Why BRUTAL honesty?

Have you heard someone ask if they can just be, “brutally honest” in offering their opinion? Or perhaps someone has asked you to “just be brutally honest with me”.

But why brutal? It seems so, well, brutal?

Why not ask unchecked, unedited or radical honesty? Or Radical Candor?  

“Brutal” invites quick judgement and harsh words. Brutal honesty might sound like, “Your demo presentation really sucked, and nobody could understand anything!” That’s one person’s brutal version of feedback.

But is that going to help someone?

Not likely. Judgements and inflammatory remarks do not help others receive feedback that might otherwise be very useful. A brutal message does not help the recipient know exactly what they are doing wrong or how they are irritating others; they’re not getting feedback they can act on.

Let’s be brutally honest, asking for “brutal honesty” is a stupid request.

It’s also not helpful.

The straight truth

OK, so we know that sometimes people are looking for the unfettered truth – and that can be refreshing. Especially if one works in an environment that is known for being nice, for hiding the truth, for going ‘round the houses, being shy and all in all delivering mushy messages. It’s certainly understandable that people would want something more potent, clear and real. Of course.

The purpose of feedback is to help someone understand their impact, so they can learn and improve, so they can become successful and masterful.

So let’s just get better at growing others by getting better at giving honest and real feedback in a way that can be received.

How can we be better at feedback?

The first step is to get out of our reactive brain mode. Here are reasons we’re not good at feedback:

A feedback giver:

  • Is afraid to hurt the other person
  • Isn’t clear what he/she is giving feedback about
  • Doesn’t know how to give feedback so becomes awkward
  • Has encountered many defensive recipients that now delivery has become overly careful.
  • Is angry and mostly ‘vents’ at the other person for their own satisfaction rather than serving the other person’s growth

One receiving feedback:

  • Is defensive
  • Won’t listen
  • Doesn’t respect the feedback giver
  • Feels like a failure or already is overcritical of self
  • Doesn’t have a growth mindset

So what is a better way?

  • Regularly offer positive feedback that is reinforcing useful behaviour, so that feedback isn’t always about “do it differently”.
  • Ensure that you manage your emotions so you can productively engage in the conversation
  • Use a behaviour-based feedback model, like the <COIN> model.
  • Ensure that the person you are talking to can engage in the conversation and sees it as an opportunity to develop.
  • Improve overall psychological safety in your culture so people feel safe.

Emotional intelligence is fundamental for healthy feedback. If the people on either side of a feedback conversation practise emotional regulation and understanding of the other person, the conversation will be much more productive.

If the receiver is not in a state to receive the information, recognise that feedback isn’t going to reach them and both of you will likely be better off not having the conversation – at least not in that moment. To learn more about this and how we can help, please contact us

Leadership Development

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