+Scott Watson

Friday, 15 May 2009

Personal Impact - Getting Below The Surface to Shared Understanding

We all have an impact. Whether we know it or not, whether we care or not, we all impact other human beings with our gestures, communication and even our personal values. Have a think, if you and I work together and in the early stages of the relationship, we both agree that 'honesty' is of great importance to us, should this agreement and shared value make working together less stressful, more enjoyable and even more fulfilling? Nope, not at all! Unless that is we both understand what exactly 'honesty' means to each of us. For example, many moons ago, I was invited to facilitate an open and honest discussion between a senior manager and a subordinate. They had completed such a discussion at interview stage and the senior manager (also the recruiter) stated that one of the main reasons he selected the applicant for the job was that he 'felt on the same page'. Very dangerous - especially when just 3 months into the working relationship, their relationship had become toxic, information that should have been shared wasn't being shared and both individuals had founded their own little 'gang' to bad mouth their colleague and reinforce the supposed 'fact' that they were right and the other person was wrong. Gangs can be very powerful in helping our ego be stroked, they won't though dig us out of the very deep hole we will eventually find ourselves in when gang members leave, change allegiance or simply get fed up of listening to us bad mouth someone or persistently moan on.

How could this happen after such a positive and enjoyable selection interview? Quite easily actually! Following discussions with both parties I established that the word 'honesty' had a very different meaning for each person. For the new staff member, honesty meant that there was open, honest dialogue and information was shared in a timely manner with everyone's best interests at heart. There was to be no personal or hidden agenda overriding the needs of the team or business. To do such things would amount to 'being dishonest'. On the other hand, the manager stated that for him 'honesty' meant 'telling people how it is', 'letting people know where they stand' and also included ' and 'giving feedback that makes people listen'.

Let's bear in mind that in the real world (not our own little world) in the absence of indisputable facts we can only tell people how we see it, not how it actually is. We can only provide our opinion about a subject or situation. While it may not be what we can accurately call 'the truth', it is nonetheless 'our truth'. Letting people know where they stand can be extremely useful if it is designed to agree roles, responsibilities and boundaries within which someone is to operate. This clear context can stop individuals and teams going off track and missing deadlines and quality standards. When it is used though to set a command and control, ego based relationship, it can serve to destroy trust, loyalty and employee engagement. And why wouldn't we want to provide feedback that makes people listen? The word 'makes' in this instance reflected a 'I'm right so don't dare to speak back to me' approach rather than 'helping' someone want to listen - and really appreciate the feedback being provided. Indeed, helping someone want to listen is more focused on win-win, collaboration, supportive and even motivational, simply because it is said with a positive intention that will probably help the relationship grow and prosper rather than fall apart and cause toxicity.

As it turned out, when both parties shared their definition of 'honesty' and what it meant to them, the relationship got on to an even keel. Both parties gave each other permission to provide candid feedback but only if it was with an intention of improving a situation - backstabbing was no longer to be the order of the day. A wonderful demonstration of integrity - which is another personal value that they shared. I only hope they got some shared clarity on what this actually meant to each other as this too could cause problems that wouldn't be spoken about for many months, just like honesty.

One powerful lesson I learned from my mother was 'Always be honest with me, it's a high standard to hold, and it's far easier to remember'. If only business leaders would demonstrate such a standard wouldn't our world be a little bit more enjoyable?

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