When straight talk weakens your team’s performance

Most executives agree that honesty and straight talk are a good thing. Who wouldn’t want to hear what your colleagues really think and feel?

I wouldn’t, for starters.

To clarify, I think honesty is critical for performance. But I’ve also seen how it can inhibit good thinking and shut down engagement.

I first learned this some years back in a conference room with the senior leaders of a well-known company.

During my initial phone interviews with team members, several proudly told me that the team didn’t shy away from “straight talk.” They told each other exactly what they thought. “Good,” I thought, “then at least that won’t be an issue.”

In our first meeting together, things started out pretty well …at least for the first 10 minutes, until the “straight talk” started.

It began with Bryan (CFO) telling Aaron (VP of manufacturing) that Aaron’s margins were crappy and that if he didn’t fix it soon, they would be having a different conversation.

Listening to Bryan’s threat, Aaron’s face turned beet red, his fingers drumming the table. He then launched into an impassioned explanation for the sagging margins, including blistering indictments of both Bryan (for failing to approve budgets to upgrade production facilities) and Charlotte (the Sales VP), for weak sales.

The next 20 minutes was a free for all, with folks hurling blame, defending their own performance and generally expressing every thought or feeling that entered their minds.

Things climaxed when Bill (the President) jumped to his feet and began violently thrusting his finger at the team while shouting out his own opinions and accusations. (Bill was 6’ 6” in his alligator boots and cowboy hat that he wore to every meeting, so when he stood up and began ranting, it had a chilling effect on the room.)

This was straight talk. And it was inhibiting the team’s performance.

This was when I realized that simply speaking one’s mind—without examining one’s mind—was not terribly useful.

These leaders were indeed good at voicing their “honest” thoughts and feelings. But they were lousy at reflecting upon their thoughts and feelings. They were unskilled at challenging each other’s thinking in a respectful way, so they couldn’t actually learn from each other, make good decisions or make good commitments to each other. Good collaboration simply wasn’t possible with this kind of straight talk.

When my colleagues and I work with leaders and their teams, one of our aims is to help them communicate more effectively. We do this by first helping them become more aware of what goes into their communication—how to notice their thoughts, their words, and their bodies, and how to express themselves both truthfully and skillfully. This is what fosters true leadership collaboration—or what I call Full Contact Performance.

With a little guidance and practice, even the most “straight-talking” teams can learn this, too.

#Honesty #Collaboration #Performance

May 16, 2023 by Grayson James

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