Fact: Many of the leaders I coach are scared to say what they really think to their people.
They withhold facts¹: One of my direct reports is interviewing elsewhere.
They withhold thoughts and opinions: I don’t support expanding into the US market right now.
They withhold feelings: I feel anger that I was not consulted on that hire.
They withhold sensations: I feel a lump in my throat when the VP Sales talks about our targets.
They hold back on speaking their truth because they believe it is safer. They hold back on speaking their truth because to do otherwise feels so dangerous.
Candor can be hard, leaving us exposed and vulnerable.
Fact: I sometimes withhold, too, in my business and personal relationships. At times, I even withhold during coaching sessions. I am paid to be frank and I still find myself holding back at times. Happily, as I commit to candor in my life, it happens less and less.
Here’s why it happens for me and the leaders I coach.
We have deep underlying assumptions/beliefs that speaking our truth will push people away. We believe (somewhere in reptile part of our brains) that if we push people away we will end up failed and alone. Sound extreme? It is shockingly common.
A while back I provided a formula for feedback that I stand by. It’s a great place to start when you want to tell a colleague (boss, peer, direct report, supplier, etc.) what happened, how you felt about it and what the impact was. When done well, a feedback conversation like this can help both you and the other person grow, can build trust in your relationship, and can improve results.
Since formulas help us remember concepts, here’s another from Kim Scott of Radical Candor Inc.
Care Personally + Challenge Directly = Radical Candor™ (4 minute video here)
Say what you think, with this caveat: You need to care personally and challenge directly to have impact.
For a full explanation, watch: The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss. (It’s 21 minutes).
It’s time to challenge our belief that bad things happen if we speak our truth. The truth is, bad things can happen when we don’t speak up. Bad things can happen when we avoid asking for candid feedback, too. Something to ponder.
The Fast Feedback Test²
When is it appropriate to speak your truth? When is it a fast feedback conversation and when does it need to be a longer coaching conversation?
- Will the information be useful to the recipient? Y/N
- Do I have a trust-based relationship in place that will support the conversation? Y/N
- Is the behaviour change critical for the individual’s success? Y/N
- Will the feedback be new or surprising to hear? Will the data fall into a blind spot for the individual and perhaps be shocking to him/her? Y/N
- Will the behaviour change take significant time, effort, or support? Y/N
- Am I personally invested in the behaviour change? Y/N
Yes to #1 and #2 = Jump in with candor in the moment. Remember that improvising in the moment can be powerful.
No to #2 = What would make it worthwhile to build trust in the relationship first?
Yes to #3-5 = Consider a longer coaching conversation.
The deciding question is #6. If your answer is no – i.e., you don’t care personally and are not vested in helping with the change — you might be wasting your breath.
¹These examples of the ways leaders withhold comes from The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman & Kaley Warner Klemp.
² The Fast Feedback Test is modified from The Extraordinary Coach by John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett.