Fundamental #13 – Speak straight


Speak straight. Speak honestly in a way that helps move things forward. Make clear and direct requests. Say what you mean, and be willing to share ideas or take positions that may result in conflict when necessary to reach our goals. Be quick to “clean up” misunderstandings directly with the person or people involved.

During WWII Winston Churchill was marking up a classified document that the Allied Forces generals we’re waiting for in order to go into action.  On one of the pages Churchill wrote “Watch the borders”, referring to the fact that his secretary had left very little room for him to make comments in the margins (borders).  The generals read the document and believed they were being advised by Churchill to watch the English borders in Southeast England in order to stop a possible invasion.   Luckily, there was no invasion.  Luckily thousands weren’t killed because of a misunderstanding between Churchill his generals and his typist. 

As an employee owned company we must have clarity, not misunderstanding in the decisions we make, emails we send, and conversations we have.  Who loses if we’re not clear?   We, the owners of Webco, lose.   If we don’t speak straight with each other, our customers, both internal and external, and our suppliers we are all susceptible to “watching the borders”.     By engaging fully and encouraging  straight talk, you increase the odds of working with a purpose.  This is absolutely essential for our company to achieve world class status.  

It can be difficult to address a conflict for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or fear of how we may be perceived.  But, what happens if we don’t have these crucial and difficult conversations when needed?  (The anticipation of having a hard conversation is always worse than the action of doing it.)   Speaking straight, if done properly in can result in positive action and change.  Always be honest.  Let the person, or people, you’re addressing, know exactly where you stand on the issue.  Use simple language.  Never manipulate people, distort, or spin the truth. Make sure you are well-informed so that you don’t perpetuate confusion. As many of us heard when we were growing up, “Say what you mean, mean what you say.”  Speak straight, even if it is uncomfortable!  Some ways to start the conversation may be:

•             My intent is to be candid with you….

•             Here’s how I see the situation….

•             These are the facts as I see them….

•             Let me tell you what I have observed….

We all deal with issues where speaking straight is essential and it can be difficult.   Some will try to sugar coat a situation to make it sound better.  The reality is that no matter how you deliver it, bad news is bad news!  As Colin Powell, 65th Secretary of State and 4 Star General – Retired, said “Bad news isn’t wine.  It doesn’t get better with time. “  Might as well speak straight and get to the point! 

– Mike Johnson