Cultivate Adult-to-Adult Relationships: Valuing Real Understanding
Continuing with the values that shape our organizational culture here at Box of Crayons is one that starts with courage, draws on empathy and uses candor. It frames our behaviour with each other, and allows us to have meaningful, productive conversations and collaborative teams without false unity. We can only work in concert with one another if we’re committed to the difficult work of clear and honest communication.
Today we’re exploring our fourth value:
CULTIVATE ADULT-TO-ADULT RELATIONSHIPS
Take courage and challenge directly. Clarify and communicate expectations up front. Follow through.
Real understanding even over presumed harmony.
In the blog below, Dr. Chantal Thorn reflects on how this value has shown up in her personal life.
Why do we struggle to be honest in tough conversations?
I had just started working with a new coaching client. Part of her goal was to see herself as others see her in order to best capitalize on her strengths and be aware of and minimize the impact of her weaknesses. In order to do this, we surveyed a wide variety of people in her life — 20 to be exact.
One of the questions we asked was “the weakness question”, which asks of the feedback provider what kind of behaviours they’ve witnessed when the person receiving the coaching was at their worst or struggling.
As the surveys started coming in, I was dumbfounded by the number of times that question came back blank or with “I’ve never seen this person struggle. She is always the epitome of professionalism.”
Ok, sure. I knew there could be issues of trust and comfort level in revealing this information to me — a stranger — despite the numerous promises of confidentiality and anonymity along with a guarantee of professional conduct. Or, it could be that, despite the fact that my client was asked to pick people who would obviously be able to answer our questions, the feedback providers had honestly never seen my client struggle. But barring any of those factors, these were not reasonable answers.
There is NO human being alive who has “never struggled”.
It struck me how incredibly bad we are at being honest with the tough stuff, even when someone is explicitly asking for it.
You suck sometimes. You know that, right? There are things that you’re not good at or mistakes you’ve made. You say and do things that annoy some people. Some people dislike you. People talk behind your back. There. I said it. But you already knew that, right? (Please tell me you already knew this!) This can’t possibly be a surprise or a shock in any way.
Why on earth are we willing to be completely dishonest when someone — even anonymously — asks us to tell it to them straight?
I didn’t want the people I was coaching to ask about their weaknesses so that we could create some big plan to rid themselves of them. That’s a waste of time (as far as I’m concerned). I want to know about their weaknesses so that we can best capitalize on their strengths in order to minimize them. I want to know about their weaknesses so that we can — when it makes sense — surround that person with support and a circle of friends and colleagues who can “fill in the gaps” around those weaknesses.
The discomfort that comes from hearing about our weaknesses is humbling, meaningful, door-opening, insightful, empathy-building and freeing. Take a deep breath … swallow some pride, if necessary … and ask someone you trust what behaviours they observe in you when you struggle or when they see you at your worst.
LISTEN and do not defend or explain.
Thank the person for their willingness to be honest.
- In what way could you turn your greatest weakness into an asset?
- What strengths do you have that could minimize that weakness?
- Who is truly candid with you that you could turn to for feedback?
Dr. Chantal Thorn
Director, Program Development
You can have empathy and respect for another person and still approach them with candor.
As Chantal’s reflection demonstrates, it benefits no one to gloss over weaknesses. For the successful cultivation of adult-to-adult relationships, on the one hand, you need to care enough to have the courage to challenge directly, communicate expectations and follow through on them. And on the other hand, you have to assume positive intent and engage in a humble inquiry of your own behaviour.
This will lead to more open and honest teams. Real understanding versus perceived harmony. Growth instead of stagnation: of the self, the other, the team and the organization. It’s not easy work! But we here at Box of Crayons think it’s worth the effort.