A recent Wall Street Journal article* about the need for blunt feedback in the workplace got my attention. I immediately posted it on Facebook, hoping to start a conversation about it.
The writer’s premise? “It’s time for workers to drop the polite workplace veneer and speak frankly to each other, no matter what.” Referred to as “radical candor” or “front-stabbing,” it is believed to help employees “stop trying to be nice all the time and start speaking up about sub-par work or work-life balance.”
Here’s the thing. Transparency and candor in the workplace are absolutely good and important. The tangible and intangible costs of lack of engagement and collaboration within an organization are substantial. Unfortunately, candor and honest feedback can be destructive when used as, or perceived as, weapons.
Creating and sustaining an honest and transparent culture where individuals are safe to speak truthfully without doing or sustaining damage is the challenge. Most people understand how to recognize and resolve a problem. Many do not realize that respecting the dignity of others or repairing a compromised relationship is often at least as important as solving that problem.
I have no quarrel about the benefits of constructively addressing performance and conducting issues with open and honest communication. With radical candor however, employees are expected to defend themselves or change when confronted with a direct, painful critique of their ideas or behavior. While it is better to address someone directly and honestly, people need to believe in the good intentions of the person providing the feedback.
Accurate evaluations and comments are important for career advancement and personal growth. “Mokitas” — truths that everyone knows and are afraid to say aloud — are often used. Employees are encouraged to speak up and share them without fear of retribution.
Frank, truthful and honest feedback is a good means of getting things out in the open so people know where they stand — their roles and responsibilities, as well as their contribution to the enterprise. However, criticism without consideration of another’s feelings can be hurtful and destructive. Individuals need to trust the constructive purpose of the feedback in order to receive the critique as intended.
Honest, accurate feedback and critique are valuable commodities because we can never see ourselves as others see us — usually everyone sees us differently. Having the opportunity to repair, recover, learn and grow is priceless.
Of course, many subjects are controversial and need to be discussed. Individuals want to be heard, to at least have the existence of their interests and beliefs recognized. Resentment grows when employees feel intimidated, keeping their mouths shut about subjects that management decides are beyond discussion or dispute. The lack of transparency causes people to disengage, feel devalued and alienated, become distracted and stressed while sins of omission become commonplace.
Open dialogue shines the light of day on workplace conversations and relationships and inspires collaboration, commitment and loyalty.
* “When Nice is a Four-Letter Word,” by Rachel Feintzeig. Wall Street Journal, Thursday, December 31, 2015
“PinocchioProfile” by Mrkgrd – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons