Is talk of “corporate values” and passive-aggression cloaked in business-speak turning you off from a particular business? Corporate platitudes and jargon are deflating. No one associates them with sincerity, they invariably fail to inspire, and just as often as not they create confusion and ill will. We don’t have to settle for the current state of workplace communication.
The topic of how to use the most appropriate language and how to communicate it requires a gentle hand. Platitudes, euphemisms, and turning nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns generally confuse speech and even create needless exclusionary hierarchy. However, communication that demonstrates candor and respect can transform workplaces into more harmonious, efficient, and human environments. Short sentences and existing language are sometimes not easy because candor can be uncomfortable. But discomfort is also sometimes what we need to be creative, to do our jobs, and lead teams.
As we struggle to figure out dynamics and standards around increasingly more sensitive topics like language, race, and gender, we need clarity, kindness, and humanity in the workplace more than ever.
Listening as a conduit for connection
Listening inspires connection and collaboration. It is exactly one half of the communication equation, and perhaps the most important half. The best leaders are great listeners and great speakers.
The former prime minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, is a good example. Early in my career, I was presenting to a room which included Ms. Thatcher and 15 all-male CEOs (a mix of publicly-held Fortune 500 companies). An active listener amidst a cacophony of voices and perspectives, Thatcher asked very thought-provoking questions, and ultimately, led the group to a collective decision about a challenging issue. In a private moment with the Prime Minister (a shared vehicle ride from Wall Street to midtown Manhattan), I was young and brazen enough to ask her how she often managed as the only woman in the room. Her response? Listening connects others to you and promotes collaboration, as well as up opens up dialogue and understanding. And if you demonstrate this fundamental respect, you’ll watch others instinctively return it.
It’s also important to remember listening takes time. But so does leadership. There are costs to not making the time for this. Studies in the past two years by FTI Consulting and Mine The Gap around a large “enthusiasm gap” among women in the workplace. These respondents also say better communications could have prevented, in part, their departures. A lack of knowledge and communication about policies and initiatives, alongside a lack of effective parlay and feedback with management, contributes to a lack of enthusiasm, leading women to leave their roles. Further, according to Gallup, the hard cost of losing good employees is up to two times the employee’s annual salary.
Say what you mean (and vice versa)
Bringing sincerity and candor to our exchanges creates mutual trust, confidence, clarity, and (consistently of top-of-mind in the workplace) efficiency. There is less energy devoted to “strategizing” every conversation and more energy to focus on collaborating in a healthy, honest and open manner when people trust their colleagues.
For instance, I had given a team member what I thought were clear instructions, but the assignment came back wildly off the mark. Instead of criticism, I reoriented us and talked through the project. The individual was more confident in understanding the assignment and I was equally confident in my guidance. We got the results because my colleague was able to put down any potential defensiveness and I ignored my frustration and made the time to simply address the matter at hand.
Be comfortable knowing your limits and making adjustments for others, sharing your personality and creating that candid space. And if you’re leader, prioritize it. Your habits are contagious and you can set the right example for others by being candid. If you do it right, you’ll naturally invite collaboration and goodwill.
Kim Scott, the author of Radical Candor gets it right: “[People] treat their bosses like tyrants to be toppled, their peers like enemy combatants, their employees like pawns on a chessboard.” She points out that excessive professionalism leads to disconnection, saying,”When you’re not seeing the people you work with as fellow human beings.”
Scott’s solution—radical candor—requires people to do two things: Caring on a personal level and challenging in a direct way. Telling people what you think they need to hear, because you believe it helps them, shows you care. Moreover, it shows your humanity.
One of my favorite bosses demonstrated the power of candor constantly. With any project, he focused on helping the individual be accountable. He would say, “Are we clear?” Never a distant platitude or cloudy euphemism. He embodied reliability and dependability and led with it. Be direct with people—it builds trust and inspires them to reciprocate.
Ditch the coldness
When you candor leads to humanity, loyalty and attachment will follow. People respond to genuine acts of compassion and later, feel compelled to repeat them. When senior leadership makes a point of getting to know its team and extending themselves, they create circumstances for a humane and caring environment to take root. From my own experience when I was empowered to be this type of boss, the team’s productivity increased and the entire organization thrived.
Conversely, it became more apparent to me the value of a caring boss (along with how much more effectively I worked) when I no longer had one. At the time when I had “that” boss—so, the one who spoke in a condescending and insulting tone, the one who barked orders and was dismissive of questions—I took a step backwards. It was challenging to commit fully to any task, to be my best when confronted with negativity.
The cold, stiff “professionalism” that I have seen in my career has produced lesser results. Eliminating that in favor of a humane, flexible and warm working environment gets the best results and builds the strongest teams. Ergo, embedding humanity into leadership is a winning strategy.
Healthy and sincere communication moves people to share in the same way. It allows them to feel heard. It is what propels them to buy into the social contract or workplace ethic. The benefits of running our organizations with open, honest, and healthy communication are apparent: dynamic, motivated, and loyal employees. The candid exchange of ideas and diversity of perspectives will make your team stronger, healthier and more valuable. Dispense with the jargon, be candid, open and flexible, and help build a new era of healthy communication, thriving workplaces, and unprecedented unity.
Jennifer S. Bankston is president of Bankston Marketing Solutions