Authenticity at Work

Chapter Seven in Lean In addresses authenticity in the workplace.  Sandberg believes honest conversations are critical for effective communications and she tells us why at times, it’s hard for employees to be honest.  Employees are intimidated by the traditional work hierarchy, fear of being labeled as negative or critical and so on.  Most people have encountered these feelings in their professional career at one point or another.  

Sandberg challenges us to be open to frank dialogue and feedback – easier said than done.  I remember the time a co-worker who I wasn’t particularly friendly with, asked for feedback.  Naively, I made a suggestion and quickly the conversation turned to my faults (as if I needed reminding).  I’ve witnessed snickering or overheard a derogatory comment when an individual has said something that strikes the crowd as unusual and I have seen the mark it leaves on a company culture.  It’s no wonder employees are shy about speaking up.  While Sandberg offers several tips for fostering open communication, two struck a chord with me.

The first tip is to solicit honest feedback in open forums.  Encouraging open discussion in a large group takes courage from both the leader and the individual speaking out.  As a leader, you never know what type of question will be tossed your way and whether it’s designed for shock value.  Conversely, it takes courage for an employee to speak openly, often in front of peers and other leaders.  I like to assume positive intent in a discussion.  In other words, people mean well and simply want to help by providing their feedback.  If you view the feedback through a lens of ‘positive intent’, you’ll be better equipped to handle the feedback and create a culture of openness.

Sandberg also suggests that a sense of humor helps improve communication.  This trait has served me well over the years. Using humor, as long as it is not at someone else’s expense (at least someone who can’t take it!) serves to put people at ease.  Humor also allows people to view you as a normal human being.  Too often, employees think leaders are super humans with whom they couldn’t possibly have anything in common.  Humor can create that personal connection which makes a difference.  When I am having a particularly bad day, I find something in my behavior that is humorous and share it with others.  These statements let team members know that you too are an imperfect human, and it goes a long way in building communications and camaraderie.

I’d enjoy learning how you encourage authentic, open communication in the workplace.  Please share your stories.

Speak loudly, step boldly!

(Photo used under Creative Commons license from jyri)August 29th, 2013 1:10pm Sheryl Sandberg lean in women in leadership Beth Bierbower