“Tell it like it is” — a communication strategy that saves time and gains credibility.
Have you read the same book twice?
Probably you have found some more or different insights the second time, right?
If the same person can find a different meaning or perspective within the same sentences, imagine, what the difference is in the perspectives of different people within their exchange — even for the simplest things.
For some people the word “more” can have the meaning “a bit more” and for others — “way more”, based on their understanding, context, maturity, and experience. And what if this is a colleague who reacts to your “more”? Would they push themselves just “a bit more” to finish the task or they will burn the midnight oil to do “much more” over the weekend to comply with you?
Talking about “more” — sometimes — “less is more”. This is one of my favorite principles as it is valid in so many areas — in communication as well. Overuse of words as fillers might bring some sophistication within the conversation. However, it might water down the message itself. I’m not even mentioning the cultural aspects and the fact that not all of us use our mother tongue.
In order to excite or win people, we tend to use some or quite “positive” extremes.
If we often reach out to the top-most shelf for words like amazing, phenomenal, outstanding, and tremendous, we might not only depreciate the words themselves but also miss the mark with regards to the message. Some people would take the message as it is. Some people would adapt — they will know (guess more accurately) what level of amazingness we are talking about. Others will discard the word itself as it doesn’t fit their context. The more discarded words — the less impactful message and in the long run — less engagement … even, less trust.
We all want to hear that we are doing phenomenal work. With a bar so high, however, simple feedback might become a challenge. “Yesterday my work was phenomenal how come that today it needs improvement?” The distance between good and phenomenal is significant. It is even greater if we exchange good with decent. This might be a bit of a shock — especially for the people who take the message literally. I don’t know about you, but based on my priorities, decent work in some areas might be just enough.
In her TED Talk — “How to build (rebuild) trust”, Frances Frei talks about two models of communication that I’m a huge fan of.
The first model looks like a reversed pyramid. Frances shares and I agree that some of the greatest storytellers are using the first model. They start from a distance and create a trail of breadcrumbs that leads us through mystery and drama to the main message — to the point. This is an engaging and sticky way to relay a message as it uses logic and context.
This, however, might be a super dangerous way of communication if a person (communicator) has a “logic wobble” — Frances shares. My personal experience shows the same. Even small insecurity can hinder you to put a breadcrumb into the right trajectory. Under pressure, we might overcompensate for our mistake and put a few extra words. These additional breadcrumbs might change the context, the logic, or both. We might end up in a vicious loop — building new stories only to support our main message which (unfortunately) we haven’t transferred yet.
Some of the pitfalls here are:
- The tight agenda or the heat of the discussion might hinder us to relay the main message at all
- People might pick a word from your trail and use it as the main message or hijack the conversation
- If we are not self-aware we might lose people’s attention and in the long run — our credibility
The second model is a pyramid. It basically reverses the breadcrumb trail as it starts from the main point and gives the supporting evidence later.
Putting the main message front and center might look easy but it might not be the easiest thing at first.
Direct ≠ Rude
Instinctively we kind of know that we need to weigh a bit of our energy as we don’t want to hit someone’s reptilian brain when we are direct.
Overcompensating here, however, might be the missing link into the equation explaining why so many people are dancing around a topic without addressing it. We all have such fears somewhere within us. Some of us are afraid of being misunderstood. Others fear that shooting straight might be perceived as rude, impolite, or intolerant. No matter the reason, the stake seems to be high — our reputation, credibility, career … friendships.
The root cause for all of these fears might be related not so much to how or what we communicate, though. It might be the trust — the lack of it. But it is not only the trust that we are given but also the trust that we give.
Take a leap of faith and say it like it is. I know that it might sound a bit naïve, but showing vulnerability by handing over some trust in our communication might only accelerate the outcome. Yes, we can’t always control the outcome, but saving time by addressing things heads on might give us time for one more round.
I often joke that straight talk is a shortcut to happiness and here is why:
- Addressing things heads on saves time and gains credibility — in the long run.
- It is low-hanging fruit — many people don’t address the elephant in the room due to fear of consequences.
- “Say it like it is” is a great litmus test for the culture of an organization and the maturity of others.
In times like these, we need even more than ever methods, tools, and habits which can support us in maintaining our best self. We all know that we can’t disagree with our conscience forever and sooner or later our opinion would pop up somewhere. Would it be in a “corridor talk” beneath the veil of mystery of a rumor, or it would be written in a passive-aggressive career-crashing e-mail. Of course, these are extremes — but familiar ones, right?
Just a reminder — “A good conscience will prevail a bad decision.” and keeps you solid sleep at night.