When I suggest that people in corporations refine communication by speaking their truth, by the expressions on their faces, you might think I’ve announced the arrival of Godzilla. Yet, this simple-but-powerful practice might be the answer to most workplace communication challenges.
I recently worked with a small group to facilitate teamwork and unravel an intense conflict that had been brewing in the department for over a year. One of the first elements of communication I introduced was using Ownership Language, to tell one’s simple truth about the effect of an interaction. Something like, “I feel angry in response to your tone.” Participants resisted my recommendation with familiar complaints about why it couldn’t work. When we investigated the comments it was clear that they were based on fear.
Telling the truth is seen as a cultural taboo, something that can get you fired. Instead, workers stuff feelings until they have the opportunity to destructively vent behind the scenes, go dull from concealing truth, explode, or quit. It seems we have the choice of living with a continuous low-grade tension based on pretense and fear, or dealing authentically with tension in the moment by telling the truth and expanding to meet the consequences with openness and maturity.
Resentment doesn’t build and revenge isn’t necessary when you can say how you feel when you feel it, then explore communication to find what will work.
In this small department, I witnessed a great sense of relief and an emerging new vitality when a few participants took the first steps to speak their truth in the moment. It was easier for them because we had established truthfulness as a unanimously accepted norm for the group. Even the boss welcomed honesty as a replacement for the negative venting that had destroyed effectiveness and productive relationship in the past.
How much miscommunication, misunderstanding, and ongoing conflict would more courageous truthfulness relieve in your organization? How much more productivity would result?
Let’s take a moment and answer the resistance expressed by my small group. I borrow many perspectives from Body Centered Transformation as taught by The Hendricks Institute.
1) I can’t talk to the boss that way, I’ll get fired.
Make truthfulness part of the working vision of your department or organization. Create it as an established norm. Listening to, accepting, and acting on honest feedback is great leadership. Openness or the willingness to be influenced is essential to the success of this behavior.
2) I’m not even aware of how I feel when something happens.
Provide communication training that includes attention to breathing, centering and telling the truth. Building awareness of your emotional reality is extremely healthy, increases vitality, and reduces stress. To build awareness, learn to focus on body sensations. (For example, “I feel tightness in my gut” could be a first step to acknowledging fear.) Love yourself for all emotional perceptions, right or wrong. Express truth simply with full ownership. Because I feel angry doesn’t mean you made me angry, but it is useful information to explore effective communication. Do something to create a positive solution.
3) This is business, it’s not right to talk personally at work.
It’s an illusion to believe that we can leave parts of ourselves out of any environment or activity. Everything is personal. Why not be fully present? What is personal evokes passion, creativity, and productivity.
4) People will think I’m unprofessional.
What is most professional: venting, withdrawing, or courageously speaking the truth?
5) We don’t have time to deal with feelings.
It only takes ten seconds to state a simple truth. Consider the time, productivity and money lost when problems escalate to litigation, or when we work with a deadening low-grade tension.
The department I worked with continues to show these results: more communication, more constructive conflict, more demonstration of the department’s Vision Statement, and more commitment to direction — which yields more clear results. When associates can explore their honest response to a communication, they aren’t tempted to transfer feelings of dissatisfaction to complaints about direction and task. Issues become clear.
Speak your truth from a stance of full responsibility and willingness to explore. This simple communication principle practiced diligently in the moment can end a multitude of workplace communication nightmares.