The best kind of communication is straightforward communication, and the best kind of leader is a straightforward leader.
It took me a while to learn this as a leader.
Sometimes I would beat around the bush and not share my thoughts for fear of hurting someone. Or making them angry. Or feeling bad about myself. Sometimes I would not say anything at all. Uncomfortable conversations are hard to have; maybe the problem would disappear if I ignored it long enough.
But over the years, I’ve learned that being straightforward makes communication easier for everyone. You can be direct yet kind and honest in a clear, helpful way that builds relationships.
1. Clarity is Kindness
Many leaders avoid giving clear instructions and feedback because they worry people might take it the wrong way. They think that by being unclear, they are kinder. But the opposite is true. People deserve to know your expectations and where they stand within the team and company. Be clear and honest about what outcomes you are looking for, why achieving these outcomes is important, and how you view their performance. While it may be easier to beat around the bush or avoid uncomfortable conversations or commitments, it’s neither helpful nor kind. Trust me; people would much rather know what’s going on than remain in the dark or be left to make up their own, usually negative, stories. Always be clear in your communication and intentions.
2. Shows Respect and Builds Trust
Even if something is hard to hear, most people want the truth. When you are straightforward, you tell people, “I care about you enough to share this with you,” which shows them that you respect them and your relationship. I recall having a difficult conversation with an underperforming employee, and I had to change her role so she and the company could succeed. While it was a blow to her ego, she late thanked me. “Even though it hurt to hear that I wasn’t succeeding in my role, I knew it was true,” she told me later. “It was far better that you told me the truth and helped me find my way in a new role. I have so much respect for the way you handled it.” When people know you respect them and are committed to being honest and transparent, you build a deeper connection and create more trust.
3. Promotes Authenticity and Courage Within
Authentic, courageous leadership is key to being an impactful leader. But if you aren’t straightforward, then you aren’t being authentic or courageous. Why? Because when you avoid hard conversations and decisions, you aren’t saying what needs to be said. Staying silent leads to unhappiness in the long run, leaving you feeling unheard and resentful. I understand this feeling well. Before StoneAge hired me, I was miserable in a job that I was failing at. It wasn’t a good fit, and I was in over my head. But I was too afraid to speak up for fear of the consequences, leading to more misery and eventually rock bottom. When I finally told my boss how I felt, a huge weight fell from my shoulders. It felt so good to say, “this job isn’t for me, and even though it’s scary to tell you this, I have to be true to myself.” I am grateful for his support and being truthful gave me the courage to take my life in a new direction – a much more authentic and fulfilling path. When you commit to being straightforward, you are authentic and courageous.
4. Role Model
People mirror others, and when you role model straightforward communication, you are more likely to get it in return. And as a leader, you need people to be honest with you. Model the behaviors you want to see in others. Help people be more straightforward by showing them how it’s done well by giving kind, helpful and clear feedback. Model how to gracefully receive tough feedback by putting your ego aside and saying, “thank you for the feedback. I know it took courage to share that with me.” Last week, a frustrated teammate shared an issue with me that I inadvertently played a role in. I listened carefully, acknowledged his frustration, and owned my part in it. We brainstormed a solution, and he acted by giving feedback to his peers. This example shows how to role model. It’s simple but not always easy. You must set aside your ego and use every opportunity to teach yourself and others how to communicate clearly and effectively. You can’t be a leader worth following if you don’t walk the walk.
5. Advocate for Yourself
Committing to being straightforward makes you more likely to advocate for yourself, which is empowering and helps you cultivate relationships and create the life you want. Just last week, someone I respect sent an email that was presumptuous and sent the message that my time wasn’t important. I was frustrated by the email, but rather than stewing on it, I called the person to ask questions about it and share how it made me feel. I was honest, kind, curious and straightforward. We had a productive conversation, and it deepened our relationship. Being straightforward helps you speak up, especially when you must self-advocate or share your feelings.
Be a straightforward leader. You will live a happier and more fulfilling life because you are open and honest, and people will respect you for your straightforwardness. It’s always better to deal with hard conversations that let them fester, especially when you handle tough conversations with grace and kindness.
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