Candor in the Workplace

Growing up, I’d received a very particular impression from a couple family members, but mostly friends, other students and neighbors. That impression was this: if you don’t stand firm and say what’s on your mind, you’re a coward. Having a problem with someone, not voicing it and likely talking behind the scenes about it would cement a person as weak. Working at blue-collar jobs for some years solidified that as well.

There’s some valuable and admirable things in that. I find it courageous to not back down, but address problems head-on. The execution of that was often shaky at best. Addressing a person in public was common, and left it to be aired out for everyone to hear. This often ended in ridicule for the related parties. Not graceful by any measure, and to a certain degree, this exacerbates problems rather than solve them.

In many cases though, I’ve found being frank and honest to be invaluable. In the white-collar world, it’s common practice to be secretive, and also try to “lay low” to avoid undesirable attention. This can often cause problems in companies, as there’s often a lack of trust among coworkers and real communication and problem solving can be hindered. On the flip-side, being consistently sincere gives the listener more confidence in what you say and do and gives an opportunity to air grievances and address them legitimately, making for a happier and healthier team.

Also, on the positive side, being open about good things is a great morale boost. People love to feel good about what they do, and so expressing gratitude and appreciation can really make someone’s day and push them on to further growth. I’ve seen many be uncomfortable with this, as it’s fairly uncommon or seems cheesy. But it doesn’t have to be a grand celebration with confetti and balloons: simply acknowledging someone for consistently good work, or for their part in a large project, or even for just being an easy person to talk to is pretty simple and can really put a smile on their face.

With being out of blue-collar work and into IT for 6 years now, one would think the way to communicate appropriately would have sunk in. That isn’t the case, though. This week, I found myself in a situation where I was surprised and jumped to a conclusion. This coincided with a rough night of sleep and some medicinal side effects, which made being overly emotional much more easy. I could have been up-front in a private way, but I allowed emotions to cloud my judgment and referred to the aforementioned form of expression. I’d aired my concerns publicly, and with a good layer of dramatics.

Without realizing it, the situation I’d brought up was completely intentional, and was in fact done for the good of other teammates. What I’d hoped would occur was in the works, and if I’d taken the time to speak to someone privately, I would’ve figured this out. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t regret that I was forthright and honest, or that I felt passionate about what I was talking. It was the execution of communication that was the problem, and it made things worse rather than better.

The take-away I got from this experience is that it’s far more effective to take time to create a plan for being honest. I can tend to be emotional, following my heart rather than my head. I need to be more intentional about how and where I express myself, and leave old habits in the past where they belong.

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