Plain Speaking

 “Lack of candor is the biggest dirty little secret in business . . . it blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got.  It’s a killer.” 

Jack Welch

Some sixty years ago, a constituent of then congressman Billy Mathews wanted to know Mathews’ stand on the issue of liquor control.  Mathews wrote in reply: 

“My dear friend, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time.  However, I want you to know that I do not shun a controversy.  On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it may be.

You’ve asked me how I feel about whiskey.  Here is how I stand on this question.  If, when you say whiskey, you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty . . . yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples [one] from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of despair and degradation and shame . . . then certainly I’m against it with all my power. 

But, if when you say whiskey, you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good [friends] get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes . . . if you mean the drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold billions of dollars which are used to provide tender, loving care for little crippled children, our blind, our deaf and our aged and infirm, to build highways, hospitals and schools . . . then certainly I’m in favor of it. 

This is my stand, and I will not compromise.  Sincerely, Your Congressman”

Well, there you have it! What could be clearer? Similarly, many people don’t express themselves with frankness at work. For fear of offending, they don’t say what they think. 

Or, if they do, here in the South they use the phrase “bless his (or her) heart” as a way of cloaking an insult in politeness. When I hear “bless his heart,” I rub my hands together in giddy anticipation, as I know the speaker is about to unload on someone.

Instead, they avoid conflict by withholding comments, criticisms and information. Do your part to create a workplace culture where people trust that their relationships can take candid conversations, and where people worry less about feelings and more about having meaningful conversations and making better decisions. 

While you don’t have to park tact at the door, here are some ways to promote candor . . .

  • Speak up! Have the courage to put forth your own ideas and defend them
  • When you disagree, say so, and give your reasons respectfully
  • Ask questions when you don’t understand
  • If a leader, don’t shy away from initiating courageous conversations and give honest on-the-spot feedback and performance appraisals  

Here’s to plain speaking, and to building the strong relationships—and company —that will result.  

Notes and sources: a tip of the hat to Reverend Bob Dunham for the Billy Mathews story

File under: Lead

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