We’ve all been there. You’re having a conversation with someone at work, and they have a piece of spinach stuck in their teeth. What do you do?
Do you point out the food – allowing them to remove it before further embarrassing themselves, even if it creates an awkward moment for you?
Or do you opt to save them (and yourself) the initial embarrassment and not say anything – allowing them to potentially walk around with food in their teeth throughout the rest of the day?
If you’re speaking the kind truth to someone, you need to tell them about the spinach. It’s better for them in the long run, even if it does create an initially uncomfortable moment.
Now let’s say the situation is more serious. What if an employee is underperforming? Do you just let them keep going down that path because it’s easier than telling them they need to improve? Or do you have the difficult conversation to alert them to the issue and help them make changes? Telling them is speaking the kind truth. You are doing them a favor by having a proactive conversation to allow them to make improvements and potentially keep their job.
RTA CEO Josh Turley, fleet Hall of Famer Steve Saltzgiver, and former trucking executive Jeff Jenkins tackled this issue in a recent episode of “The Fleet Success Show.”
“You need to be careful that you’re not being a nice manager, but that you’re being kind,” Josh said.
If you’re focused on being nice, you’re making sure the other person feels good and gets praise, but you’re not telling them about any problems. As a manager, you might claim you’re trying not to hurt their feelings, but it’s really about you – you don’t want to have a hard conversation with them.
As Josh said on the podcast, this approach is selfish. If the employee doesn’t know there’s a problem, they can’t fix it. This can ultimately lead to them being fired.
How to Have Difficult Conversations
When you do have these conversations, you need to be honest and direct. If you’re pulling punches and talking around the issue and being ambiguous, then the employee might not take the conversation seriously.
If you’re using words like “Maybe work on this” or “You might want to change …” the employee could take it as a suggestion and not a directive and can miss the severity of the issue.
As Josh said on the podcast, if you’re trying to preserve their feelings and not be a jerk, then you’re going to be an even bigger jerk when the person must be let go later because the problems were not resolved.
Instead, Josh recommends using clear and caring candor when addressing issues. He suggests being blunt and starting the conversation by saying “this is going to be uncomfortable,” and then explaining that you’re doing this because you care about the person, and you want them to be a part of the team. This lays the groundwork that it’s a serious conversation and lets them know that the message is coming from a good place and that you’re doing it because you want the best for them.
One way to make sure the employee knows you’re coming from the right place when addressing these issues is to create a good relationship with your staff. This doesn’t mean you need to be their friend. Instead, hold regular one-on-one meetings to stay in touch with your team, understand what’s going on in their lives, and know their personality so you can provide productive feedback. Then, when you have tough conversations with them, they know you are serious, and that you’re telling them because you care about them.
To learn more about speaking the kind truth and how it can impact the culture at your fleet operation, listen to the full episode of “The Fleet Success Show” podcast.