A man stands with his back to the camera on a path in the forest. The path Vs off in front of him, indicating two different paths. Clear is Kind. Spark Solutions.

Clear is Kind – A New Path Forward

The researcher and author, Brene Brown, found in her research that senior business leaders say that we need braver leaders and more courageous cultures in order to be more effective and successful organizations. She found that the number one barrier to courage is avoiding tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. And so, she proposes the simple phase: Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind.

Clear is Kind

Most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves that we’re being kind, when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair. Not getting clear with a teammate about our expectations because it feels too hard (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable), yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind. Feeding people half-truths or avoiding it completely to make them feel better is unkind.

And so, Brene suggests that when we have to show up for a hard conversation, we can call it “a rumble.” It’s a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability. It’s a commitment to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back, when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.

Radical Candour

Brene Brown talks about kindness in honesty. So too does Kim Scott, who wrote the book, Radical Candour. In it, she discusses approaching communication with radical candour. Radical candour has two components: Caring personally and challenging directly.

Caring personally means that we must care about the other person more than we care about being liked. Challenging directly means we’re sharing our perspective and inviting the other person to do the same. It’s kind and helpful. We don’t mean getting overly personal or over-sharing to drive a point home, or assuming we’re right. It also doesn’t mean being brutally honest and saying whatever we think, even if it will hurt the other person’s feelings.

Psychological Safety

If we’re honest, kind, and vulnerable even if it makes us uncomfortable, we can create a sense of psychological safety within our own organizational teams. We will approach conflict as a collaborator, not as an adversary. We will ask how we can achieve a mutually desirable outcome. And, we will be curious and ask for feedback to illuminate our own blind spots. If we do this, we can expect to see higher levels of engagement, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance.

A New Path Forward

This all is a big ask and a tall order. It is stopping dead in our tracks. It’s planting ourselves where we are and looking around to survey the landscape. It is rejecting the normal path just because it’s “tradition” or it’s “how the sport has been ran”. It’s asking tough questions and facing hard truths. Committing to radical candour and being honest, even if it gets uncomfortable. It is daring to forage a new path, even though it’s nothing like we’ve ever known. And if we dare to do that something different, we may find ourselves in places we’ve only dreamed of. It would very well change the landscape of sport.

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