“Hey, I’m just being brutally honest.”
This came from a leader who had gotten some recent anonymous critical feedback (and a recommendation from HR to seek some coaching support, hence my presence across the table in the coffee shop).
I asked him if we could keep the honesty, but lose the brutality.
From Ray Dalio’s radical honesty principles with Bridgewater Associates to Tony Robbin’s blunt and forceful approach to “feedback”, there are a lot of examples in today’s workplace that would suggest frank, direct and candid approaches to feedback are the optimal method for communicating with colleagues and employees.
Unfortunately, for a lot of people the “brutally direct” approach is more brutal than direct, and is used as an excuse to say whatever they want and avoid the responsibility of how it may impact the other person. And more often than not, these types of approaches are loaded up with a judgement or assumption that implies;
“I’m just being honest (therefore you should be less sensitive)”.
“We believe in radical transparency (if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen)”
“My intention was to give you the truth (even though the ‘truth’ is actually just my unexamined thoughts and perspective).”
As a leader, it’s your impact, not your intention, that matters.
I’ve never met a leader who wakes up in the morning with the mission to make their people anxious, fearful and stressed.
And yet, almost every day I meet someone who’s struggling with either a lack of useful feedback from their leader, or feedback that is loaded up with the implicit message that there’s something wrong with who they are.
Feedback that disconnects people, instead of connecting them.
The ultimate goal of feedback is to align the team member with the behaviours that reflect shared values or performance expectations. Providing that feedback in a “brutal” fashion risks disconnecting you in the relationship, contributing to a fear and unwillingness to engage in future “tough” conversations.
Keeping the honesty, and losing the brutality (replacing it with genuine curiosity and compassion) will transform your conversations and create the conditions for meaningful engagement and dialogue with the people you serve.