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Leadership Communication 101: “Straight Talk” Your Way to Success

leadership communication straight talkHonest, to-the-point, say-what-you-mean leadership communication – in other words, “straight talk” – is one of the most crucial aspects of success and effective teamwork. Yet, most leaders shy away from it, choosing instead to tiptoe around important conversations.

Why? Because they are afraid that straight talk will make them unlikeable and hurt people’s feelings.  They think it might be perceived as lack of respect towards the other person.

Quite the contrary. To be good straight talkers, we need to be respectful, be a good listener and be present.

When Leadership Embraces Straight Talk

In straight talk, directives and people’s intentions are crystal clear, leaving no room for confusion or misunderstandings. Ulterior motives and sideways agenda are put aside, helping to foster more authentic relationships and leadership success.

Teams and companies whose leadership promotes a culture of straight talking are able to manage tough conversations easily and be upfront when issues arise. Knowing that everyone is straightforward increases the team’s ability to work collaboratively and produce solid solutions.

Conversely, companies that don’t use this type of leadership communication often experience lack of trust, higher turnover, and a negative environment that is demotivating for everyone involved. When certain topics are off limits, we reduce the possibilities for successful outcomes.  People are afraid to speak up, projects are left unfinished, and teams don’t work well together.

Yes, embracing straight talk as part of our leadership communication style requires courage and some getting used to. You must be willing to discuss the hard stuff and get out of your conversational comfort zone. The payoff, however, can be immense.

How To Do Straight Talk Right

There are four essential ingredients to honest, successful leadership communication:

  1. Clarity: Putting the desired outcome of the conversation on the table so all parties are on the same page.
  2. Engagement: Asking questions and staying focused on the conversation, instead of getting distracted by the self-talk in our head. Making sure the other party stay engaged as well and inviting them back into the conversation if they appear to be drifting away.
  3. Feedback: Noting both the strengths and challenges of the other person’s point of view, rather than zeroing in on the negatives when we don’t agree with them.
  4. Responsibility: Owning up to our part for the issues in question instead of putting the blame on others and deflecting it from ourselves.

Here is an example of how straight talk helped course correct a challenging working relationship:

Lori, an advertising executive was frustrated with Heidi, one of her direct reports whom she had asked to create a budget for a new project. Heidi avoided the project for weeks and what she finally produced was not well done.  Through the coaching sessions, Lori realized that this was the result of a communication breakdown and that she needed to address the situation head on.

She invited Heidi to her office and began the conversation with an apology, admitting she had not provided Heidi with enough direction.  She then gave her specific feedback on how to improve the budget and get the work back on track.  Owning up to her responsibility and being straight with Heidi instead of avoiding a tough conversation (as she normally would have done) helped Lori be a more effective leader and get a better outcome.

Your Turn

If you run a company or a business unit and you aren’t willing to be straight and honest with those around you, you are creating a culture that lacks real communication and no one will take the risk of being honest.  The leader sets the tone for the organization.

So, step back and consider your recent challenges. Could they be the result of lack of straight talk? Have you had authentic conversations or are you avoiding and dancing around the hard stuff?

Try to embrace straight talk as part of your leadership communication style. Use the four principles of clarity, engagement, feedback, and responsibility. It might be difficult at first and you might have to give yourself time to prepare for the conversations but it gets better the more you do it.  Experiment at work and home. Acknowledge yourself when you do it well.  Notice the impact on your relationships.  It feels great when you do it!

Want to do it but need guidance? Let’s talk.


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