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We Need Straight Talk More than Ever

During the COVID-19 crisis, it’s tempting to minimize what’s happening in our country and around the globe. People are worried and for good reason – we’re in uncharted waters. We’re uncomfortable admitting there’s much we don’t know and naturally want to stay positive, and so we tend to put a positive spin on things to keep our spirits up.

Regardless of our intent, we hurt people when we downplay the facts. We risk leaving them ill-prepared for adversity. But just as important, we sow the seeds for mistrust.

One study I looked at found that over 70% of employees don’t trust leadership to tell the truth. The most common reason? The feeling that they are sugarcoating the facts.

Of course, staying positive is important. However, a positive attitude does not mean putting on rose-colored glasses and ignoring reality. That’s the definition of delusion and only leads to mistrust.

To have a positive attitude is just the opposite. It means we face bad news head-on but remain optimistic we’ll find a way through/over/around the current challenge, regardless of what that challenge may be. To quote Admiral James Stockdale, it means to “face the brutal facts but never give up hope.”

Leaders committed to building high-trust teams understand this and don’t shy away from straight talk. Not only do they model the way, but they hold others accountable to do the same. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

  • I confront the facts as they are, not as I want them to be

  • I am honest about what I DO and DON’T know

  • I engage others in “straight talk” about the brutal facts (and encourage them to do the same)

  • I take 100% responsibility for how I’m going to respond to those facts

  • I stay positive, never giving up hope

  • I focus on solutions that will move us forward

On a personal note, our assistant pastor was recently hospitalized with the Coronavirus. Tim and his wife Kathe sat near us every Sunday and made a lasting impression on my kids. If you ever met Tim and heard his booming voice, you’d understand why. Almost every day my daughter asked me how Pastor Tim was doing. On most days, I had to reluctantly admit I didn’t know. Tim passed away the other night, and it was with a heavy heart that my wife and I sat our kids down to tell them what happened.

I’ve had to get very comfortable with admitting there’s much I don’t know about the current crisis. It’s uncomfortable to admit because it makes me feel powerless, but I’m quickly learning there’s no truth in that. The truth is those simple words hold great power when it comes to building trust with the people we love most.

Adversity has a way of simultaneously shaping and revealing our character – who we really are. The current crisis is no exception. The people around us will long remember how we responded, including whether we were honest.


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