One Phrase You Never Want to Hear: Can I Be Completely Honest?

Can I be completely honest with you?” is a phrase usually followed by some sh*t you don’t want to hear.

We talk about this concept a bunch in HR.

We need to tell our employees the truth about their performance. We work to coach managers of people on how to deliver this message appropriately. We develop complete training sessions and bring in “professional” communicators to help us out on the exact phraseology we want to use. All so we can be “honest” with our employees.

Can I be completely honest with you? No one wants you to be honest with them.

What employees want you to tell them

They want you to tell them this:

  1. We like having you work here.
  2. You’re doing a good job.
  3. You are better than most of the other employees we have.
  4. We see great things coming from your development, and your on target for promotion.
  5. Here is your annual increase.

Now, that might actually be “honest” feedback for about 5 percent of your employees. That means you will be saying a different version of honest to the other 95 percent that won’t like you being completely honest.

That is why talent management is really hard.

People don’t like being honest

No piece of software will help you with this one fact: Most people don’t like honest. The cool part of this is that most managers don’t like to be honest. It’s uncomfortable. It causes conflict.

Most people aren’t comfortable telling someone else that they have some issues that need to be addressed, and most people don’t take that feedback appropriately. You tell an employee they have “room for improvement” and they instantly believe you told them they suck and they’re about to be fired.

So, as managers we aren’t completely honest. We tend to work around the truth. The truth is we all have things we need to get better at, and it sucks to hear it out loud.

If someone tells you they welcome this feedback, they’re lying to you and themselves. Those are usually the people who lose it the most when they are told the truth.

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People who tell you they want honest feedback believe you’re going to tell them “honestly” they’re a rock star. When you say something less than “rock star” they implode.

Here’s a good solution

So, what’s the honest solution to this?

Say nothing. Set really good metrics, because metrics that show if a person is performing or not. Make sure everyone understands those metrics. Then, when the employees wants feedback, set down the metrics in front of them, and shut up. Don’t be the first to talk.

The employee will give you some honest feedback, if you wait, which will open the door to agree or disagree. Otherwise, you’re just working on subjective, and, subjective and honest don’t go well together.

But, you knew that.

I really like having you stop by and read this. You do a great job at your job. You’re certainly better than all those other readers who stop by and read this. I’m sure you’re on your way up!

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


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