Have you ever found yourself sugar coating some news or perhaps not even saying it at all because you’ve been afraid of the consequences of sharing? I know I have. All those thoughts of ‘how will the other person react?’, ‘how will it impact me?’, ‘will they still value/love me for who I am?’ and if it’s giving constructive feedback about them ‘will they hold it against me?’
When people don’t feel at ease to speak up, there’s never a real winner. It has a negative impact on the person with holding the information as well as the receiver, but also on the outcome achieved, whether it’s in your business or home life. My awareness has been heightened over the last six months, not only through my work as a coach and facilitator, but also in my personal life and so I thought I’d explore what helps us to create a better environment for people to open up and share.
There seems to me to be three factors at play when it comes to sharing information. The environment, the person with the news and the receiver of the news. People need to have a feeling of ‘safety’ if they are going to share news in the first place, because there are elements of vulnerability that rise to the surface. And this won’t happen if there is no trust.
Charles Feltman came up a very good definition for trust and distrust. He said that
‘Trust is choosing to make something that is important to you, vulnerable to the action of someone else’
‘Distrust is what I have shared with you, that which is important to me, is not safe with you’.
It takes courage to stand up and be counted but if we function in an environment where there is little trust we will never raise our heads above the parapet to share what’s on our mind. A distrusting environment can mean anything from
- becoming the centre of gossip or tittle tattle,
- having conversations that don’t stay confidential between the people with whom it took place,
- or even worse having the information used against us.
It can cause us to feel shame, humiliation and embarrassment. And of course when we operate in this type of environment it doesn’t mean to say that we have to experience it to feel its wrath. It is just as powerful to witness others experiencing that type of treatment for us to keep quiet rather than speak up. For example, if someone shares something with you that another person has shared with them in confidence, will you ever really trust that person to keep your confidences? Or if they are humiliated in front of others or suddenly disappear off the project are you likely to fess up if something goes wrong?
If we don’t trust the person concerned, we are less likely to tell them how it is. A tell-tale sign is when the other person uses the information to make the conversation all about them rather than about us. The people who are more worried about how the issue is going to negatively impact their reputation, rather than provide us with the support we so desperately require.
I found it really interesting to learn that Sir Winston Churchill set up a Bad News team when he was in office the second time around. This was because he felt that he’d been making decisions that weren’t based on the full information. There were always a number of people who were afraid to speak up and tell it him how it was because they were afraid of the consequences of letting him know that something had gone wrong. This is a crucial lesson for us to learn. If we are using our powers to create an environment of fear we will never achieve the best results because our people will be too afraid to tell us how it is because of the ramifications. I feel saddened when people decide to speak up once they have resigned or parted ways with an organisation, because they no longer have anything to lose.
And if we are filled with a lot of self-doubt and negative self-talk about sharing our news, we are more likely to remain focused on detrimental outcomes rather than seeking the positive opportunities. As an individual, we can dwell on information far too long making something that may have initially been minor, turn into a monster. And as we all know, the longer we leave something unsaid, it not only lives rent free in our heads, but also starts to manifest itself in our attitudes and behaviours. When these aren’t acted upon, they can create the self-fulfilling prophecy we were trying to avoid!
So how can we create environments where those around us don’t feel that they have to walk on eggshells? However hard it may be, we must find ways to listen and act on feedback in a way that enables people to bring it to our door in the first place. These are the times when are standards and values define us. It’s easy to live them when the going is good, but the real test is when you are under pressure or challenged. It is the congruity of your words, actions and behaviours and how they link into those values that will give people the message whether they can trust you or not. And a great way to make this happen is for you to remain curious from that good place in your heart. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The two habits being ‘create win win’ scenarios and ‘seeking first to understand and then to be understood’. When we create win win scenarios it means that we act with consideration and courage ie we listen with empathy and understanding whilst at the same time being courageous enough to ask questions so that we can find out what is happening for the person and understand from their perspective first.
I know it’s often difficult to stop jumping in with opinions but if you are tempted to react in such a way, try the following. Breathing helps!! (In for two, hold for two, out for two, hold for two). It’s a great calmer, but then also say the following to yourself …
Does this need to be said?
Does this need to be said by me?
Does this need to be said by me now?
I also find referring to Brené Brown’s work is an amazing source. I love all her stuff, but one particular acronym struck a chord and I continue to refer to it when helping organisations build engaging and trusting cultures. If you know her work, you will recognise the acronym of BRAVING. Click on the link to see a short video of Brené describing it. She says it in a much more succinct way than I would and if you haven’t seen her in action, I’m sure you’ll love the clip.
Being aware of what influences us and others is really helpful in aiding us to find ways to improve what we do. Role models show up in our lives to give us guidance of both how to do something well and also badly! So on this occasion I’d like you to think about a time when you have withheld some information because you’re worried about the consequences and note down the reasons why.
- What was stopping you share the full information?
- How were you made to feel?
- Were your reasons justified?
- What needed to be different to help you share your information?
Now think of a time when you may have created an environment, where those around you have only provided the information you wanted to hear rather than what you needed to hear.
- How did you act and behave to create that environment? How did you make people feel, was that intentional? Was it a one off?
Looking at your answers, what do you learn from your observations? Starting right now, what can you do differently to create a BRAVING environment where the people around you are trusting and trustworthy, because they know you have their best interests at heart?
At the end of the day, it’s up to us to set an environment where people see that we are focused on achieving the right results for everyone concerned rather than being seen to be right as an individual. And as Mother Theresa said ‘the more we judge someone the less time we have to love them’