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From Brutal to Brilliant, Mastering Honesty and Integrity in Workplace Communication

Being honest seems easy, right? But if you’ve ever felt the brunt of someone making an insensitive remark and then excusing it with, “I’m just being honest,” you might think there’s a gray area of “semi-transparency” that’s warranted.

Let’s examine four related concepts—brutal honesty, radical candor, authenticity, and integrity—and how they are interconnected with communication effectiveness. We’ll also explore the best way to be honest.

A Common Workplace Scenario: Someone Let the Team Down

During a team meeting, project leader Katherine brought up concerns about the recent decline in the quality of project deliverables.

Luiz says, “I’ve noticed our project deliverables have not met our usual standards. I feel responsible because I’ve been struggling with some personal issues lately that have affected my focus. I want to be open with you all because I value our team’s success and believe in transparency.”

Feeling frustrated after going behind correcting Luiz’s errors, Drake interjects, “Honestly, I think if you can’t handle the pressure, you shouldn’t be on this project. We can’t afford to let personal issues drag down our performance.”

Seeing Luiz recoil, Katherine responds, “Luiz, I appreciate your honesty, and I’m here to support you. Let’s work together to find a way to manage the workload during this tough time. Maybe we can redistribute some tasks temporarily or find additional resources to help.”

Whew, excellent save, Katherine.

Understanding the Nuances of Being Honest

Let’s take a deep breath and unpack some terms that are getting airplay in today’s team conference rooms.

Authenticity is about being true to oneself and expressing one’s genuine thoughts and feelings in a way that aligns with personal values and beliefs. It’s about being honest and true to one’s character and integrity. In the workplace, people require psychological safety to be vulnerable, open, and authentic.

Kim Scott developed radical candor, which is about directly challenging and caring personally. It’s a balanced approach in which you provide clear and direct feedback but do so with empathy and a genuine concern for the person’s growth and well-being. Radical candor aims to be constructive, not destructive and is intended to support and improve professional relationships.

Then there’s Brutal Honesty.

Brutal honesty differs from authenticity and radical candor in its approach and impact on interpersonal relationships.

Brutal honesty is characterized by being direct and straightforward to the point of being blunt and insensitive. It prioritizes truth-telling without regard for the recipient’s feelings or the relationship. This approach can be hurtful and damaging, often lacking empathy and consideration.

In the someone-dropped-the-ball scenario above, score points for Katherine’s radical candor and Luiz’s authenticity. Give Drake one penalty for brutal honesty. Now, let’s invite one more term to the game: integrity.

Integrity at Honesty’s Core

Integrity is a foundational element that underpins both authenticity and radical candor. It involves the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. In the context of authenticity, integrity means aligning actions with a person’s values and beliefs, leading to consistency and trustworthiness.

Integrity is crucial when it comes to radical candor because it requires one to be honest and direct while also being respectful and empathetic. Radical candor is about having the courage to speak up but the compassion to do so thoughtfully, bearing in mind the intent of helping others grow and succeed.

In essence, integrity is the backbone supporting the practice of authenticity and radical candor in the workplace. It ensures that when someone is being authentic or practicing radical candor, they do so ethically, respectfully, and in the best interest of all parties involved.

Jumping Back into the Team Conference Room

Drake snaps back and realizes his remarks were not helpful. He apologizes to Luiz and then opens himself up, saying, “Maybe I’m the one feeling like I can’t handle the pressure. It was frustrating to find the mistakes so late in the process, and I understand how family pressures and personal issues can be derailing.”

Katherine gets the team back on track. “Thanks for sharing. We must let each other know where we stand to come together and find solutions.”

The Best Policy

Honesty scores points for the whole team when delivered in the right way.

Remember that brutal honesty can be seen as harsh and lacking in empathy, creating divisiveness instead of collaboration. Authenticity is about personal truthfulness and consistency, and radical candor is a blend of directness and compassion aimed at helping others succeed. Integrity is the fabric that supports your team in being honest in the best way.

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