The Five Fears that Prevent Us

Steven Gaffney from REALLY Searching for Honesty

We all say we want honest feedback. But after a decade of working with thousands of individuals from organizations of all sizes, I can report that it’s just not so. Below are the five fears that stop us all from REALLY searching for honest feedback.

1. We are afraid of what someone might say.
How often have you or someone you know neglected not to ask a customer or higher-up for feedback for fear of hearing something negative? It’s a habit, but not a wise one because after all, most of the time the reality is not as bad as what is imagined. And negative feedback is valuable. After all, you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what the problem is. By asking our customers, our bosses and our team the difficult questions, we can learn from their feedback and take the necessary action to resolve the situation.

2. We are afraid of brutality—and often mix honesty with it.
It’s important to separate honesty from brutality. Brutality includes name-calling and blaming others. Honesty is saying what is really going on inside of us and taking ownership of the fact that this is just our perspective—and being open to the possibility that we could be wrong. For example, instead of saying, “How inconsiderate—you take forever to return my calls,” you could say, “I notice it takes you a couple of days to return my calls. This makes me think my calls aren’t a priority. What can we do so you can return my calls more quickly?” In the second example, you focus on finding a solution, not on being brutal.

3. We are afraid that honesty is always negative.
If every time we speak with someone, he is negative, after awhile we associate negativity with him and no longer want to deal with him. That is why part of honesty is to (honestly) compliment people. Unfortunately, sometimes we’re stingy and withhold our compliments. According to many studies, appreciation and acknowledgement are important keys to motivating and inspiring others. This is true even in our personal lives. A friend of mine was complaining about her boyfriend not appreciating her honest feedback about what he was doing wrong. So I asked, “How often do you say something nice?” The point is if you are always the complainer and never have something nice to say, then of course the other person is going to get defensive and upset and no longer be open to discussing the issues. Make sure you honestly compliment. The key to honestly complimenting is to not compliment in the same conversation in which you criticize. The sandwich method of saying something nice, then criticizing and wrapping it up with a compliment is highly manipulative and often backfires. Share sincere appreciations and do so as often as possible. It will make your relationship stronger—and help it weather the difficult times.

4. We are afraid we won’t get the full story.
It isn’t honesty that usually gets us in trouble—it’s not being honest enough. That is why full disclosure, whenever possible, is the best approach. It’s the not knowing that really stresses us. We wonder more, have more questions, and gossip more, filling in the gaps with a worse version than what’s really the case. Be an open book whenever possible and provide others with information about what’s really going on.

5. We are afraid of feeling helpless.
When we hear bad news or difficult feedback, we often don’t know what to do. That is why it so important when giving honest feedback to also focus on solutions. Too often we have long discussions—we talk about the issue, explain our point of view, vent—but fail to spend the adequate time discussing solutions and resolving the problem. For example, a boss who has to share the news of budget cuts or layoffs needs to let employees vent and then turn the discussion to, “What are we going to do about it? What is plan going forward?” A side benefit of this is if you can get others to help create solutions, they will be more invested in implementing the solutions. It is ok to take the team through the valley—just be sure they see how to reach the mountain top. op.

By understanding these fears, we are able to address them and increase honest communication—and we all benefit. Discuss these fears with those you work with in your next staff meeting. Develop procedures and systems to deal with them and take action.

Together we can make the difference.

Copyright 2006, Steven Gaffney Company, All Rights Reserve

Category: Work-Life, Balance
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