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4 Ways to Be Brutally Honest Without Being Brutal

Tell it straight, while also keeping your relationships intact. Author Keith Ferrazzi has tips.

A mean mentor who challenges you, pundit Jodi Glickman recently argued, beats a kind and supportive one who lets you get away with doing less than your best. That's a solid bit of wisdom for those at the start of the entrepreneurial careers, but what if you yourself are the mentor?

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.

Helpfully, business relationship guru and author of Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi, just took to his blog to offer tips to help you avoid not only whitewashing less-than-stellar news or reviews of people's work, but also damaging your relationships. The long post offers ten tips to help you be frank but keep your key relationships intact, all of which are worth a read, but here are a few of the least expected:

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."

Coach through questions. Research has found that ideas are often sparked by asking the right questions. A semi-structured approach works better for promoting innovation than unrestricted brainstorming. In short: the more thought and care put into your questions, the greater the value of the answers you'll elicit.

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.

Check out the rest of the post if you want more ideas, or share you experiences.

When you're on the receiving side of a tough conversation, what sort of approach do your appreciate?

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Last updated: May 4, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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