We’ve become overly concerned about what we say to each other and how we say it. So to be safe we neuter our communications to a level of banality that is often void of genuine and truthful messages.
And in the workplace it’s worse. I’ve had countless conversations with managers about communicating change that is anticipated to be difficult. Those who resist sharing the truth end up saying to me, “I know my people. It’s too much. They can’t handle it right now.” The outcome: a watered down message that is laden with subtext that is fuel for the rumor-mill.
There is an assumption at the heart of all this “safe-talk” that needs to be challenged. It’s this: we assume people can’t handle the truth. We are avoiding difficult conversations. We are discounting employees’ capacity to handle difficult news.
We’ve seen “safe talk” damage a leader’s credibility, and trust is weakened. In severe cases it’s destroyed.
The truth may sting, but it provides facts. Facts give employees the necessary information to process their feelings and inform their opinions. Without the truth, employees are left to fill in the gaps of information. And it’s usually not what a leader would want.
Leaders must learn how to deliver difficult information sensitively, truthfully.
How? Well, here are a few ways.
- Remember when sharing difficult information, your goal is to help them accept and understand your message. Your audience doesn’t have to like it, but they need enough information to help them get to acceptance and/or understanding.
- You can help them get to acceptance and/or understanding by showing that you get the difficulty that employees are experiencing. But only do this after talking with employees. Don’t assume you know. Show that you know. “I’ve talked with quite a few of our employees to understand how this change will impact them…”
- Use “I” statements. “What I need from everyone is…” “From what I’ve learned, there is concern…”
What we consistently hear from employees is that they wish for management to just let them know what’s going on. The neutered communications that blare from microphones in meeting rooms or emblazon the latest intranet story merely keep employees apathetic about change and about leadership’s ability to connect with their employees.
What are your suggestions for sharing the truth? List them below.