The Case For Brutal Honesty

The Idea Suite’s President and Founding Partner Fiona Stevenson makes the case for brutal honesty:

Let’s make this the year of brutal honesty in our personal and professional lives!

Flashback to a decade ago. We were a group of 20-something Canadians who had spent the past couple of years together as ex-pats in Europe. We’d gathered for a reunion over the Christmas holidays, and were happily reminiscing about off-piste adventures when someone made a provocative suggestion: “Let’s make this the year of brutal honesty!” As we started to play around with the idea, our enthusiasm grew, likely inspired by the far more direct style of communication we’d witnessed while living in Europe. Imagine the freedom of being able to declare our every need and desire for an entire year – without filters! 

Within minutes, and in virtually all of our interactions with each other over the next year, gone was the indirect language, subtle hinting or slight passive aggressiveness that so often slips into (and has become an accepted reality of) modern social interaction. It was incredibly energizing to be able to unabashedly claim that last piece of pizza, to remind someone of an unpaid debt, or to provide genuine, unfiltered advice – all without fear of ruffling feathers or suffering serious social consequences. Embracing direct communication allowed us to consistently achieve a depth of conversation – and a level of intimacy – that can often be missing in even our closest relationships.

But as our ex-pat assignments came to an end and we each began new adventures in various parts of the globe, it didn’t take long for our old habits to return. The fact is that even with the purest intentions and the gentlest approach, you can’t run around being brutally honest in a world where a culture of indirectness (often masked as ‘politeness’) prevails – you end up looking like a bull in a china shop! A brutally honest approach ultimately only works when there’s an agreement among a group of people to embrace it. 

So, can 2019 be the year we collectively decide to embrace brutal honesty, and all of the benefits that it can bring?

After all, as long as our intentions are positive, the upside is massive!

With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how embracing brutal honesty in different areas of our life could be an immensely powerful tool.

As champions of great ideas – The most innovative companies and greatest business cultures are the ones where the best ideas win – no matter where they come from. With this, crucially, comes a willingness to kill ideas (including the ‘babies’ of senior leadership), which starts with a culture where we put ego aside, and separate ideas from the person who came up with them. In this environment, people aren’t afraid to express either the positives or the shortcomings of an idea, and we can collectively feel free to seek out constructive feedback and new builds for our ideas, recognizing that these will make them – and in the long run our businesses – exponentially stronger.

As employees with a growth mindset – I spent the early years of my career falsely believing that the best managers were the ones that were completely hands off. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I’ve come to realize that it was the managers who truly challenged my thinking, weren’t afraid to give me tough love (time and time again), and pushed me far out of my comfort zone, who most fundamentally moved me. It can be incredibly hard to take at the time, but if we embrace a growth mindset and open ourselves up to constructive feedback from our colleagues and managers – especially early in our careers – it can exponentially increase our potential, and often lead to unexpected and incredible things.   

As humble and transformative leaders – People need to know where they stand, and a manager of others owes it to each of their direct reports to be clear in their communication, to ‘say the unsaid’, and to provide frequent and direct feedback on how they can effectively leverage their strengths, address key opportunity areas, and realize their full potential. At the same time, embracing a growth mindset also means creating an open culture of sharing, and opening ourselves up to honest feedback from our employees about how we can improve as leaders. In other words: dishing it means we have to be able to take it, but once again, the upside is enormous. Being aware of our blind spots and responding to the barriers and pain points in our organization can transform our workplaces and do wonders for employee productivity, engagement and retention.

As seekers of meaningful relationships – Our lives are incredibly busy. What I wouldn’t give for six extra hours in the day! Between our responsibilities in the office and at home, there’s so little time left for quality social interaction with our friends and family members, even though we all know that it’s incredibly important to our happiness, well-being, and energy! And yet, social interactions can sometimes be draining rather than energizing if we feel the need to ‘be on’ vs. simply being whoever we are or need to be in that moment. Bringing our true and authentic selves to every interaction – which includes letting others in to where we’re at and what we’re going through, asking for what we need, and, when they arise, bringing issues to the surface immediately and quickly resolving them (never letting molehills become mountains!) – has the power to transform not only our relationships, but also the energy we get from every interaction.

And this is why I’m personally determined to make 2019 a year of brutal, energizing, business-building and creativity-inspiring honesty. Any takers?