3 Simple Ways To Make Your Workplace More Truthful
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
It’s an unfortunate feature of humanity that people, even smart, ostensibly-rational people, don’t always like to hear the truth. That’s why the study The Risks Of Ignoring Employee Feedback found that only 23% of people say that when they share their work problems with their leader, he/she Always responds constructively.
And what’s at the root of all these types of communication failures? 3 out of 4 people say that the other party gets angry or defensive when they speak up about sensitive topics.
The level of willingness to broach sensitive topics through tough conversations, or Truth Talks, that result in understanding, not anger, is a valued measure of success for an organization’s culture and its leaders. A culture of accountability simply can’t exist when people won’t engage in conversation about important topics. So here are three ways to create a more truthful workplace:
1. Don’t avoid tough conversations
Back in 2013, I published a study that clearly showed that in nearly half of companies, low performers are happier than high performers. This news was shocking because it’s not how things are supposed to work. If you’re a high performer, you’re supposed to be engaged and fulfilled and if you’re a low performer, you’re supposed to be miserable and disengaged. But when you’re a high performer who’s getting stuck doing all the work because the boss won’t have a Truth Talk with the low performers, you’re likely to be miserable.
The feedback on that study was tremendous with thousands of people commenting ‘this sounds just like my workplace.’ I know it would be easier if someone else solved these problems, but that’s not likely to happen. As my study showed, even on the straightforward topic of dealing with low performers, far too many people are shirking their responsibility for conducting these tough conversations.
2. Stop and think before you speak
We live in fast-moving world where social media, like Facebook and Twitter, have trained us to give fast and emotional responses. They’ve taught us that whenever we see or hear something with which we disagree, we should react emotionally (usually with outrage, sadness or disbelief) and immediately (don’t sit back and ponder, click an emoji and react right this second). This fast-moving state is also partly what’s led to the whole ‘fake news’ phenomenon. In fact, the study Fake News Hits The Workplace found that 58% of people believe that nowadays it is easier for people to get away with saying things that are not truthful.
Whenever you see a situation requiring a Truth Talk, first pause and analyze the situation. Just the act of silently counting to three slows down the brain. In neurochemical terms, it’s about moving from adrenalin (tied to the fight or flight reaction) to oxytocin production, which triggers a more relaxed, supported, state—a “humanized” state.
3. Start a conversation, not a confrontation
I once knew an executive who was fond of saying “If I haven’t convinced you I’m right, it’s because I’ve been too nice.” The sentiment sounds absurd, but the confrontational technique of ‘if you don’t understand what I’m saying, I’ll just say it more forcefully’ is all too frequently employed.
If confrontations don’t work, what does? Conversations work, especially conversations with open questions, open-mindedness, flexibility and empathy. In fact, one study analyzed more than 600 hours of recorded interrogations of convicted terror suspects and discovered that the conversational approach actually decreased terrorists’ use of counter-interrogation techniques (e.g. refusing to look at interviewers, remaining silent, offering monosyllabic responses, claiming lack of memory, discussing an unrelated topic, providing well-known information, providing a scripted response, retracting previous statements, and giving “no-comment” answers).
I recently conducted a study that looked at the prevalence of workplace behaviors similar to the counter-interrogation techniques. I asked over 3,000 managers to rate four simple questions (on a scale ranging from Always to Never):
When people receive tough feedback from me…
1. they offer excuses (like “I couldn’t get it done because…”).
2. they shift the blame to others (like “it’s not my issue because Bob’s the one who’s responsible…”).
3. they become aggressive (like “I don’t know who you think you’re criticizing, but I’m the best person here...”).
4. they shut down and sit there silent and disengaged.
For every one of those questions, more than 60% of managers said that they Always or Almost Always saw those behaviors. In the workplace we don’t call excuses, blame and aggressiveness ‘counter-interrogation techniques,’ but they’re basically the same thing. Regardless of the label, they’re all behavioral indications that the person with whom we’re talking is not receiving our message.
If you’re delivering a difficult truth to someone and they don’t listen to you, did you really deliver that difficult truth? Blurting out whatever comes to mind mid-rant is a confrontation, not a conversation. And confrontation doesn’t work. The only surefire way to initiate change is to send a message that awakens a commitment from your listener.
Mark Murphy is the founder of Leadership IQ and author of Truth At Work: The Science Of Delivering Tough Messages.