Too often in business, people want to be nice, avoid conflict or not upset their boss or co-workers by stating their true opinions. But what that does is create problems for all involved.
You get frustrated that the business is not going in the direction you think is most logical. And your listener gets an opinion which he or she believes you truly support, but which is potentially the wrong direction for the business and not truly what you feel is the right thing to do. What's more, the listener himself (or herself) is now headed in the wrong direction.
In business, and particularly in startups where you cannot afford to waste time or resources heading down the wrong path, there is only one mandate to live by: Call it like you see it -- always -- regardless of your role or title.
A case study
I was recently at a client planning session. Before the meeting, the COO and CFO were confiding in me that they felt the CEO was heading in the wrong direction, and they wanted the business to make a material pivot to keep any further resources from going down a “snake hole.”
But, when the time came during the meeting for them to communicate that belief to their CEO, they held back from stating that opinion. Worse yet, they succumbed to the “my way or the highway” personality of the CEO, and actually said they agreed with the CEO’s direction (despite their true feelings to the contrary).
As a result, the team was getting burned out and losing confidence in their leader, and the CEO had no idea that employee dissatisfaction was monopolizing the talk around the water cooler, and that employees were looking for the exit door. What a mess!!
The end of the story is this: I have no problem stating my true opinion. So, I decided I would raise the topic with the CEO, on behalf of the COO and CFO, but with the message coming from me, not them.
And, guess what? The CEO didn’t lop off my head. He listened thoughtfully, and my comment stimulated a healthy conversation on how best to fix the business. Had I not been there to deliver the message, the business would still be staring over the edge of the abyss. This is not about kudos to me for saving the day; it's about the lack of kudos to the COO and CFO that lacked the strength to state their true opinions to their CEO, regardless of not wanting to upset him or trigger his explosive personality.
Guidance for managers
When you are managing a team of employees, you owe it to them to be honest. If you don’t clearly communicate that they are not doing a good job, they won’t know how to improve. If you don’t clearly communicate that you disagree with their ideas, you are losing out on an opportunity to help mentor them into your desired direction.
Guidance for employers
On the flip side, as an employee, it is not healthy to think one thing and say or do another. Your boss didn’t hire you to keep your good ideas to yourself, even if those ideas are in direct contradiction to the current beliefs of the team. You can’t be so worried about upsetting your boss (or worse yet, losing your job), that you hold back from putting your true opinion on the table. The best case is that your good ideas will resonate and be adopted. The worst case is that management will disagree with you, and you'll move on. And, if management continually shoots down your ideas, maybe that is a signal that this is not the right company for you (or vice versa).
Always be nice about it.
Nowhere in this post am I recommending that you be mean, rude or disrespectful when delivering your opinion. All I am saying is, always say what you truly are thinking, for maximum satisfaction and optimal business results for all.
Related: 10 Behaviors of Genuine People