Newsflash #1: Your team lies to you sometimes. Maybe a lot of the time.
Newsflash #2: It’s at least partly your fault.
Newsflash #3: If you deny the possibility of #2 above, you may as well stop reading now.
If you’re still reading, I’m going to assume (yes, I know what they say about assuming) that you’re at least tentatively OK with the above assumptions. So what are those reasons? Why do folks sometimes lie to their managers and/or executives? Why might they lie to you?
At least not really.
2. They feel like you’re always talking to them, not with them.
When you talk to your team rather than with them, it’s pretty clear to them that you’re not really all that interested in their feedback. So when you ask if they agree with what you’ve said to them, don’t be surprised when they all nod and smile. And further still, don’t for a moment believe that that means they’re actually agreeing with what you’ve said.
3. They’ve learned — somehow, some way — that being candid, especially with difficult truths, can lead to them (1) being the targets of your passive-aggressive behavior, (2) being labeled or (3) maybe even something worse.
People pick up on this crap really quickly. You may think your passive-aggressive nonsense is so subtle they won’t notice it. But you’d be wrong. You may think they don’t know they’ve been labeled. But they probably do. People are going to talk about the experiences they’ve had with you, and you can be sure that word will get around if people don’t feel like talking candidly with you is beneficial.
4. You say you’re “open to candid feedback,” and yet they can tell that you’d like to strangle the messenger who delivers the aforementioned candid feedback.
We’ve all got triggers, right? Things that really burn your bacon [or insert your preferred colloquialism for being annoyed here]. It’s important to have enough self-awareness to understand what sorts of things set you off. At the same time, just because someone presents information in such a way that you’d dump cayenne pepper in your eyes if you thought it’d make them stop talking; that doesn’t mean that the actual content of what they’re saying isn’t legit. And if people providing feedback get the sense that you’re considering the cayenne pepper, do you really feel like they’re going to tell you the hard truth?
5. They have reason to suspect you won’t do anything with the information you get.
This happens all the time with those organizational surveys. Some organizations do a great job with the info they get. They use it as just one of many ways they get feedback from their team, and they act on the information they receive. That, in turn, makes employees more apt to provide it. See how that works?
So what do we do? Well, we realize that if our teams feel compelled to be less than entirely forthcoming with us, we have an opportunity to build trust within the team. We must embrace humility, fight for greater self-awareness, and find ways to continue using our leadership as a vehicle to serve our teams.