I've found that the Aussies tend to be better at it than Americans. Brits too. In both corporate America and in global non-profits there is a significant lack of it. What is it? Speaking openly, honestly and forthrightly to friends and colleagues. (And, I'd argue spouses, children, family members, and significant others.)
There are many ways to phrase it: Truth hurts. Brutally honest. Fair and open. What you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Being transparent... The reasons we don't do it vary as greatly as well: It makes us uncomfortable. It's easier to not tell the whole truth. It makes the receiver uncomfortable… All of them, just excuses. We like to hear what we're good at, but not so much what we're not good at. Regardless of the reason, the fact is that there is a significant lack of transparency and honesty in our communications.
A great friend of mine got me thinking about this recently. He sent me this link — an exceedingly interesting interview with Ray Dalio (the unbelievably successful founder of Bridgewater) — on this very topic. Ray has what you might call an obsession with honesty. And while I am conflicted with his approach (especially the emphasis on brutal honesty), there is something refreshing about the freedom that comes from being in a culture/environment where you are expected to deliver and receive brutally honest communications.
Think about how often we create issues for ourselves by not being entirely honest and transparent. It's uncomfortable to tell your mother that you don't want to come to Thanksgiving dinner because of the awkwardness of your crazy aunt who will be there — so you blame your "can't make it" on work, or the kids' schedule. How about the difficultly in telling your millennial manager they made a really bad decision, because you "know how sensitive they are," and are afraid they'd leave. How about the times when we don't want to say no, or "I disagree" because we want people to like us. You want to go out with your friends, but you feel guilty about not being home with your family, so you make up stories to pacify either side depending on your decision. I could go on and on.
This is particularly frustrating and destructive in the work environment. I'm sure everyone is familiar with the "meeting after the meeting". Why the meeting after the meeting? Because in the first meeting, people gave lip-service to the discussion. They were not honest about the issues, or their feelings, or worse, didn't say anything in the meeting, but ragged on everyone and every decision after the meeting. This behavior is unacceptable. It erodes trust, breaks down relationships, and destroys organizations from within. If you as a CEO or a leader are allowing this to happen, you need to stop it immediately. If you don't know if it's happening, you need to find out and eradicate it.
I'm not suggesting we all adopt Ray's approach, or even his philosophy. But I believe we could all use a "check up" and some help in exercising our "honesty muscles". Both in terms of how we use it on/with others, and maybe more importantly, how we use it to receive information and feedback from others. Lastly, you don't have to be brutal to be honest, nor does being honest = being unkind. Yes, somethings are better left un-said. But, mostly we just need to say things better.
As always, we love to hear your feedback and input!
Steve is a husband, father, and business exec. He loves anything outdoors, anything that is a hard challenge, and enjoys working with anyone who wants to continually improve. And golf. He loves golf. Steve is the founder and CEO of Executive Advisory Partners.