When I lived in Chihuahua nearly 15 years ago, a friend of mine told me there’s a saying in Mexico that goes, “The only people who tell the truth are drunks and little kids.” Actually, I’m not 100 percent sure if that’s the exact saying or if it’s even a Mexican saying at all. Ironically, this conversation occurred over a couple of tortas after hanging out at a cantina all night. Nonetheless, I’m sure you can recall a time when someone you know was guilty of “drinking and talking” or when little kids proved that you have to watch what you say in front of them. So what is it that makes the truth so painful at times?
At the risk of completely overusing a bunch of clichés ... When did the word “brutally” get put together with the word “honest”? Growing up, most of us were taught that “honesty is the best policy” and “the right thing to do.”
It wasn’t until we were older that we learned the concepts of being “diplomatic” and “politically correct.”
Sure, our parents were quick to remind us that if we “weren’t going to say something nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all.” But somewhere along the way, a lot of us took that concept a step further and now we avoid telling people the “honest-to-God truth” and we struggle to “shoot straight” out of fear of being too harsh or hurtful.
So why do you think most people avoid giving honest, constructive criticism? Is it because we’ve all learned the hard way that it hurts to be corrected or criticized? Or is it just too uncomfortable to tell someone what they need to hear?
Whether it’s due to having our own feelings hurt or dealing with someone else’s defensiveness, most of us tend to steer clear of confrontation all together.
But here’s the problem ... if you don’t say it and no one else on your team does either, ultimately someone is going to lose. And it’s probably not just the person you’re reluctant to confront.
If the issue affects you professionally or personally, you lose too. But when it comes to how you address the situation, another popular cliché reminds us ... “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
Chances are, you’ve heard some communication “experts” refer to a mathematical equation for delivering compliments and criticism. They say, “for every negative comment you give someone, you need to come up with three positive ones.” Seriously?
No offense (of course), but that’s just foolish. Although there’s a lot of strategy that goes into effective communication and leadership, utilizing a good/bad “ratio rule” for communication is not only impractical in real life, it’s also disingenuous.
When it comes to communication, most of us have a tendency to err on the edges. In other words, if we’re not at one extreme, we tend to be at the other.
Instead of maintaining a legitimate balance between communicating what someone is doing well and what someone needs to improve on, most of us only mention someone’s mistakes and shortcomings.
Sure, we notice the good things that people do. Noticing them isn’t the problem. The problem is that we neglect to mention the good things we see. Since we often just focus on the negative, it’s easy for someone to think there’s really nothing positive. In the end, the only comments people hear are the ones we actually say.
Now please, don’t misunderstand me. Again, if someone is doing a poor job, do yourself and this person a favor ... say what needs to be said.
If your candid approach works, everyone wins and moves on. If it doesn’t, at least you know you tried and you can go your separate ways, sparing everyone a lot of stress and frustration going forward.
Speaking the truth shouldn’t be reserved for “drunks and little kids.” Tell your people what they’re doing well and what you need them to do to improve. Don’t be too harsh and don’t be too soft. Just be honest. PD