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Being honest is kind

A friend of mine said yesterday, “Being honest is kind.”. I love that statement, mostly because I am at a point in my life where I want friends to be honest if they can’t attend a concert because tickets are out of their budget, or they need to prioritize family time instead of hanging out with me, or what I am asking them to do sounds miserable to them (like helping me paint my home interior - volunteers welcome!). But this statement doesn’t just hold true in my personal life, I also value honesty in the workplace. 

Honesty can often be interpreted as being mean, I assume because we view people as being “too direct” or we are being told things we don’t want to hear. Whether we are discussing company feedback, peer interactions, or project performance, how can we expect anyone to grow if we never give or receive honest feedback?

I have this one scenario that keeps popping into my head as I write this. It’s about a series of interactions with a colleague that I did not enjoy. What sticks out most to me about that past relationship was simply: I forgot I had a voice. I failed to remember that I, too, have needs on a given project and sometimes cannot show up as my best self when those needs aren’t being met. Let’s take a look:

The Scenario

I worked with a guy (let’s call him Freddie), who was really good at his job, I mean great. He was phenomenal with clients, great at connecting dots, big personality - and I hated (strong word, but true) working with him. Why? He commandeered any meeting even if it wasn’t his, because he always had an agenda. He was great at multitasking during meetings (while on video), which I found to be super distracting. He often worked during team trainings because he didn’t feel he had anything more to learn. He was booked 3 meetings wide all day and would drop calls halfway through to get on another (again, distracting, and also does not show the client that we are prioritizing them). But he was great at what he did and the company valued him so I felt compelled to allow the behaviors to continue - even if it frustrated me.

I’ll be honest and say that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with this person (professionally). While he was great at what he did, I hated how uncomfortable I felt in meetings with him. I would get frustrated that I allowed myself to be so submissive in these instances. I am angry that I didn’t use my voice to stand up to him. I did not do anyone any favors by letting my frustrations grow over time. I keep telling myself, "How could he have helped meet those needs if I never told him what they were?”. Being honest with him could have been the best thing for our relationship and the company. 

Today I want to use this blog post to talk through how I might follow the advice of my friend to be honest (with myself, my boss, my colleague) if I found myself in a similar situation today. Let’s take a look.

1. Talk to your boss.

There may come a point where you get asked to work with someone you do not get along with. Directly stating, “I don’t like him.” or “I don’t want to work with them.”, is most certainly the honest way to go about things, but it’s not the most professional. There are ways to say the exact same thing but in a more professional tone.

For example, I might say something like, “I find that in certain situations our working styles and personalities clash. As a result, there are times where I don’t feel like I am showing up as my best self to work. I don’t like the feeling of not being able to bring 100% in front of the client. If our goal is to grow the business, I’m not certain that we are the right team for this topic/project/client. Is there an opportunity to discuss what constellation of people might be best suited for this team?”

2. Talk to them directly

Your boss may respond to your request with something like, “I’m wondering what great things the two of you could accomplish if you learned to work through your differences.” In that scenario it is important that you step outside of your comfort zone and talk to the individual directly about what you need from the working relationship so that you don’t dread waking up for work every day. My advice is to level set, talk through the experience from your perspective, and then clarify how you will work together moving forward. Why do I say that? 

When I do feedback talks I always think it is important to first get my employee’s input on how they believe they performed because this helps me gauge if there is a gap in how we view a certain situation / work performance. I then talk through the disconnect (or not) from my perspective and folllow it up with my expectations moving forward. Here’s what that could look like in this scenario: 

“Hi Freddie! It looks like we get to work together again. I’d love to take some time to get your feedback on how you believe we worked together in the past. I want to make sure we are putting our best foot forward on the project, so I would appreciate any thoughts you have on what went well/what could be improved from our past working relationship. Was there anything you thought I did well and areas where you would wish to see improvement?” Listen. Reflect. Respond.

Your can follow it up by detailing out what you value about that person and then including what you need in order for the two of you to be successful. Is it that they don’t attend client meetings if they can’t stay the entire duration? Is it that they go off video if they are working on other things when on a client call? Is it that they actively work on not interrupting others in meetings? Whatever the ask, please be honest with them about your needs, because I guarantee you will still be kicking yourself years later for not finding your voice. 

3. Break down barriers

People are the way they are because of the experiences they had in their life. When we don’t enjoy working with someone it is easy to pick apart their faults instead of trying to find the good. I once had an employee who I struggled to work with and, through getting to know him, found out that his brother had committed suicide a couple years prior. His life revolved around supporting his sister-in-law, as well as his niece and nephew. Getting to a point where he could open up to me like that really changed the dynamic of our relationship. After that conversation, I approached him with a little more compassion knowing how much he had on his plate.

While every individual may not being going through something to this magnitude, getting to know your colleagues personally helps break down barriers. And who knows? You might even have something in common 😉.

As I close, I want to remind you that you can’t be honest with other people if you aren’t first honest with yourself. Honesty comes in all shapes sizes and I know it can be excruciating to find the words to tell someone how you feel. I truly believe that we are being our kindest selves when we are honest with our feelings and able to express them to others. Cathartic is probably the best adjective to describe the situation afterwards, which is why I want to encourage you to take some time today to really hone in on what you are struggling with and figure out how you can work through those topics by finding your voice to address them. And remember: Being honest isn’t mean, it’s kind. 

If you enjoy my blogs, please consider purchasing a children’s book to give back to working mamas: Freckle Faced Gus.