Communicate to Captivate: How to Talk Truth to Power

truth to power

This month is dedicated to communication, to telling the truth without spilling your guts, or for some, letting go of the truth festering inside because of the fear of retribution, and getting past the upset.  

There is a better way… 

Based on so many calls and emails I have gotten in the past few months, while communication is at the heart of how we behave with each other, the willingness to talk truth to those who you see as powerful often leads to excuses rather than action. Or it finally boils over and you end up regretting what you have said. 

Stop for a moment and answer the following questions. 

What words come to mind when you think about having a difficult conversation with your boss, your business partner, your chairman, or even your life partner? 

When I ask teams I coach, the words that pour forth are “Scary, nerve-wracking, tense, nauseating, fearful?” 

Now, think of yourself as an eleven-year-old. What words come to mind when your parents sat down with you for a difficult conversation? I bet the same words apply. 

Why is it scary to tell the truth, especially to power? 

When you were a kid, you risked being punished. And at work, there is always the fear of being fired. 

We did a survey of 1700 corporate executives and employees. The base question was “What makes a good boss and a good employee?” 

One of the most important responses from over 80% said that a boss needs to ask for feedback from employees. And that same number said that employees need to be trained in how to give feedback to a boss. 

The comments about giving the feedback were, you guessed it, that is was scary, nerve-wracking, tense, nauseating, and fearful. 

We know that organizations that encourage open communication and honest feedback enrich relationships and build trust, yet, that’s not always the case. Part of the reason so many would rather lie on a bed of nails than tell a boss what they really think is there hasn’t been much training about how to have these complicated discussions. 

Here are the basics for talking truth to power. And, may I suggest, don’t wait. The delay could make what you want to say outlive its usefulness. 

  • Be specific: “I need to discuss getting an assistant by next month.” Rather than, “I’m overwhelmed with the workload.” 
  • Be Detailed: “I have several reports you expect (name them) and without some additional help, I won’t be able to fulfill your request. Rather than “I  don’t want my work to be late and not detailed enough for you.” 
  • Be factual: I did already tell you (name times) I would need some help, however, I don’t think I was clear and forceful enough.” Rather than, “I always say yes and then I realize there is too much on my plate and even when I work nights and weekends, it still isn’t getting done.” 
  • Be immediate: “I need a commitment from you to get some help so we don’t end up angry with each other.” Rather than “I hope you will do the right thing and get back to me.” 

When you frame your words with the 4 Be’s above, you eliminate lots of judgment, blame, and attack that would deter a positive outcome.  

This takes practice. You can talk with a friend or coach before you have the truth to power talk. They get easier as you keep doing them and they save time and hurt feelings.  

Want more about communication and power?

I would love to offer you a FREE copy of my book “79 Power Sentences.” Find out the one word that changes minds quickly.


Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options