Earlier this week, I participated in a meeting with the CEO of a very well regarded large company to discuss ways our two companies might partner.
After sharing visions and perspectives on the future, it was time to get down to figure out how our companies might work together.
So I suggested we begin by addressing “the turd on the table”, which was the fact that on the fringes we were competitors and both of us saw the same path to growth which could make us bigger competitors in the future. Was this a “lets learn about the potential competitor meeting” or a “lets find a way to partner so we can both grow recognizing the potential of friction meeting”?
The CEO said, “I am so glad you brought up what I was thinking about but you brought it up so “elegantly” ”
We had a very positive meeting and dinner for the next few hours since the CEO and his team and our team addressed “the turd on the table” and because of this our conversations moving forward were “bull shit “free!
Many years ago a boss of mine identified leadership as the ability to understand, face, adapt and align with reality.
Too often, particularly in meetings, we hide reality within layers of protocol, diplomacy, and dazzling multi-media shows. We are so afraid of the truth breaking out that we hold meetings to prepare meetings to get ready for a meeting.
Time passes. Opportunities come and go. The world spins.
And all the while instead of addressing the “turd on the table”, we talk about being sensitive, being politically correct and we all think we are in some psychological thriller or dramatic play where every move and word can make the difference. Meetings are thick with intrigue, back room dramas, meaningful silences, and side bar “bathroom break”conversations.
The joke is on all the participants because everybody knows what needs to be addressed. We all know what is the” turd on the table” and after the meetings we speak about how no one went near it.
So instead I suggest calling out the turd.
Call it out. Shine a bright light on it. Place it on a pedestal. Address the damn thing !
Here are some suggestions for you to become a “turd slayer”, even though you may have been have been indoctrinated not to do much of this advice.
a) Say what you think. In business we care what is between your ears. If you cannot say what you think (hey if its wrong you will be told so, in fact even if you are right you will be told you are wrong….). Truth eventually has a habit of breaking in. Why not open the door and save time and damage ?
b) Assume the person you are trying to be diplomatic to about an issue knows what the issue is. If you bring it up you will be more respected by them. If they did not know, you will earn an ally.
c) Do not go with the crowd if your instinct says no. Often group and crowd dynamics take over in much decision making. People think about what their boss wants to hear rather than what they should say. People worry about the impact of their career rather than what is right. Sooner or later too many people are dodging their own shadow and playing mind games that lead to slow and bad decisions.
d) Do not work for a boss who you cannot bear the truth or whom you fear. We are living in a time of change and most of the time senior folks need to be told that their core beliefs may no longer be true. I have seen too many companies from newspaper to magazines to many other companies hasten their decline because their leadership did not face reality, in part because their staff was scared of them.
e) Tell all the truth but tell it slant: Once you have decided to address the turd on the table, you might want to do so in a way so the message gets through. Ideally it is in a way that does not make the person receiving the news “lose face” so much of this is best done person to person. In other times some humility, self awareness, metaphors or humor will be called for. Emily Dickinson says it best in her poem, too much of shock and you will have blinded someone to the turd!
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -- Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth's superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind --
So lets address the “turd on the table” wherever it might be.
For instance this post might be a turd in itself.
We would then call it a “meta-turd”