The Reflection Pool

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.

Microaggressions: They’re Real and They Hurt

“Where are you from?”

“I guess you wear the pants in the family.”

“You won’t have the natural authority to be a school administrator, so maybe you should think about a different career path.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the term microaggressions and wondered what it means. Maybe someone has brought it to your attention at work when speaking about the systemic barriers that marginalized groups face and you’ve thought, “Really?” I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought it was some new, trendy term. I woke up after Shakil Choudhury explained it. This video clip helped: How Microaggressions are Like Mosquito Bites – Same Difference

This term resonates with me, even though there are a few research and scientific criticisms of it. While the anti-racism and civil rights movements have gained some momentum, there’s still so much work to be done.  Systemic racism exists in our society.

If we deeply examine our thinking, we can see that every single one of us is biased and conditioned to believe things about groups of people. This might come out in our inner opinions about others or even in the casual remarks we make. We may not intend to hurt others, but the reality is that our words can really sting. They can give the subtle message that you don’t belong. That you’re not good enough. That you are “other”.

Changing this is hard. As with everything, the first step is a willingness to hold the mirror up to ourselves and understand our biases. That’s difficult work, but so worth it. Engage a friend who is willing to be honest with you. Listen to others’ reactions to what you say. Try not to be defensive.

I’m still on this journey and I’m sure I make mistakes.  What about you? Have you experienced microaggressions?

EXPLORE – #oneword for 2018

January 1 is a “let’s get to it” day. Last week, I set my reading goal for the year. I created my January bullet journal pages. I also did laundry, but don’t worry, that’s not just a new year’s thing.

Now it’s time for my #oneword which has become a yearly tradition (see my last three #oneword posts below). I choose #oneword because it provides me with a reflection framework. As I’ve mentioned in this space, I’m a terrible procrastinator and setting myself the challenge of choosing #oneword helps me focus.

I also love the brevity of #oneword. Less is more.

This year feels like a gateway year.  My career as a school board employee is coming to an end sometime in the next few years, and I’m thinking about what is next. I want to investigate what it possible. I want to let ideas macerate and mingle.

I’ve always wanted to work on my doctorate – is now the time? What do I want my mark to be on this world? How can I best use my strengths and interests in this part of my life?

This quote from Steve Jobs just appeared in my Twitter timeline and it feels right to use it.

“And most important have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

That’s what I want to explore this year.


Here’s a big shout out to Julie Balen, Ontario educator, who is leading #onewordONT this year through her Google+ Community OneWordOnt Blogs.  Join and share your #oneword.

Previous #oneword posts:

GRACE – #oneword for 2017

ESSENTIAL – #oneword for 2016

One Word for 2015

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