Jack Nicholson’s famous line in A Few Good Men is one of my all time favorites. His stern faced shout out in the movie comes to mind more frequently than I would like to admit in my role as an executive coach. The task of telling the hard facts to someone who needs to have some brutal honesty (not according to me, but according to their colleagues) can be delicate to say the least.
Time and again I find leaders and managers spend a lot of time maneuvering themselves around a difficult topic involving their coworkers, direct reports, and especially their bosses. Regardless how much training people have in dealing with conflict, the majority still do a lot of fancy sidestepping in order to avoid it. Let’s face it–conflict is just not fun.
Can YOU handle the truth? Believe me, your co-workers have an opinion! So, ask yourself:
- Has anyone told you that you are difficult or maybe even scary to give feedback to?
- Do you often think about how right you are and how wrong others are?
- Are you angered or hurt by opinions or information that you don’t agree with?
- Do you get defensive when others offer you advice?
- Do you dismiss or minimize the value of others perspectives?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you may be one of those who can’t see when they are perceived as too aggressive and intimidating, or too weak and fragile. People who are driven by inner aggression towards other people are usually blind to their patterns of frustrating and negative impact on other people around them. People perceived as too weak and fragile miss out on the power of constructive criticism. Sometimes they prove quite visibly to their coworkers that they just ‘can’t handle the truth’. And when they do hear it, they pretend they already knew it, so no loss of face at all in THEIR minds.
In my world of coaching, being a bridge for getting the hard discussions out on the table, the skill and ability and willingness to ‘handle’ it is highly prized. I’ve found almost 100% of the time that leaders of all ages and backgrounds have to ‘learn’ how to even do it at all. But those who learn how to catch the hard ball are going to rise to the top much more quickly. Why? Because they do not rest on what they already know, they grow by not only listening to constructive feedback, but really taking it to heart. They hear what the message means, not just listen to the words being said.
The next time someone shares some pointers on how you can be better, thank them. People who are brave enough to tell you when you are being the problem or making a problem even worse, are actually helping you. If they don’t care about your success, they can simply just keep silent and let you make a spectacle of yourself. People who are not open to growing through constructive feedback may find themselves walking out on that limb alone, and have few to no one who is willing to have their back.
Don’t be someone who others want to say, “You can’t handle the Truth!” Be open to it, and show some gratitude, however painful it might be in the moment. Showing an ability and willingness to grow is one of the most highly prized characteristics of a leader, no matter what age we are. The earlier in our careers we learn to do it the better we will be in the future and the best at it usually get put on the fast track to leadership responsibility.
Be the one who says “Please tell me, I can handle the truth”.