This post is from June, 2011
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, when delivered with sincerity, tends to achieve 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?