6 tips to have an honest conversation with your learners

by L&D18 Apr 2016
Engaging in honest conversations is important if L&D professionals are to have any real influence on the way employees develop, according to Karen Gately, HR and people management specialist and author of the book, The People Manager’s Toolkit.  
Gately added that while telling the truth provides the opportunity for people to understand and take ownership of their performance, if not delivered well it won’t work.
“While the truth matters so too does nurturing the spirit and confidence of the individual we are trying to help,” she said. 
“Brutal honesty on its own can be destructive or inspire defensiveness.”
Gately offered six tips to engaging in honest conversations.
  1. Act with good intent
Aim to enable people to improve, grow and ultimately thrive in their careers. Focus on your obligation to tell it how it really is. Remember, everyone deserves to know the truth about how they can and need to improve. Those of us responsible for developing and leading people have a duty to share it.
  1. Engage in dialogue
Conversations are a two way street. It’s not enough to tell people what you have observed or think about their behaviour or performance.Invite people to share their own views about what they are able to do well and what they can or should do differently. Listen also to how they believe you and your organisation can better enable them to thrive at work.
  1. Get over yourself
People managers have a responsibility to overcome fears or barriers standing in the way of honest conversations. It is a matter of integrity that you do the job you signed up for and get past the hesitations that hold you back from speaking and hearing the truth through honest conversation.
  1. Leverage and nurture trust
The trust and respect people feel toward us has a profound impact on the extent to which they willingly engage in honest conversations. Earn and nurture trust by behaving fairly and with compassion. Avoid personal judgments or criticisms and focus instead on events, behaviours or capabilities.
  1. Be direct
Be straight with people and avoid the common mistake of softening your message. Doing so undermines clarity and is most likely to lead to confusion. Don’t rob people of the opportunity to understand the full extent of the truth. The truth is a gift of opportunity we give people to understand reality and do something about it.
  1. Be specific
Vague criticisms of someone’s approach or performance do little to help them understand what needs to improve and how they can go about that. Help people to understand the specific behaviours or capabilities they need to develop.Provide examples that allow people to understand your feedback.
Gately added that enabling people to grow and thrive demands a ‘hands on’ approach to coaching them. 
“At the heart of effective coaching are honest conversations,” she said. 
“Don’t wait for things to go wrong before talking about issues or learning opportunities you see.
“Make open and truthful interactions with your team a part of the way things are typically done.” 
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