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Those who speak frankly get the best results

We often read that managers should be particularly empathetic. Of course, in addition to many other exorbitant qualities that they should have in theory and ideally also in practice. However, if we reflect honestly and have already been active as a “leader” ourselves, some of these must-haves of a perfect manager are useless or at least impractical in the long term. Others, on the other hand, have already proven themselves in practice, even if they are not necessarily the most popular. Bosses are “just” people too

Managers and entrepreneurs are also people.

With everything that goes with that. Surprise, surprise! This is far too rarely taken into account in all these theories and text theses. And their employees forget it every now and then. Therefore, in my view, the first useful emergency measure for every manager is to free themselves from all these demands and concentrate again on our actual core task: good results and economic success. Of course, we won’t achieve this if employees are stubborn, insulted, annoyed or unmotivated – that goes without saying. I don’t want to write an anti-empathy article here, but I do want to clear up a misunderstanding of empathy. A healthy performance culture does not mean ignoring all feelings and emotional circumstances, but rather finding a good, healthy and, above all, common basis for social and interactive interaction with one another. Because one thing is also obvious: there is both cooperation and dependence between the company’s results, the managers responsible for them and everyone who works in the company. The status of this interaction determines the economic success of the company, the satisfaction of all those involved and the long-term innovation and creative competence of organizations that we need in order to be able to survive in the future.

This natural context means that in leading positions with “human capital” it is certainly a relevant factor to understand what feelings my counterpart is currently experiencing. If only to understand my employee as a whole person, rather than as a mere agent. Even today, something still needs to be done to counteract this old misconception, but that will have to happen in another article. We have to take people seriously

What usually goes hand in hand with the demand for empathy, however, is, in my view, an outdated and no longer contemporary idea that we as managers should take everything possible into consideration and treat our people with kid gloves, thereby suggesting emotional closeness and affection. I am convinced of the opposite: we need managers more urgently than ever who take specialists and employees seriously. Who show themselves as people within their role and task and cultivate a genuine, substantive and interpersonal exchange and dialogue. We humans want clarity and to be spoken to frankly. Nicely worded beating around the bush blurs clear statements. Growth is not possible this way, nor is a sustainable relationship

Communication is the strongest, if not the only, means of motivating others
Only those who communicate clearly and openly with their team have a chance of releasing the energy and dynamics of action necessary for success. Communication is still the strongest, if not the only really functioning, means available to managers to motivate their team. As it says in the Gospel of John, Chapter 1; 1. …In the beginning was the Word… Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing that came into being was. Therefore, we must be aware of our language and approach and should always use the power of the spoken word in a targeted and special way.

We must learn to use simple language again, not to hide behind academic word monsters or new German Denglisch. Not to mention business and management blabber worthy of Bullshit Bingo. Where there’s sawing, there’s shavings: If we approach the people around us with authentic directness and friendly emotions, we can show our own displeasure in a way that is visible to the outside world and can also make it more concrete by “speaking frankly”. However, there are three commandments to be observed, to stay with the biblical language:

Praise can be counterproductive if done incorrectly. This doesn’t just apply to the team, but also to children: If you constantly praise out of the blue, without any substantive content, at some point no one will take you seriously anymore.

Every compliment must always be addressed specifically and linked to a result. The same applies to criticism: emotionally punishing misconduct has nothing to do with leadership. When you give feedback, always state exactly what didn’t work for you and say what you would like to do differently. Ideally, you have even made the effort to develop your own ideas with which you can condense the conversation in a solution-oriented manner. Whether it is praise or criticism: it is important to consistently separate respect for the person from the objective assessment of a task or matter. If it can be avoided, do not attack the other person personally and it is best to always stick to evaluating work results or working methods. I know from my own experience that it is not always easy, but the now very well-known and established attitude in business from transactional analysis according to the American psychologist Eric Berne “I’m OK – you’re OK” is the safest guarantee for professional interaction. Now comes the spice in the soup, which makes speaking frankly a powerful tool in the first place. So I’ll tell you my secret recipe, which has worked for all the managers and companies I’ve worked with to date. And I can reveal that they all still talk to me today, even though I’m the biggest advocate and practitioner of speaking frankly myself. The recipe consists of clear sentences that correspond to what you really think and mean, so in short:

“You say what you think! Don’t put a filter between an honest statement and a spoken statement. The only condensing factor is self-reflection and checking your choice of words, which should be formulated as far as possible in such a way that they take commandments one to three into account.”

Your personal emotions can certainly be recognizable and perceptible. According to Friedemann Schulz von Thun’s communication model, self-revelation is always an important part of our perception. Ultimately, with everything we say, we say something about ourselves. And that’s OK. Why shouldn’t the other person notice that we don’t agree or are even angry about the matter, the result or the mistake? We should be clear about it. We can’t hide it anyway. We should just remain objective here, for example: “I’m not happy with the work and would like to do things differently next time…”

People appreciate clarity, even if it hurts at the time.

Clarity is an expression of love. Even if this “executive love”, as we call it at ATES, sometimes hurts, it is an expression of appreciation. I don’t care about the other person, I don’t care whether they can grow. Such “tough love” can sometimes only be seen as valuable by the recipient later. It is important that the self-revelation on your part does not contain a massive appeal or imperative, nor should the statements and tone endanger what is hopefully still an intact and healthy relationship level. I’ll remind you of commandment number three once again

Anyone who really sticks to the three commandments consistently can suddenly communicate things that previously seemed impossible. Sometimes I’m still shocked today by what my entire team and my customers can accept – and without batting an eyelid. However, we also have to allow them to speak frankly, as long as they stick to the matter. And believe me, we can’t expect empathy, but we can expect love, even if it comes across as tough.

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