Navigating the risks of honesty

Navigating the Risks of Honesty

How often can we say that we’ve felt heard and understood when we are being brutally honest with others? When we feel vulnerable, alone, scared or fearful, it’s understandable that we may feel reluctant to be open or candid about issues that concern or trouble us.  

Whether you feel like you’re confessing to something you know shouldn’t have been done or even something you’ve failed to do, that raw and gnawing feeling can feel too much to bear at times.

The bottom line for an employee

Now imagine if your honesty has an impact on another person. 

What if that honesty means revisiting a complicated workflow or reassessing everyone’s views on a workplace issue after weeks of tedious deliberation? How would you feel about bringing something up that could have a massive hit on the financial bottom line of your organisation?

Sharing feedback, being honest, opening up, asking hard questions  – particularly when it is negative or concerning –  can feel incredibly difficult. 

You may see signs at your workplace that feedback is welcomed, and even, appreciated. However, alongside obvious signs, placards and written procedures, you will also notice the organisational culture within. 

If you note the long silences, the acquiescence with an issue, the ‘going along with the flow’ of things, then you may consider possible negative consequences if an issue needs to be raised or feedback provided, if the issue has to be raised by you. 

What do you think would be at stake then – your reputation, your job? 

How would you even bring up the issue you’re concerned with? Would you wonder why no one else has said anything? In fact, are you the only one who sees an issue and is concerned?

Thus far, we’ve looked at all of this from the perspective of an employee. 

“Sharing feedback, being honest, opening up, asking hard questions  – particularly when it is negative or concerning –  can feel incredibly difficult.”

The bottom line for a manager

Now, imagine that this is your experience. Yes, you are an employee, but you are also the manager of one of the divisions in your organisation, and you’re responsible for two teams of 30. 

Would you see things in the same way as your colleagues and team members? 

As a manager and leader, you are in a unique position because you are an employee too. 

You have stakeholders whom you report to as well. But as a manager and leader, you have a role to play in creating and supporting an environment where people can speak up and be heard on the things that matter.  

Are there things you can do to ensure relevant information moves up the line appropriately and in a timely manner?

In what ways can you ensure that you’re not only welcoming feedback and open conversations but showing this in powerful ways for all to see?

The things that hold us back

Employees, across all levels, naturally have a strong desire for self-preservation. Employees are always concerned about protecting their jobs and their livelihood. This means that, sometimes, there may be something that holds people back, despite the best of intentions. 

As Brian Beutler says in his article, From Concept To Action: Putting Psychological Safety Into Practice, “When psychological safety is absent in the workplace, the focus becomes avoidance.”

How can we take the time and effort to ensure that we show in tangible ways that speaking the truth, raising issues, and asking questions, will not have a detrimental effect on the person doing so?

As managers and leaders, we must do everything we can to promote a culture of open communication and appreciation of feedback in all forms. There needs to be fresh and different approaches and perspectives that we (and others) can see on a regular basis to know with certainty that diversity of approach and thought is welcomed. At times, this can mean shifting so slightly by reframing an issue.

“Safe means different things to different people.”

Systems and processes 

Feedback, in organisations, should be welcomed in both open and closed (anonymous) forums to cater to a range of communication styles. Not everyone wants to be so brazenly out there (or feels like they can), and speak their mind, but if an issue is important enough, some may be open to the idea of saying what needs to be said, knowing they are safe. Safe means different things to different people.

How can you navigate the risks of honest, open communication?

Putting your ear to the ground, and paying attention not only to what is said but the culture and actions at play can help. This will give you a better understanding of your operating environment. If you’re able to find a supportive colleague or leader, reaching out to them could be a good starting point.

Ensure that the systems and processes you’ve put in place for your teams work for them, which involves creating and sustaining a psychologically safe environment for all. One of the best ways to be sure this is in place is to ask.

Spend time reflecting on what your workplace means to you – knowing yourself better can provide you with deeper insights that inform your practices.

The workplace is always, always providing you feedback on what works and what does not. All we need to do is to look and listen. That’s right, look and listen.

Finally, we don’t have to feel that the answers are all up to us. 

In fact, it is liberating to know that we can extend to our wider organisational community the job of coming up with the answers to the problems we face. And that can create joy, hope, enthusiasm and engagement. 

The Workplace Therapist, Kate Diggle and myself answer questions on workplace issues – here’s a recent video where we tackle the challenge of providing feedback.

Have you got a burning question on a workplace issue? Submit your question anonymously to The Workplace Therapist and we will record a video response which we will share on social media.

The Workplace Therapist and Digital Confluence are running the next intake of Revitalised. Reenergised. Reset. A Thriving Workplace Program this August. This program is designed to help you and your teams build better trust, improve team collaboration, and enhance performance. Learn more.

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