Being honest at work is important but it can be tough – especially challenging situations.
There is also a line between being honest and just saying what’s on your mind without censoring anything! The latter can make an uncomfortable situation even worse.
So, what’s the best way to approach a frank, honest discussion in the workplace?
Think through the outcomes
What is the outcome you’re aiming for by planning an honest, but difficult, discussion with your leader or teammate?
If the outcome ultimately is to create a more cohesive, cooperative alliance on a project or in general, go for it. It’s worth having a difficult conversation.
Could what you plan to say create a divide between you and a co-worker? Be extra careful in choosing your approach and really consider the long term repercussions.
Expressing your honest feelings in the moment may impact your professional relationships weeks and months down the line.
Don’t go overboard
There’s being honest and there’s going overboard.
Let’s say there’s a situation where your teammate, Sarah, is continually late getting a report to you, holding up your own work. It’s become a real issue.
Bring the situation to your leader, talk honestly but stick to the relevant facts –
“This is the 4th week in a row Sarah has missed the reporting deadline.
It holds up my monthly financial reporting and I have to keep re-doing the numbers. I’ve had a chat with her about this directly but it hasn’t made a difference. Could you have a word?”
This is enough information to share.
Don’t continue with….
“She told me she’s going through a messy divorce. I think it’s distracting her – she spends a lot of time on personal calls. Oh, and I’ve noticed she’s taking longer lunches.”
Stick to the facts and keep personal opinions out of the conversation.
Be honest – but have a plan
Are you struggling with a project and honestly don’t know what to do next?
It’s difficult to admit that something is failing but not being candid about the situation while there’s time to turn it around is a mistake.
You need to be honest with your leader but don’t go into the conversation empty-handed.
Even if you have no idea what the next move should be, come up with something to bring to the table. A basic action plan to address challenges is better than nothing.
It can work as a foundation to be built upon with feedback from your leader and team.
Think before you speak
Once your words are out there, you can’t unsay them.
Some people believe that if they think it, they should say it right away because they’re being honest about what’s on their mind.
This isn’t the smartest way to handle a discussion about a difficult situation in the workplace.
Choose how you plan to phrase your thoughts very carefully. There’s a popular piece of advice that goes like this:
Before you speak, THINK…
T – is it True?
H – is it Helpful?
I – is it Inspiring?
N – is it Necessary?
K – is it Kind?
Using this guideline doesn’t stop you from having a tough, honest conversation at work. It helps you do it more constructively and professionally to achieve the best outcome.
Are you a leader? When important but uncomfortable decisions need to be made, give people time to form their honest opinion before the discussion.
Circulating and agenda with at least a few days notice will avoid putting people on the spot.
Also, encourage your team to present ALL the necessary information – not only information that supports the decision they want or sounds good.
Avoid beating around the bush
It’s not easy being honest in uncomfortable situations, but being direct is much better than beating around the bush.
The authors of a study covered in The New York Times found the most effective way to communicate was with high directness and low intensity.
Essentially, be direct but kind – not brutal.
Ignoring an issue, rather than talking honestly about it, allows things to fester and become a bigger problem. By the time you can no longer avoid addressing a situation you might have worked yourself into a much more emotional state about it.
Which brings us to our next point….
Don’t have ‘THE’ talk in an emotional state
When your emotions are spinning out of control any intention of keeping an honest discussion cool and calm can fly out the window.
If you’re angry, hurt, or feeling other highly charged emotions it’s not the right time to have an honest discussion.
Calm down, take a walk – or preferably a 24 hour breather – before you talk to anyone about the situation.
You want to figure out exactly how you think about what’s going on. This will help avoid you projecting an emotion onto the person you’re having a discussion with.
Honesty vs lack of discretion
Be careful not to confuse being transparent with a lack of discretion.
For example, Aaron, a new teammate is asked why he left his previous role. He shares that he left…”Because management was a disaster”.… and reveals a few of the company’s internal issues.
Aaron is being honest about why he left but not very discreet – which could really backfire on him. It doesn’t send a great message to his new team or set him in a trustworthy light.
Our Communication and Conflict workshop equips teams with tools to have brave conversations that get results without becoming unkind and handle different communication styles.