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Straight Talk

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Straight talk is a workplace application we see applied more often than in the past. Straight talk is a skill that great leaders possess. It is not a skill that leaders take lightly or even enjoy executing on, but it is a skill. So what is straight talk? As I sat down to write this article my daughter pulled up a chair and asked me what I was doing. After a brief explanation that I was writing an article, she gave me the 9-year old squinty eyes and asked me what I was writing about. I turned to looked at her and said, “Straight Talk”. I returned to writing and a few minutes later she came back to the room walking ridged, without bending her knees - almost like watching Frankenstein walk. “How’s this”, she asked, and after a brief second of chuckling and confusion on my part, I asked, “How’s what?” She looked at me and said, “How is my posture for straight talk?” After several chuckles and hugs, I stopped typing and began to explain what straight talk was. I explained that straight talk is when you need to have a serious conversation with someone about the way they are acting and that it this behavior needs to change (feedback). “Oh”, she said, “So when my teacher sends someone in my class to the principal’s office because they keep speaking during reading, is that what it means? Well, yes and no I thought to myself.

Straight talk is simply feedback to someone you work with. This holds true in your professional as well as your personal life. As I think back to the conversation with my daughter and even at a young age she defines it as the last straw when the teacher is so frustrated that she has the student leave the room. The behavior has gone on for so long, there is no patience.

As a newly minted manager out of school I trained with a general manager, John. John was a very successful manager and was known for his competitive fierceness and his ability to get things done. John was easy to get along with and had high expectations but had a quirky way to deal with straight talk or feedback. After following John for a week or two, it became apparent one cook in particular was not plating a dinner correctly. The outcome was the quality was not to the standards of the company and it caused a great deal of stress to the servers who had to handle the complaints. The problem was ignored by John after saying, “It is not a big deal”. The problem was not tremendous and did not affect every order he produced, but it did need to be corrected. The following Saturday night the cook plated the dinner plate incorrectly, it went to the table, and eventually there was a complaint. As I quickly followed John into the kitchen, he picked up a small cutting board and with all his force slammed it down on the stainless steel counter. With a loud thump it seemed as if time had stopped. Everyone in the restaurant stopped as John yelled at the cook and corrected the action. That evening as we were closing the restaurant I asked him about the incident, and after a long pause he said, “I have been waiting to give the feedback to him and the only way for the cooks to listen is get their attention”. I was awe struck at his response. Most leaders and managers are uncomfortable and dislike giving feedback or straight talk. As you sit and ponder the challenges of straight talk, we have put together a few thoughts around it.

If feedback is delivered well, it can result in positive action and change. It will also have the willing commitment from the individual for lasting change. Delivered poorly, will result in negativity or hostility. In my experience people will avoid giving the tough feedback because of discomfort with doing so. Others will give feedback poorly when they have reached the breaking point. When the “gift” of feedback is done well, it is truly a gift. The following are some basic steps to giving good feedback.

  • Don’t criticize or judge: When feedback sounds like a personal attack, most people take it personally and will respond defensively. At this point people are too busy defending their point to listen
  • Clarify your intent: The intent in offering workplace feedback should be to inform, foster learning and improve performance. As leaders we need to help people reframe "mistakes" as learning opportunities. We are human. We will make mistakes. Effective people help others learn from their mistakes and clarify what they will do differently next time. This doesn't involve beating people up for making the mistake in the first place.
  • Be behaviorally specific: Identify impact and provide recommendations. For example: "Interrupting and cutting off Jane had the effect of Jane not saying another word during our meeting. Our team needs Jane's input to resolve our issue. In the future, I think it's important not to interrupt our team members and allow them to finish their points."
  • Do: Tie the past and preferred behavior to team and individual goals; identify, "What's in it for me?" Present sensitive feedback in a way that cannot be misunderstood. Emotions are complex and open to interpretation by others.
  • Don’t: Wait, give feedback in a timely fashion, Use judgment words that will likely elicit emotional reactions, “How do you respond when you receive difficult feedback?” Many of us respond defensively and with great anxiety. It may be helpful to remember that feedback is information -- not definition. It is simply someone else's perspective. Ask yourself, does the feedback warrant new behavior? Will this new behavior help you achieve your goals?

The bullets above are meant to help focus and maximize the effect of straight talk. Straight talk is a challenge, whether in your personal life or professional. As you approach the straight talk topic in the future we hope the above will help you gain ground and begin the process of lasting change. Remember that feedback is the foundation for learning and growth and feedback is a gift! I welcome your thoughts and feedback about this article. Please do not hesitate to share!

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Craig Twombly
Priority Learning

Craig is the primary facilitator at Priority Learning, he is responsible for conducting an array of leadership series offered and consulting assignments from communications to team development in organizations ranging from the service industries to finance, manufacturing and more. Having extensive experience at balancing the business needs with the wants and desires of people are Craig's strongest assets.



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