“The gift of truth excels all other gifts.” ~Buddha

We’ve been doing a lot of work this summer with partner groups and leaders of CPA firms focused on partner performance and accountability. One of the core tenants is driving change through straight talk. The courage to talk straight is one of the most transformative behaviors that leaders undertake to deepen their relationships and produce results within their teams. And yet, so many of us resist talking straight.

I know that I’ve struggled with the idea that I could talk straight and be compassionate at the same time. I didn’t think the two could coexist; I thought it could either be straight, which often led to hurt feelings or some form of upset, or be compassionate but not really get my message across.

Talking straight, however, is not “brutal honesty” – there’s nothing hurtful or ugly about it – and it’s not about redressing or giving someone the “what for” – where you are “right” and they are “wrong. ”

Instead, it’s about caring enough about someone and your relationship with them and being committed enough to your shared objectives and values to overcome your fear and express your insights so that you can both improve. When you come from care and concern – and dare I say love – for the other person, how can you hold back sharing how it really is for you, whether it’s a concern or worry, frustration, disappointment or even upset?

Instead of sharing our concern or disappointment with the person with whom we have the concern, our human nature is to tell others, which does not get the issue resolved because we’re not going to the source. My partner, Jennifer, explored this human communication failing, called “triangulation” in her CPA Insider blog titled “Are You Guilty of Triangulating on the Job?”

When you commit to having a conversation with the person with whom you have a concern and do so coming from care and concern, you have to give up making the other person wrong and being right about the situation. You have to set your assumptions aside and distinguish that you have a perspective and it’s your truth but it isn’t THE TRUTH. Typically, your truth is often clouded by your selfish interest or frustration that you are somehow dealing with an imposition and that is a dangerous frame of mind from which to enter the conversation!

You’ll be more effective if you set aside your viewpoint and approach the conversation in a non-punishing, collaborative way, being as clear and specific as possible. We teach a four-part approach to talking straight that I encourage you to memorize the phrase: “expectation, observation, inquiry, stop.” It’s become mantra for me, and while I am not perfect (and may never be!), it does help me get centered when the need to talk straight arises and gives me a “formula” to help me put the words together for the communication I need to deliver.

When we teach this four-part approach, we do a lot of practice and give opportunities to role-play, because when we have opportunities to talk straight, our emotions, frustration and disappointment can run the show. When this happens, what comes out of our mouth sometimes is not what we intended and may derail the conversation – or worse. One example we give that demonstrates how to set up your conversation using “expectation, observation, inquiry” is, “I expect that each of our partners will adhere to our core value of respect in our interactions. Instead, you often appear disrespectful in our partner meetings– talking over others, raising your voice, or making hurtful comments. What do you think is driving that behavior?”

Then, when you “stop” and listen, the other person can share their thoughts, too. This allows you to understand their perspective and gain new information and insights that you may not have had before as to why the situation exists. It is the only way to arrive at a collaborative solution that you can both buy into. It also helps if you share your commitment -- whether to the person, a client, or a common goal or outcome. Doing so will help you center yourself on why you’re engaging in straight talk and the common bond you and the other person have. Sometimes, you may have to share the impact, which may seem obvious in most cases; however, we can’t assume it is. Sometimes people (me included!) are oblivious to the impact their words, actions, or lack of results have on others and it’s important to share it.

Then you have to ask for help in developing a solution to the issue and be sure you stop and listen again. You may have to have several conversations, especially if it’s an issue that you’ve let persist for awhile, and that’s okay. Reiterate your commitment again and agree on what you’re both going to do to resolve the matter. For professional matters, we suggest that you put your understanding in writing to help minimize conflicts or disappointment in the future.

Where do you have some straight talk that should be delivered? When can you commit to a conversation and practice (yes, it takes practice and it does become easier!) using the “expectation, observation, inquiry, stop” approach to the conversation? Post a comment and share your commitment to do so or the results you experience by engaging in straight talk – we’d love to hear from you!



P.S. If you want to learn more on the topic of straight talk, check out our new e-book, “Straight Talk Your Way To Success” or our self-study course entitled Managing Difficult Conversations Successfully at www.convergencelearning.com.