If you're a business owner with talent you'd like to mold, should you be mean? And if so, how do you go about pulling no punches and telling it like it is without ruffling too many feathers or de-motivating the very folks you're trying to nurture? How to be brutally honest without being brutal is a rarely addressed question but one that every humane but driven business owner will probably confront.
Make the first move. The person who initiates the move toward greater candor and transparency has to give a preview of what it looks like. This does not mean launching into immediate criticisms but rather using intros like, "This is hard for me, and I'm a little worried about how this is going to go over, but because I care about the work we're doing, I want us to start having more meaningful conversations."
Invoke the larger vision. If a conversation starts to veer off course or get bogged down in messy details, nudge it back into line by invoking a larger shared goal: "We're having this conversation because we're devoted to delivering a world-class customer experience, and you and I are both integral to making that vision a reality."
Conclude with a promise. At the end of every candid conversation, it should be clear what the next steps are. Restate briefly what you're taking away from the conversation, and if there's any action item on your plate, restate your commitment to act and, if appropriate, include a rough date for when you hope to pick up the conversation. This maintains the relationship momentum and affirms that the contents of the conversation were important enough to warrant follow-up.
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel