As a leader, this is a really important thing to remember. We often try and soften our message to not hurt someone’s feelings, which in reality, is a selfish move… we don’t want to feel bad. But that lack of clarity creates confusion and doesn’t enable that person to move forward in a useful constructive way. Remember: Clear is kind.
'I've yet to be in a rumble, or any tough conversation - even one where I'm 99 percent sure I'm totally in the clear - in which, after digging in, I didn't have a part. Even if my part was not speaking up or staying curious.' ~ Brené BrownClick To Tweet
I’m reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown at the moment. It’s a great book. Brown is in my team of Virtual Mentors, so reading this is part of my commitment to self-development and growth. She shares a lovely story about when her team got up the courage to let her know that her time-estimation skills were a little woeful… and outlines what happened next as she worked through her responses to that feedback. Which really got me thinking about my own practise.
I remember, early in my leadership journey, I used to be afraid of delivering a message that hurt someone. I had one team member who was going through some challenging circumstances in her home life, and it was impacting the quality of her leadership and decision making at work. We talked fairly regularly about what was going on for her, and how she was coping, and what support she might have available to assist her. But I never raised the impact it was having at work. I thought I was being kind. I thought she might not be able to cope with ‘attacks’ from two fronts at the same time. I thought it would go away if I left it long enough…
Some of her peers raised concerns with me. It was affecting them as well – they were carrying some of the load… and worried about her. I’m pleased to report that I didn’t betray her confidence about what was happening at home, but I can’t say honestly that I didn’t share a little grumble with them from time to time…
I’d like to be able to say that I eventually plucked up the courage to raise the issues and that we had a difficult and challenging discussion, followed by a marked improvement in performance. I want to say that more than anything.
But I can’t. Because I didn’t.
I was transferred to a new role about four months after the problems emerged, and I briefed the incoming manager about the issues…
I ducked it – and I wished my replacement good luck.
I’d also like to be able to say that my replacement deftly handled things and everyone lived happily ever after. That didn’t happen either, and the person left for another role, none the wiser.
This is not only bad management (on my part at least) it is grossly unkind.
Why being unclear is unkind…
I learned a great deal from this experience, and similar but less dramatic ones like it. Clear, timely and compassionate feedback is vital to development.
Think about parenting… Your toddler is about to touch the hot oven… a million horrible scenarios flash before your eyes… which of the following would you choose?
“Stop! Hot! Ouch!”
“If you touch that surface there is a possibility that you will experience a great deal of pain that you might not like very much and that it might leave you with evidence of injury that lasts for the rest of your life.”
It’s obvious right? At least I hope it is if you have kids!
The second one takes too long to say (not timely) is convoluted (not clear) and is too dispassionate – reducing your care and concern to a technically accurate but uncaring monologue, verging on compliance/tick-box.
Too often, I think, we worry that the message is hard, and that the only way to deliver it is bluntly.
That’s simply not true. If you love your team (and if you don’t, you should), then it is possible to deliver tough messages in a way they can handle and make use of.
Yet we do it all the time with our kids… because we love them. And we know we love them. And we know it’s our job.
Of course workplace examples aren’t usually as clear-cut as preventing someone from burning themselves on the oven (although judging by the state of health and safety in some organisations, maybe this is an assumption that needs to be challenged). Workplace examples are subjective, and fluffy – the trickiest ones involve behaviour, rather than ‘concrete results’ and numbers.
It doesn’t matter. You can’t wait. You mustn’t sugar-coat it, but you must deliver it with empathy and respect.
Clarity doesn’t just apply to corrective feedback…
Your role as a leader also requires you to be clear about your vision, your priorities and your expectations. Remember – clear is kind.
If your team doesn’t understand your vision, they’re not only going to have a hard time helping you implement it, they’re going to feel uncertain and fearful about the future. Especially in times of change. If you can see the destination clearly in your own mind, you owe it to your staff to find the words that help them see it just as clearly.
I get it, things change… sometimes the thing that was priority number one yesterday, simply isn’t today. That’s life. But if you don’t double round and let your team know, clearly, then they will keep working on what they are already working on, and gradually become more and more frustrated that nothing gets finished, they can’t get your attention, and the workload seems to be multiplying with no reprieve in sight…
If you are relying on other people to help you achieve results, then you need to make sure you are crystal clear in your expectations of them. This isn’t just the targets (though this is part of it) it’s also about the behaviours you expect, the values you want them to uphold, and the processes and systems you need them to develop or use.
That’s all very well, I hear you say, but I think I am being clear. Yet sometimes things get lost in translation. So here’s some quick tips to help you be more clear:
- Try not to go ‘off the cuff’ – when it matters, prepare and practice.
- Be consistent – develop some key phrases you will use consistently in certain contexts so that people know what’s coming.
- Make time – every day, schedule ten to fifteen minutes to focus on clarifying your ideas and communications.
- Check-in with your team. Ask them! Get them to recap what they heard you say. Clarify if there’s ambiguity – don’t take it as criticism.
- Tailor the message. Different people communicate differently – what works for some, might not work for all.
- Never sugar-coat – but deliver it with love. Think of feedback as a gift.
- Take a break if you need to. If the conversation get’s heavy, suggest a ten minute breather – grab a cup of tea, go for a walk – regroup.
Never ignore it and hope it will go away. It won’t. It doesn’t. Your temporary relief simply delays the problem. Remember: Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
If you feel like you might need some clarity, why not join our Virtual Coaching group? It’s free, it’s weekly, and it’s lovely!