Ever wonder why it’s hard to trust politicians? One big reason is they add spin to situations. They tend to be forever on the campaign trail and want to tell you what they believe you want to hear. They will dazzle with their skills in oration, ultimately, saying very little. President Abraham Lincoln may be one of the few exceptions. He was often described as being “plainspoken,” which is another way of saying he talked straight. While some people disagreed with him, no one saw him as being duplicitous.
Usually you can tell when someone is not being straight with you. One way is to read the facial expression of others. I have a co-worker who is good at noticing when what I am saying is not congruent with my body language, and has pointed it out to me on numerous occasions. Many times, I am saying one thing but my face must be conveying something else. He will invariably say, “You are giving me that look, so I know there is something you are not saying.” It’s a good sign I am not talking straight. I am hedging my opinions instead of being verbally transparent.
Like so many things, straight talk can be taken too far. I have known people who, in the name of honesty, justified cruel, brutal communication. Either they didn’t realize the harmful impact the approach was having on others and trust, or they recognized it and did it anyway. In these cases, straight talk became an extreme weakness that decreased trust.
While straight talk is vital to establishing trust, in most situations, it needs to be tempered by skill, tact, and good judgment. This point was made clear to me when I was standing in a grocery store line and one of my young children loudly said, “That lady is fat!” I am sure she heard him although she ignored it. Unfortunately, that was straight talk, but it was not tempered by tact or consideration whatsoever!
When you blend courage with an agenda that mutually benefits those involved, and have the ability to address situations directly with a focus on building trust, you have the skill to talk straight in a way that significantly increases trust.
Steven Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, summarizes straight talk in this way.
• Be honest
• Tell the truth
• Let people know where you stand
• Use simple language
• Call things what they are
• Demonstrate integrity
• Don’t manipulate people or distort facts
• Don’t spin the truth
• Don’t leave false impressions
I say skip the spin, and strive for straight talk.