As leaders we can sometimes create our own communication noise, by not communicating clearly, leaving out important information, or glossing over difficult conversations. In one of my favorite leadership books, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey, discusses the importance of talking straight which not only leads to more effective communication, but increases trust in an organization. Abraham Lincoln, joking about himself in the quote above, embodied the behavior of talking straight and even his rivals who might not have agreed with him, knew where he stood and respected him.
In his book, Covey says, “most people don’t flat-out lie – at least not blatantly.” But they may beat around the bush, withhold information, use double-talk, flattery, positioning, posturing, or “spinning” to manipulate other people’s thoughts, feelings, or actions. These behaviors lead to employees discounting the words of their leaders and becoming skeptical and cynical, creating all kinds of communication noise.
Think about the last difficult conversation you had with an employee. Perhaps you were addressing some performance issues. Were you able to talk straight? Or did you beat around the bush? What kept you from talking straight? Fear of hurting their feelings? A lack of courage? Fear of the consequences?
Covey advises leaders to learn to get to the point quickly, saying that “if you’re explaining, you’re losing.” He clearly and simply describes the specific behaviors leaders must adopt to talk straight:
- Be honest
- Tell the truth
- Let people know where you stand
- Use simple language
- Call things what they are
- Demonstrate integrity
- Don’t manipulate people or distort facts
- Don’t spin the truth
- Don’t leave false impressions
What has helped you talk straight in a difficult situation, where it might be easier to avoid a difficult conversation? What strategies did you use?