The Power of Kind Truth


How often have you had an employee or colleague who was not performing, missed deadlines, or had a really annoying work style, and you avoided giving that person feedback? Have you kept someone even though they were clearly not performing in their role?

You are not alone. We often avoid these difficult conversations to give critical feedback or even fire someone because it is emotionally uncomfortable. We do not like doing things that may cause emotional pain to others. We fear their reaction and how they may cry, yell, or blame us as they process what we say to them. And maybe we also recognize that in some way, we also share responsibility for their situation – we hired them, we didn’t give them feedback earlier, we weren’t the perfect boss or coworker either.

Truly, most situations include some shared responsibility, even if it’s 99/1, you can own your 1%. That in no way excuses the other person from owning their 99%.  And at work, most situations are not that lopsided. So how do we accept our piece of a situation without then avoiding sharing feedback and making the tough choices when necessary?

First of all, understand that all actions have consequences, even the avoidance of action. By allowing someone to continue without feedback, you may be giving them the impression that you tolerate or even appreciate the behavior. Allowing one person to continue to behave in ways that are hurting the business or the team, you are also sending a message to the rest of the organization – that this is acceptable behavior, and can be replicated without negative consequences.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Giving critical feedback can be emotionally uncomfortable, so we often avoid it. However, quality, timely feedback is at the root of learning and development. ” quote=”Giving critical feedback can be emotionally uncomfortable, so we often avoid it. “]

Quality, timely feedback is at the root of learning and development. We all change in response to feedback we get – if something isn’t working, we will make a change of some kind. When you give feedback, it is an investment in that person, and in your relationship with them. You are giving them information about how their actions are perceived and about their impact on others.  Armed with that knowledge, the person may choose to change. And they may not. Your responsibility is giving the feedback in a way that it can be received, and the other person is responsible for what they choose to do with it.

One of our favorite Patrick Lencioni phrases is “Telling the Kind Truth.” It is one part of being a Fearless Leader – stepping up to the hard but necessary conversation to move a relationship, a project, an organization forward. If you are willing and able to give difficult feedback with the intention of helping the person and the team move forward, you are working on your part of the equation, and opening the door for the other person to make a change.

These fearless conversations are not mean-spirited criticisms, but rather a compassionate conversation about expectations, observable behaviors, impact, values and options for change. It sounds a lot like great coaching and a path to development – for you and for those with whom you share your feedback.

Is it kinder to give feedback frequently and support change, or to hope the person changes without hearing the truth from you – which often ends up hurting the team or leading to being fired down the line? I think the kind truth is taking responsibility for your part, and sharing your thoughts early and often in a two-way dialogue about what’s working and what isn’t.  Wouldn’t you want these frequent adjustments rather than spending a whole career wondering why you weren’t really thriving?

Go out and tell the kind truth, daily. You and your team will be better for it.