had a bagel for lunch because it’s hanging from your beard.”
- (Takes the person away from the group quietly and softly speaks)-“I know you’re here talking to clients. Before you do any more of that…don’t react quickly…I wanted to let you know that you should probably find a mirror and remove the bagel and cream cheese from your face.”
Yes, I know it’s not brain surgery. But I feel like many folks just wouldn’t say anything. And for me, that’s worse than reply #1.
As a company, we embrace honesty with our clients the same way we do internally. Again, it’s not always easy. Especially when our clients are the ones being brutally honest with us. Conversely, we will tell them if, for example, their proposed project has too little budget to meet the results they desire. We’ll also tell them if they have proposed a budget/scope that’s bigger than what they need. In fact, that happens more often than one might think. We do this because, if we say we believe in open, honest communication then we can’t just pick and choose when we want to implement that policy. We also do it because we honestly care about them, their company and their success.
To be honest with you, I’ve been told that I should always put numbered bullet points at the end of these essays. So, here you go.
- “Force” the truth
Monthly anonymous employee surveys
Customer surveys after every project
2. Learn how to tell and listen to the truth
I was an open, honest a-hole until I learned and practiced to change that. A great book for this is “Radical Candor”. Also, the “Anatomy of Peace” (required reading for all of my employees) is great for so many things. Seeking to understand and entering a conversation with a heart at peace are two of the main takeaways. Both qualities allow for speaking honestly and listening constructively.
3. You don’t have to prepare for the truth
I’m a huge fan of preparation at work and at home. It’s important to me that the folks I’m interacting with get the attention they deserve. But, the truth is something I never have to prepare for. And that makes all of my conversations easier. I’m armed with the truth and the ability (hopefully) to speak my mind in a way that is helpful to others.
4. The “One Thing” exercise
Truth wields its power in this exercise. We do it quarterly at work. I haven’t tried it at home yet but I imagine it would be just as effective there too. This works best with a group of 3-5 people. Here’s how it goes.
Each person in the group gets their turn in the hot seat. In the first round, each member of the group tells the hot seat person something they admire about them. That’s the easy part.
In the second round, each member of the group tells the hot seat person something they’re doing that is holding the company back.
I’ve found, more often than not, there are similar themes in the collective individual feedback. The hot seat person then has a quarter of the year to work on improving their One Thing. In my experience, there have been some tough pills to swallow. But, in the end, it’s made me a better person, a better boss and a better Dad/husband.
So, tell me the truth. How can I improve? What more could I be doing? How do you navigate tough truths with your co-workers, friends and family?