How to Appreciate Straight Talk

Blunt. Direct. Forthright. Candid.

I spent a year in Paris when I was 18. In 1982, the City of Light was full of possibilities for a young woman unafraid to explore. I met many international and French students that year. I was often introduced as “Suzanne – don’t mind her, she’s very blunt”.

My 57 year old self and my 18 year old self have a lot in common. I still talk straight, but I’ve learned to temper how, when and what I say. When I was 18 I was blunt because I didn’t think. Now I’m direct because I consider what’s needed to make decisions or to improve. Even so, my propensity for honesty is too much for some. Colleagues have insisted they want candour, yet it’s not always welcome. People don’t want to know what’s not going well, they don’t want to have their viewpoint challenged, or they equate disagreement with rejection. They’ve internalized the message that honesty is too risky, maybe from family members who taught them to “be nice”, employers who punished directness, or a friend who didn’t appreciate them saying how they felt.

I stand by talking straight. Saying what I mean leads to greater trust over time. People understand that I don’t have a hidden agenda. If they want and value honesty, it’s there for them. To be clear, honesty isn’t about being mean or unkind. Kindness must always be part of straight talk.

In the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott, she says to move away from the nice – you need to care personally and challenge directly to be a great boss. Another book, Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor talks about how specific steps towards candour makes companies more effective. There’s a move towards being direct and open: it’s good for people and for organizations.

We can only get better if we know how others feel, what isn’t working and what other options or opinions can go on the table. You might take these steps:

Ask for straight talk. Create a space where it’s safe for people to speak honestly.

Prepare yourself to listen carefully. Don’t justify or get defensive. What are they trying to say?

Ask clarifying questions. Make sure you understand. Use paraphrasing to seek clarity.

Don’t take it personally. Hurt feelings are the enemy of improvement.

You may have a situation in your life that you could try to solicit and appreciate straight talk. Perhaps a colleague, friend or family member? Please comment below to let me know how it went or to share your thoughts on straight talk.

This post is part of a series inspired by Steven M. R. Covey‘s Speed of Trust.

Why Summer is a Perfect Time for Reflection

Do you feel yourself unwinding? That’s the gift of summer vacation, when the days are long, the evenings are warm and sweet, and you can give yourself some time to breathe. When I say breathe, I mean those deep, slow breaths that fill you up and leave tension behind.

It takes most of us, whether in education, manufacturing, service or the corporate world, some time to really relax. Our current reality is so focussed on being busy and rushing here and there that our bodies, minds and souls are wound up tighter than a two dollar watch.

But when you’re ready, this is why now is the perfect time for reflection.

  1. You’ve got the time. Reflection isn’t about a quick recap of what went well or not. You need to go back through your year and write down the important events: meetings, conferences, or conversations that had an impact. A year in review takes time to create. You might take a large sheet or paper (digital or analogue) and divide into quarters or months – note the events and then reflect. What happened? What did you learn? Then step back, what patterns do you see?
  2. You’ve got the mental space. Our brains are amazing. In the book Your Brain at Work by David Rock, you learn which parts of the brain do different kinds of thinking. When we’re in the midst of work, we often don’t have the mental space to devote to full reflection. Your brain is at its best early in the day after a good night’s sleep. Why not put time aside for 30 minutes to reflect. What do you do well? What do you need to learn next? How will you get better?
  3. You’ve got the energy. Reflection is thinking and thinking takes effort. Sometimes a lot of effort! Your brain can get tired and distracted during the year. When you’re on vacation, you might go for a walk or a bike ride because you have more physical energy. (Although keep in mind that exercising throughout the year will give you more energy) Your review of important events isn’t only about what went well. It should also be about the feedback you received. Whether you asked for feedback or not – and I encourage you to always ask for feedback – people give it to us through their words and actions.  With your renewed mental energy, reflect on feedback. What is it really telling you about yourself? Do you have some blindspots? If you want to go further, I recommend the excellent book Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.

I’m taking time this summer vacation to reflect on my interactions with vice principals and how I might support them better, as well as the structure of school visits. I also want to think about my current leadership inquiry: to work with principals and vice principals to reflect on how their identities intersect with their leadership styles. Yes, these are weighty topics – and I have the time, the mental space, and the energy.

What about you – what will you reflect about?

Just Stop Using “You Guys”

It’s time for me to write this post, since I’ve been thinking about it for over 10 years. I kept hoping it would catch on. It hasn’t. So here goes…

I wish everyone to stop using the term “you guys” when referring to a mixed gender group of people. I get why people use it. It’s cool, quick and casual. It rolls off the tongue. And yet, it excludes.

This isn’t a new idea. Just a brief internet search turned up a couple of articles, one from 2005 and another from 2015. Both make the argument much better than I could. It’s basically this: using a male term (yes, “guys’ is a male term, not a neutral one) to describe a group of people that don’t all identify as male is sexist.  There, I said it.  This may seem ridiculous to some. I can hear eye rolling from here. After all, it’s not the most offensive term out there. Still, when I think about the power of language to help or to harm, I don’t find “you guys” helpful. To me, it represents a creeping line of a male-centric view. I’d rather use a term than includes everybody.

Photo Credit: DaveBleasdale via Compfight cc

What to use instead? Here’s a list of words I’ve used and that also appear in this  article 40 Gender-Neutral Alternatives to saying “You guys” by Kim Z. Dale

You

People

Y’all

Folks

Friends

There are more – maybe you can share with me?

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