Fair warning- this may be a bit of a rant. How often have we heard someone deliver an unpleasant truth and they try to dress it up, spin it, or reframe it in a way that’s more pleasing to the ear? Have we become so politically correct at the office that we just can’t speak with directness? Companies used to value direct communication but it seems there’s a turn in the tide happening. An almost comical dance of words happen trying to tell someone their project stinks or they are underperforming. “Let’s put this project on the back burner for now and focus on these priorities…. “we need the right people in the right roles.” Kind of like putting lipstick on a pig. Is it just good old fashion office politics or lack of courage? You decide. Here’s our take on it.
A client of ours is a project superintendent who is rough, direct and brash . Anytime he begins a new project with a new team- he has his usual introductory meeting that begins with “If you don’t want your feelings hurt, then leave them in your vehicle.” He is by no means disrespectful or demeaning- he just says what it is. Unfortunately. in today’s world the bold truth is seen as disrespectful. His philosophy is “I don’t have time to put lipstick on a pig, there are other pressing matters than worrying about how someone will react to a reality that isn’t pleasant.” “If we don’t face unpleasant truths and do something about it quickly, we’ll all be out of jobs.” And this one is his favorite…”I’m not in the business of being nice, I’m in the business of making money and keeping people working so they can feed their families.”
If the pig stinks, then why don’t we just say it stinks. Instead, you’ll hear “well the aroma isn’t what we thought it would be and it’s more of an earthy fragrance then the sweet cherry we intended- while the earthy smell is pleasing to some, we’ve found that our core customer wants us to continue to find other scents.” “Therefore, we lost thousands of dollars.” Oh come on! Just say it stinks and move on to fixing it! If you can’t fix it, sell it- if you can’t sell it- close it (sound familiar?). Wouldn’t it be beneficial to all stakeholders to spend less time thinking about re-framing and dressing things up when we can spend that time finding solutions to fix what stinks? When we dress it up the receiver is robbed of a learning experience. Isn’t it our obligation as leaders and managers to help our teams and peers grow?
Direct people aren’t always the most popular people at work because they don’t waste time feeding the egos of leadership or painting pretty pictures so bad news is more palatable. In most cases these folks are the high achievers, the task masters, the results rangers. They focus their time on getting stuff done rather than wrapping stuff up pretty. You’ll know you’re in the presence of one when conversations are quick exchanges of facts and concluded on what’s next. They often create conflict and make others feel a bit uncomfortable. However, in cultures where ostriches and hammers lead, being direct is suicide.
The American business culture has evolved into a bureaucratic and political system of so many unspoken rules and gimmicks that it’s almost impossible to get things done in a timely fashion. People are often more busy playing politics than they are busy moving the needle in the right direction. That’s why you’ll hear the saying in big companies “it’s like turning a battleship.” Making decisions on failing projects or initiatives can often take months or even years. The dance of words, the interpretation of the message, who to deliver it to, when to deliver it and waiting on multiple signatures can exhaust a lot of human resource. Yet, the dance and the game continues.
What if everyone was like the project superintendent we work with? Would stuff get done or would people just focus on the “unpleasant’ delivery?
Doesn’t the truth hurt? Sometimes it does.
Isn’t it necessary to hear? Sometimes it is.
Then why are people sometimes so offended by it that they will spend large amounts of money not to hear it?
It is very uncomfortable at times and it can create conflict. Aren’t we supposed to get out of our “comfort zone” to grow? Isn’t conflict good because it can produce the best resolution? These are all things we’ve heard throughout our lives and careers. When the “rubber meets the road” are these just cliches for plaques on our office walls?
Are we becoming more easily offended or more civilized? You decide.