Tamera Loerzel

The gift of truth

Strengthen your relationships with straight talk.

July 9, 2012
By Tamera Loerzel

“The gift of truth excels all other gifts.”  — Buddha

The courage to talk straight is one of the most transformative behaviors that leaders undertake to deepen their relationships and produce results within their teams. And yet, so many of us resist talking straight.

I know that I’ve struggled with the idea that I could talk straight and be compassionate at the same time. I didn’t think the two could coexist. I thought it could either be straight, which often led to hurt feelings or some form of upset, or be compassionate but not really get my message across. 

Talking straight, however, is not “brutal honesty”—there’s nothing hurtful or ugly about it. It’s also not about redressing or giving people the “what for”—where you are “right” and they are “wrong.” Instead, it’s about caring enough about someone and your relationship with him or her—and being committed enough to your shared objectives and values—to overcome your fear and express your insights so you can both improve. When you come from care and concern—and, dare I say, love—for the other person, how can you hold back sharing how it really is for you, whether it’s concern, worry, frustration, disappointment, or even upset?

Instead of sharing our concern or disappointment with the person with whom we have the concern, our human nature is to tell others, which does not get the issue resolved because we’re not going to the source. My business partner, Jennifer Wilson, explored this human communication failing, called “triangulation,” in her CPA Insider article “Are You Guilty of Triangulating on the Job?

When you commit to having a conversation with the person with whom you have a concern and do so coming from genuine care, you must first give up making the other person wrong and being right about the situation. You have to set your assumptions aside and distinguish that you have a perspective and, while it’s your truth, it isn’t THE truth. Typically, your truth is clouded by your self-interest or frustration stemming from a belief that you are somehow dealing with an imposition. That is a dangerous frame of mind from which to enter the conversation! 

You’ll be more effective if you set aside your viewpoint and approach the conversation in a non-punishing, collaborative way, being as clear and specific as possible. We teach a four-part approach to talking straight that I encourage you to memorize: expectation, observation, inquiry, stop. It has become mantra for me, and while I am not perfect (and may never be!), it does help me get centered when the need to talk straight arises and gives me a “formula” to help me put the words together for the communication I need to deliver.

When we teach this four-part approach, we practice various scenarios and role-play, because when we have opportunities to talk straight, our emotions, frustration and disappointment can run the show. When this happens, what comes out of our mouth sometimes is not what we intended and may derail the conversation—or worse. One example we give that demonstrates how to set up your conversation using “expectation, observation, inquiry” is, “I expected that each of our firm’s team members would uphold our firm’s core values of respect and importance of people. You didn’t appear to be demonstrating either in our team meeting today when you were looking at your phone, interrupting the speaker, and making dismissive comments when suggestions or new ideas were raised. Why is that?”

Then, when you “stop” and listen, the other person can share thoughts, too. This allows you to understand his or her perspective and gain new information and insights as to why the situation exists. It is the only way to arrive at a collaborative solution that you can both buy into.

It also helps if you share your commitment—whether to the person, a client, or a common goal or outcome. Doing so will help you center yourself on why you’re engaging in straight talk and on the common bond you and the other person have. Sometimes, you may have to share the impact, which may seem obvious in most cases; however, we can’t assume it is. Sometimes people (me included!) are oblivious to the effect their words, actions, or lack of results have on others, and it’s important to share that impact. 

Then ask for help in developing a solution to the issue and be sure you stop and listen again.  Negotiate a solution you think has the potential to resolve the issue and then reiterate your commitment to that person, client, or common goal or outcome. Agree on the specifics of what you’re both going to do to resolve the matter. For professional matters, we suggest that you put your understanding in writing to help minimize conflicts or disappointment in the future. 

Do you have some straight talk that should be delivered? When can you commit to a conversation and practice (yes, it takes practice and it does become easier) using the “expectation, observation, inquiry, stop” approach to the conversation? Make a commitment to engage in straight talk starting today and enjoy strengthened relationships and new results, too!

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Tamera Loerzel is a partner of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. She will present two sessions Aug. 9 at the E.D.G.E. Conference in Orlando—“Being a Great Leader Today” and “How to Manage Conflict Successfully.”