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Directness Takes Courage And Gains Respect

by Brady Wilson

According to research, most employees see a need for greater openness and candor in communications from their leaders. Why, then, does a culture of ambiguity persist in corporate life, as well as a tendency to avoid face-to-face conversations?

If someone has food stuck in their teeth after a meal, do you tell them, or do you just let it go, only to giggle about it with someone else later?

What prevents you from telling that person—perhaps a fear of embarrassing them?

Regardless of how embarrassed that person was, they would probably be grateful had you said something, to spare them from further humiliation. That's the power of directness—the more you use it, the more trusted and credible you become as a reliable source for reality.

Indirectness also has strength. It devours courage and it's the greatest source for toxic communication in a relationship. It's what people don't say that creates long-term toxicity, rather than what they do say.

Directness is candidly asserting your reality to others, face-to-face. Candidly asserting your reality transcends most people's definition of honesty and takes you to a place of not withholding what's going on inside you. It means being open to telling your truth and getting it "out there" into the world.

Naturally, this isn't an easy task, especially if an organizational culture doesn't support the truth and actually punishes the messengers.

The face-to-face component of directness is the conduit that allows the most reality to flow through. The telephone, voicemail and email are all good conversation tools, but face-to-face conversation is the best medium for sending certain messages. When sharing anything that could be perceived as change, ambiguous or hurtful, face-to-face conversations allow you to convey empathy and more accurately read others' emotions.

My experience tells me that far too many people use voicemail and email for messages that should be delivered face-to-face. And according to some research conducted by HR consulting firm, Towers-Perrin, 94% of employees say there is a need for greater openness and candor in organizational communication from leaders.

Employees want to hear the truth about their company, their pay and benefits and their jobs. The report also finds that the most credible source of information comes from face-to-face meetings with their immediate supervisors or managers.

There are a lot of reasons people site for not being direct. Here are some of the reasons we hear most:

1. "I'm afraid to bring this up to him. I don't need the ugly confrontation."

2. "This feels too awkward. I don't want to embarrass her with the truth."

3. "I can't own up to this. He wouldn't understand. He'll jump to conclusions before I have a chance to explain."

4. "I'm not going to be the messenger—she executed the last one."

5. "Who am I to try to teach him? He's the leader of the whole company. What do I know? I have no credibility."

6. "I've tried to tell her—she doesn't care and she never listens to me."

7. "Last time I was suspected of insubordination just because I said something that wasn't the party line."

8. "She doesn't really want my feedback—she just wants to be perceived as somebody who wants feedback. She never uses it anyway."

If you catch yourself saying any of these statements, than perhaps it's an indication that you need to be more direct.

Direct, face-to-face conversations are not always about being nice and they're not always easy. But, employees owe it to themselves, their peers and their leaders to be direct. And leaders owe it to the bottom line and their people to create an environment of openness.

Being direct takes courage. And the upfront investment of discomfort is worth the eventual paybacks of respect, trust, collaboration and goodwill.

Brady Wilson is co-founder of Juice Inc., a strategic communications training company that helps leaders create a culture where it's easier to get results and it feels good to work.


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