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.

Is It Possible to Create a Culture of Feedback?

Photo Credit: striatic via Compfight cc

I’ve noticed a disheartening phenomenon lately. It’s the reluctance to give feedback in the workplace because “they won’t do anything anyway”. People seem to think that if the person or organization they work for doesn’t immediately begin doing what they think should happen, then the feedback wasn’t taken seriously or even listened to.

I get it. We all have strong opinions about what our bosses or leaders should do. Even more, feedback can be a once a year event, and then organizations don’t always do a great job explaining what the feedback was and how they will respond. It’s also human nature to gossip and criticize. Our negativity bias and our propensity to judge others and believe we are right when others are wrong (The Happiness Hypothesis, p. 78) can take over, and we find ourselves going to town with colleagues on what is wrong and what needs to happen to fix it.

The thing is, I need to improve, and I need feedback to do it. I’m hopeful that I can help grow a culture of feedback with those I work with so it becomes more of a habit and not a once a year all or nothing event. Shakil Choudhury of Anima Leadership, uses three questions to help create a culture of feedback:

  1. What am I doing well?
  2. What do I need to improve?
  3. What are my next steps for learning?

I used these intensely personal questions to seek feedback from principals and vice principals about my leadership. The resulting conversations were insightful, challenging, and ultimately very useful.  Does seeking and receiving this feedback mean that I am immediately going to change things to reflect what I heard? Yes… and no. I heard some great suggestions that I can implement right away, I heard things that really made me go “Hmmmm,” and ones that made me realize I need to communicate more and better while staying the course. Most interesting, the feedback showed a wide variety of opinions and a lack of consensus. On reflection, that’s not surprising, since the leaders I work with are quite different from one another.

What you about you? Do you have any feedback for me?

 

I’ve written about feedback before in these posts if you want to read more.

Feedback. Priceless.

Two Essential Questions for Reflection

Learning From My Mistakes

 

Up the Ladders and Down the Snakes

My siblings and I loved Snakes and Ladders. Zooming up and down the board was fun. You would land on the ladder and advance, only to find the snake, groan, and slide back down. It’s a simple game with parallels to life and learning.

I thought about this game at a recent training session for Adaptive Schools with the amazing John Clarke (yes, my mind goes odd places).

Photo Credit: espressoed via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: espressoed via Compfight cc

Clarke mentioned the Ladder of Inference, a concept first proposed by Chris Argyris. I was introduced to the ladder of inference during Instructional Rounds training.  In chapter four, the authors talk about “Learning to See and Unlearning to Judge.” It is a powerful way to think about how we see people. Do we watch and listen carefully without judging? Or do we go up, up, up the ladder of inference to draw conclusions  about people or situations before we listen carefully or seek to understand.

In my last post, I challenged myself to have the courage to do the effortful work of changing how I think about others and being open to everything they are and have to offer without rushing to judgment.

So, even though I loved playing Snakes and Ladders as a kid, I don’t think I want to play it as a leader.  I’d rather advance carefully on the game board, seeing, listening and learning.

Do you have any favourite childhood games that have parallels to your practice?

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