Courageous communication is the cornerstone of exceptional leadership. In tough times, it’s leaders who are brave, candid and innovative who steer their company to success. But why do some managers fold in the face of honest and open discussion?
Because courageous communication can be a painful and awkward experience. It demands heightened self-awareness, acceptance of criticism and a willingness to tackle the hard truth, even when it’s unpopular.
In an Interact survey, a third of business leaders admitted they are uncomfortable giving feedback about an employee’s performance. And 20% dislike demonstrating vulnerability.
But avoiding these candid discussions can hurt your career and business:
- A team member catches major quality issues in a project but is afraid to bring it up, because of intense management pressure to deliver on time.
- A manager is too embarrassed to admit they don’t understand a customer requirement, so their team misses a crucial SLA and has to work around the clock to fix it.
- People who challenge and question entrenched processes are labelled as ‘negative’ and excluded from planning meetings.
But how can you implement courageous communication in your professional life?
1. Be Vulnerable
What if a colleague asked you a question you didn’t know the answer to? Would you own up to it, or would you dodge the question?
Many leaders see being vulnerable as a sign of weakness. They don’t want to admit they’re ignorant of something, so they hedge, waffle and use jargon to cover up this lack of knowledge. But their careers stagnate because they aren’t open to learning from the people around them.
Being candid about what you don’t know isn’t a weakness. It actually humanises you to your team and colleagues. No one can be an expert on everything — being a good leader means asking for help and clarification when you’re unsure.
The next time your team asks a question that you don’t know how to answer, resist the instinct to side-step the question or give a vague response. Instead, admit your lack of knowledge but commit to finding out. And lean into that awkwardness by being as clear as possible and avoiding jargon.
2. Embrace Difficult Conversations
Has a promising employee ever left your team, admitting in their exit interview that they didn’t get the support they desperately needed? Ever let someone go who was completely in the dark about their performance issues?
It’s natural to want to evade challenging conversations with struggling employees. Even top leaders shy away from conflict. No one enjoys giving bad news or causing hurt to others.
But by avoiding these awkward discussions, you’re ultimately letting your employee and team down. The issue will worsen and resentment, productivity issues and miscommunication will fester.
You need to give underperforming workers clear direction, without waffle and couching. By providing constructive criticism in a safe and sympathetic environment, you’ll nip performance issues and toxic behaviour in the bud.
Here are some courageous communication tips for bad news:
- Lean into the dread! Remember you’re helping the employee in the long run.
- Don’t stockpile negative feedback or wait for the ‘right moment’. Tackle the issue as soon as possible.
- Avoid pointing fingers — it’s not about apportioning blame, it’s about fixing the issue.
- Provide clear instructions and avoid vague words that can be misunderstood.
- Offer real support and resources to improve the situation, like training and mentoring.
3. Tackle the Elephant in the Room
Ever had the niggling feeling that your team is headed down the wrong path in a project? But you brush off that gut instinct because it means undoing weeks of work?
An effective leader tackles the hard truths headlong. In a courageous company culture, transparent management sometimes means voicing what people need to hear and not always what they want to hear.
You must cultivate the strength of character to voice difficult issues on the agenda, even if it’s painful. You can lead your team down the wrong path by not voicing the unpopular opinion or not addressing the elephant in the room.
Dare to challenge the status quo by suggesting better processes and solutions. Even if it involves starting a project from scratch, pushback from other teams or a change in scope. Courageous communication equals listening to and voice your gut instincts; you’ll boost your business in the long run.
4. Be Open to Criticism
Be honest — if a colleague was concerned about your project managing style, could they approach you without fear?
If you don’t provide a safe space for people with their concerns, resentment will fester. Your team and colleagues are your eyes and ears in the day-to-day running of the business. If you’re not willing to take the rough with the smooth your career will suffer.
It’s normal to feel defensive when someone pokes holes in your ideas. You may feel personally attacked and your leadership called into question. But if your team members are scared to give constructive criticism, you can’t improve as a leader.
Here are some ways to encourage courageous communication and negative feedback:
- Don’t get defensive. It’s not personal, it’s business.
- Accept the criticism and find the solution, rather than placing blame.
- Encourage a healthy debate in your team meetings.
5. Control Your Negative Emotions
Ever raised your voice during a planning meeting when a colleague challenges one of your ideas? Do your employees shelter you from bad news because you are easily overwhelmed?
Even if you’re in the right, raising your voice and throwing insults around will do more harm than good. That doesn’t mean you need to strip yourself of all feeling.
Instead, train yourself to identify feelings that inhibit open lines of communication. Instead of acting on these negative emotions, turn them into positive actions, and stick to the facts.
Here are a few examples:
- Blaming a colleague for making a mistake, instead of suggesting a solution.
- Snapping at an employee who comes to you with bad news, instead of just listening.
- Discounting a complaint from a client, instead of following up with an open mind.
Are you ready to embrace a healthier and courageous communication strategy? I can help.
Sign up for a Get Out of the Rut Power Session.
Omozua is a Certified Emotional Mastery & Intelligent Leadership Executive Coach who empowers & prepares clients’ hearts & heads to take the journey from where they are to where they want to be by bravely accessing their own potential.