1. Straightforwardness: Dare I Tell it Like It Is?

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The most important relationship to manage is with our self. A trustworthy person practices honesty, straightforwardness, respect, receptivity, recognition, keeping commitments, seeking excellence and disclosure, the eight values that build trust. Straightforwardness is the topic of this fourth in my series and is defined as “expressing directly and clearly our expectations and agreements.”

I recently watched a comical and thought-provoking movie titled, “How Do You Know?” One of my favorite scenes is when Reese Witherspoon, a professional athlete who gets cut from her team, goes to see a psychiatrist. She asks him, “Is there any one thing you know that would help just about anyone with just about anything?” He pauses and replies, “That’s a great question. Yes. Figure out what you want and find a way to get it.” Her reaction is, “Those are both really hard.” She’s right.

“The voice within is what I’m married to. All marriage is a metaphor for that marriage. My lover is the place inside me where an honest yes and no come from. That’s my true partner. It’s always there. And to tell you yes when my integrity says no is to divorce that partner.”

~ Byron Katie

When I work with clients, I assess the strategic alignment and health of their workplace culture. One such measure is how well employees are doing at operating by these eight values that build trust. I ask them how they rate each value and how well each is being fulfilled in the workplace. The difference between these numbers is their trust gap. I then help clients reduce this gap, a practice proven to significantly increase revenues and overall stability. Invariably, the two most difficult values to practice are straightforwardness and disclosure. Both evoke feelings of vulnerability and require authenticity to do them well, as one openly shares wants, feelings and expectations.

Imagine you’re frustrated with an employee or co-worker about their abuse of lunch breaks. They take more time than allowed. Most find it difficult to say, “I want you to keep your lunch to 30 minutes. Are you willing?” The reason is because our role models for straightforwardness often coupled this type of communication with contempt, threats or demands. In addition, we have not witnessed healthy modeling nor learned how to respond to a “no” or an emotionally charged reaction either. Avoiding straightforwardness however, is never the solution.

To be straightforward requires you know what you want and speak it, asking for clarification and settling for nothing less than a committed decision whether it be yes, no or a more complex decision. Straightforward requests sounds like this, “What I want is…” and “Are you willing?” Most people strongly prefer, “What I need …” struggling with saying “I want.” They also hesitate to ask for a commitment, including defining who, when and where. A straightforward response is, “What I hear you asking for is…Did I get that right?” and “My answer is…” Why are these some of the hardest words for many people to speak?

Managers, teachers and parents I work with often confuse straightforwardness with being autocratic. They struggle to reconcile my recommendation to replace control-driven, autocratic practices with responsibility-based leadership. Straightforwardness seems to contradict this. Straightforwardness can be autocratic, but only when it’s delivered with contempt, superiority and disregard for mutual respect. If done expressing a caring but firm expectation, straightforwardness is a great way to establish healthy boundaries and encourage accountability.

Which leads me to clarify what I mean by boundaries and accountability.

Boundaries are often presented as if we must erect a protective wall around ourselves in order to aggressively defend against “suspect” trespassers. Rather, when done appropriately, boundaries are a way to firmly honor your self while at the same time honoring others. Contempt and a lack of empathy are what make a boundary a divisive experience rather than a trust-building one.

Accountability is when a person is aware of their options, remembers they’re autonomous, has considered all positive and negative consequences of their choices, and feels responsibility for exercising their free will. Accountability’s an inside job and occurs when a person’s thoughts, words, actions and emotions are aligned within. When you practice straightforwardness, your responsibility is to pay attention to another’s communications so you know if they are, and remain committed to, their agreements. You can’t hold others accountable, but straightforwardness helps bring about reciprocal and authentic communication because you modeled it first. To gain skills needed to master straightforwardness and build trust at work, home or school, call us~ we’re here to help!

As published nationally in the column Emotional Intelligence in the Women’s Journals, October 2012

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