As a busy entrepreneur, you'll quickly find that, as responsibilities grow, you simply can't sugar coat. Ain't nobody got time for that. (Goodness knows I personally don't.) Yet, is there anything to gain from cutting the fluff and being more direct? Can you do that without coming across like a jerk?
The Dutch emphatically would say yes. Mayke Nagtegaal, COO of MessageBird, says the idea is embodied in "bespreekbaarheid." While the word doesn't really have a great English translation, it essentially means that what you think and believe should be up for discussion, and that you should bring them to the table for feedback.
And Nagtegaal is very clear about how getting to the point can improve your leadership and business.
- Stronger connections with others. "When you cut to the chase and shoot straight," says Nagtegaal, "it's easier to connect with people in an authentic way, especially in this age of 'likes' and 'followers.' Being direct lets you keep it real, which lets you forge real relationships. [...And] in my experience, when you're direct, there's a greater likelihood that others will be open and honest with you."
- Time saving. "For me, directness is productive because you deal with challenges head on."
- Mindset shifts. "When you're open to giving and receiving honest feedback, you're able to change your perspective about yourself and those around you."
- Less stress. "Ambiguity can oftentimes breed anxiety. Not knowing is more anxiety producing than knowing. Holding back the truth breeds fear and concern, whereas trust is based on honest communication."
- Independent execution toward a clear vision. "As leaders, our goal is to build high-functioning teams that can execute against our goals independently. That means that our ultimate job as leaders is to set the vision and enable the team to run toward it. Leaders often unknowingly insert themselves as blockers by not giving honest and timely feedback that enables a team to grow and develop."
- Greater buy-in from the very beginning. "When you allow people to ask questions, offer opinions, and poke holes into projects in the beginning, there's no finger-pointing later on. As a leader, you want employees to raise a hand when they spot an issue. You want to foster a workforce that feels empowered to make their case early, so they won't allow something to go wrong if they see it coming in advance."
But wait, wait, wait. Let's hold our britches for a second. How can bespreekbaarheid work when politically-correct watchdogs are waiting to chase us after every sentence? Won't we get into hot water?
Bespreekbaarheid isn't a license for rudeness or to not think through your communication. It doesn't give you permission, for example, to tell your cubemate they stink like cheese. Neither does it absolve you from the consequences of what comes out of your mouth. It's all in the delivery. As long as you're giving your truthful message in a kind way, bluntness shouldn't be a problem.
"Unabashed honesty doesn't have to be brutal honesty," Nagtegaal says. "To me, challenging someone directly and offering candid feedback doesn't come at the expense of common decency or caring about another person's feelings. It boils down to productivity and respect. You respect people enough to be honest with them."
"It's tempting to tell an employee something like, 'You're so unfocused and scattered,'" Nagtegaal adds. "The problem is, saying something like that is pointed, personal, and also too vague for the person to take concrete action toward remedying. Instead, use actionable language like 'I've noticed you're having trouble with time management and prioritizing tasks. Let's discuss priorities.' It's succinct, to the point, and, most importantly, prescriptive."
In other words, it's OK to let go of the idea that people are too fragile to take criticism. They most certainly can. They just need to know that your intentions are good, and to be treated as though you, as their ever-steady advocate, see the full value of their worth. Make that clear and they'll have the internal balance they need to work strong and long for you with confidence and zero regret.