Having honest conversations with the people in our lives is important, and that includes with those we work with. At Thrive, we talk a lot about compassionate directness: a core company value meant to empower employees to speak up, give honest feedback, and surface problems and pain points. If being direct doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t worry — there are steps you can take to make it less daunting.
If you have trouble with facilitating honest and direct conversations, here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Identify your positive intention
We learn in kindergarten that it’s important to “think before we speak” — and when it comes to having healthy workplace conversations, the age-old saying is especially relevant. Before you disagree or deliver constructive criticism, try pinpointing what the purpose of your feedback is — to work through a problem or solution — and lead with that positive intention. “When you go in with a positive intent, it’s much more likely that your message will be received with an open mind,” Betsy Kauffman, a leadership and organization coach, explains in a new TED Talk.
2. Write down your thoughts first
If you’re an introvert or you have trouble communicating your thoughts verbally, it can help to write them down first. Before you start your next meeting where you plan to deliver honest feedback, take five minutes to put your thoughts on paper. “Trying to communicate in a way that goes against your natural tendencies can be uncomfortable,” Michael Alcée, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, tells Thrive, especially when the content of what you’re saying is vulnerable, or more honest than you’re used to. “Writing it out helps you work from the inside out.”
3. Avoid the compliment sandwich
It’s a natural tendency to sugarcoat negative feedback. After all, we don’t want to offend our teammates. But according to Kauffman, being candid and real in our delivery is crucial when it comes to having a direct and constructive conversation. Instead of sandwiching your criticism between compliments, lead with your sincere concern. “Delivery needs to be factual,” she explains. Present the data, and then use it to explain why you’re having the honest conversation.
4. Approach with a solution-seeking mindset
When you approach your colleague, make sure you’re going in with a solutions-first mindset, Kauffman recommends. Before the conversation, identify a few solutions that could help solve your problem. From that space of teamwork, you’ll be able to work through options in a productive, supportive way.