Talk Straight


When was the last time you technically told the truth, but left a misleading impression?
Not every culture values straight talk. As a leader, it’s your judgment to understand your latitude. Straight talk can be delivered in respectful and honorable ways without ever diminishing someone’s reputation. The opposite of straight talk includes posturing, positioning, spinning, or technically telling the truth but leaving the wrong impression. Our ability to talk straight comes down to using clear, accurate, and simple language to ensure that what is said is what is heard and, perhaps most important, what is being heard is being understood.

Leaders who talk straight:

  • Call things by their right names using common, plain language.
  • Don’t spin or position for the sake of posturing.
  • Tell the truth in diplomatic yet clear language.
  • Don’t try to sound more intelligent than they are.
Leaders who talk straight leave their listeners clear about the intended message because there was nothing added to distract or confuse. No extra slides. No long effusive speeches. No multisyllable words to impress or intimidate. They don’t leave room for misinterpretation or guessing. They stay as far from spin as possible.


  • Think about where or with whom you tend to “spin” or even withhold the truth.
  • Identify possible reasons you are avoiding straight talk.
    • Do you talk differently with your leader than you do your peers?
    • Do certain types of colleagues somehow encourage or discourage your propensity to talk straight? Why?
  • Next time you notice yourself “spinning,” pause, then find a more accurate and tempered way to tell the whole truth.

Building a culture of trust starts with a shared vocabulary of simple, yet powerful phrases that leaders use to express gratitude, offer compassion, and provide support. Here are 10 phrases leaders use to build trust with team members.


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