Straight Talk

I happened across a movie the other day called Straight Talk.  It’s about a young woman who was accidently hired by a radio station to be an Agony Aunt.  This young woman, (played by Dolly Parton), was delightfully guileless and dished out her unadorned advice with clarity and good humour.   For example, her counsel to one caller who was obviously playing the martyrdom card went something like this: “Get down off the cross honey, somebody needs the wood!

It made me smile.  And, it also made me think about how important straight talk is in leadership.

Straight talk in organizations tends to accomplish understanding quickly. It brings clarity to confusion.  It allows for quicker problem solving. It values truth.  It builds trust. It grows integrity.

And yet, in so many organizations, we are incredibly bad at it.

There are probably a lot of reasons for this.  I suspect most of them have something to do with internal politics, bureaucracy, or perhaps a belief that the more complicated or obscure the language, the more important the message.

Whatever the reason, to me, creating an environment that values candid and respectful discussion is a leadership imperative and a key to building sustainable organizations.

So how might we go about establishing this straight talk environment?  Well, it could begin with establishing some principles, not unlike these:

Principle # 1: Talk to the Organ Grinder, not the Monkey

When we talk to the wrong person (or people) about something, we often do it to gain support or sympathy for our position.  It doesn’t usually solve anything and can create ill feeling and unnecessary speculation.

Principle #2: This organization is a jargon-free zone

I’m a fan of simple language. Business jargon (or any kind of jargon for that matter), may sound more intelligent or important but it has this tendency to get in the way of understanding.

Principle #3: Feedback goes stale. Serve while fresh. The longer we take to share information with each other, the less value it will have for us.  Ask permission… then deliver it when it’s fresh.  For one thing, it’ll be easier to remember and that usually makes it more useful.

Principle #4: People are not punished for speaking their minds

Often people are reticent to speak up for fear of ridicule or some other subtle form of punishment.  Taking the hammer out of the communication toolbox allows for more open and meaningful conversation.

Principle #5: Everyone has something important to say.

Adherence to this principle makes a promise to those who may be reticent to speak up, that their opinions count.

Principle #6: Listen first…talk later.

Listening is part of having respectful and candid conversations.  It allows for good questions.  Good questions invite thoughtful answers, which in turn, increase the quality of conversations.

Principle #7: R-E-S-P-E-C-T in this organization is an important noun and verb

This principle (otherwise known as the Aretha Franklin principle) pretty much speaks for itself.  Without it, the chances of establishing a culture of straight talk are pretty dim.

What do you think?  What would principles would you add?  How do you achieve straight talk in your organization?




Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leadership

11 responses to “Straight Talk

  1. Amen to all of the above. Unfortunately, we can’t teach people the art of listening and acting on useful straight talk.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Martina, Your comment made me think of the “Horse to water” scenario,( a.k.a. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink). I think the chances of others wanting to be good listeners and using straight talk are greater when the leader “drinks the water” first… and often. Leading by example, and acknowledging behaviour that aligns with established principles helps others to follow suit.
      Thanks for coming by! 🙂

  2. Hi Gwyn, great post. #1 made me chuckle as we have coined it “having conversations of suffering”. So if you don’t go to source and you start moaning, I will quickly ask you why you are telling me? I am OK with you just gushing out when you know you are having a conversation of suffering (it is allowed to laugh at yourself), but if you are looking to garner my support through knocking the person you feel aggrieved by you are wasting time. Works effectively in the house as well.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Thabo, I like the notion of “conversations of suffering” What a great way to distinguish between indulging in a ‘moan’ and constructively addressing something by talking to the right people. Thank you for that. That’s a keeper. And you’re right, it’s a multi-functional strategy 🙂

  3. Everyone knows that straight talk is a good idea. You go further and offer six principles that will help make it more effective and, therefore, more likely to happen.

    That’s why I included this post in my weekly selection of top leadership posts from the independent business blogs.

  4. Excellent principles Gwyn. And thanks for the movie recommendation – have a feeling I am going to enjoy this one!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Susan, So nice to see you here. The movie was fun and full of Dolly’s down-home type common sense wisdom.
      Thanks for coming by 🙂

  5. Candour builds trust – yes I agree wholeheartedly.
    This is a great step forward for teams but may take courage to explore.
    I enjoyed your principles too
    Thanks for this

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Thank you for coming by, Stephen. And, by the way, I visited your website and loved your beautiful water colours. You have great talent.

  6. Pingback: Looking Back…A Year in Review | You’re Not the Boss of Me

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