The Kaleidoscope Group discusses how to share with respectful truth, rather than brutal honesty

Giving and Receiving Feedback: Brutal Honesty vs Respectful Truth

Over the last few years there’s been a growing trend in leadership, from our national political leaders to Silicon Valley to Wall Street. “I can say what I mean and mean what I say and the let the chips fall where they may.” For some this “honesty” has seemed refreshing while others find this approach alienating, especially when “truth” is confused with bluster.

For inclusive teams to operate with high performance, how we give and receive feedback is important – and for you, the CEO, the Senior VP, the Director – letting the chips fall where they may is simply not adequate. With teams, departments and organizations to run, you need to make sure that “chips” land in the organization’s coffers. Depressed employee engagement… high employee turnover… lawsuits… There are a number of ways in which organizations can and do pay for moments of “keeping it real,” when they would have been better served by what we at The Kaleidoscope Group call “Real Talk.”

Giving and Receiving Feedback

When faced with challenging issues and topics, we often accept that there is a binary choice:

  1. Conceal Your Truth

    “I won’t say anything, because I don’t want to offend anyone.” While, on its face, this “go along to get along” strategy seems to promote harmony, we’ve all seen how it can foster resentment and discord. There’s the “meeting after the meeting” where factions vent on the topic, advancing no solution, and adding ZERO value to the organization. There’s more Facebook than face time as people avoid real interaction… and that’s just among employees retained. How much does it cost to find, hire, and train replacements for those people who simply walk out the door, taking the organization’s investment with them out the door? Concealing your truth may promote short-term peace, but it does not promote long-term success.

  1. Share Your Truth… Brutally

    “I’m just telling the truth!” It’s not hard to think of all the ways in which this approach can go wrong. As a veteran Labor & Employee attorney shared, “These cases [employees suing employers] are almost always about hurt feelings. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong, feelings are hurt and, now, they want the company to hurt.” Brutal honesty may generate lots of headlines, but when we are dealing with our colleagues and direct reports, making a splash isn’t nearly as valuable as making a difference… is it?

If effective communication is your goal, then the optimal approach resides on the continuum between these two extremes: Respectful Truth.

Communicate with Respectful Truth

When you communicate from a place of Respectful Truth, you:

  1. Consider the recipient
  2. Consider the impact on the recipient
  3. Honestly share

The old saying goes: It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. Well, as it turns out, that is true within organizations. Now, it may be easy enough for you to understand and even model Respectful Truth when dealing with a simple question like: Is Phil’s tie ugly? (Note: Yes. Yes, it is. And that mustard stain is not helping.) However, the true challenge is sharing Respectful Truth when the topic is challenging, when we are convicted, whether regarding a business matter or a social issue.

You may, quite logically, be thinking, “So, am I supposed to compromise my beliefs to spare other people’s feelings?” The answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT!

To operate from a place of Respectful Truth is to respect all interested parties:

  1. Yourself: By sharing your truth, your views, your beliefs, you
  2. Others: By considering the recipient and the impact on them, you make it less likely that your approach will inspire defensiveness as opposed to collaboration. You actually make it more likely that your point is truly heard, serving it up on a platter instead of using it to bludgeon your colleagues.
  3. The organization: The hurt feelings… The lawsuits… The revolving door… The inferior solutions… They all impact the bottom line. Organizations can not afford to squander (human) resources through ineffective communication any more than they can afford to squander resources otherwise.

While you’re developing the organizational maturity to foster the highest levels of communication and performance, enjoy watching your competitors “let the chips fall where they may.” You’ll be smart enough to know it’s happening… and can pick those chips up and add them to your coffers, too.

A key to success in our current business world is the ability to connect to business … where we all win or lose together.


Orlando Bishop serves as the Vice President, Marketing Content, focused primarily on telling the KG story. Through articles, videos, webcasts, and more, he works with the marketing team to bring the power of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) to light and to life for everyone from individual contributors to the C-Suite. Orlando doesn’t just tell the story; he lives it,  working with prospective and current clients to assess the state of their organization, identify the role D&I in current outcomes, and collaboratively design engagements that leverage D&I to optimize business outcomes.