Imagine my delight when reading Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller Lean In and seeing the chapter titled, “Seek and Speak Your Truth.” I knew I liked her! The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re the COO of Facebook or the CEO of your household, the only way we can create the life we want is to get honest in our communication with ourselves and others.
Sheryl recounts an experience from her life that highlights the importance of honest communication. In 1995, after earning an MBA from Harvard, she was offered a job by her mentor and one-time professor Larry Summers, who had been appointed Secretary to the U.S. Treasury. Even though she wanted the position, Sheryl’s ex-husband was in D.C. The city “held too many painful memories,” so she chose to turn down the opportunity. When Larry pressed why, Sheryl almost said it was because she was determined to move to Los Angeles and try consulting. Instead, she decided to speak her truth.
When she reached out to Larry a year later and directly asked if the job was still available, she noted it was easy because she had been honest upfront. “If I had told Larry that I was passing on the job for professional reasons, I would have appeared impulsive when I reversed that decision.”
Speaking your truth, even for the most accomplished among us, isn’t necessarily easy. A few weeks back I was the morning keynote at a women’s leadership conference. Not only did I get to connect with some outstanding individuals, but I couldn’t believe that MJ Tocci was delivering a break-out session! She and Dr. Linda Babcock co-founded the Heinz College Negotiation Academy for Women at Carnegie Mellon University. If you’ve ever heard me deliver a program on negotiation, you’ve heard me quote research from the book Women Don’t Ask, which Linda Babcock co-wrote. I was thrilled to connect with MJ, a woman who teaches negotiation for a living. She graciously shared her own personal challenge with speaking her truth when negotiating with her cleaning lady.
“She’s been my cleaning lady for 15 years,” MJ said. “I love her – she’s a part of my family. However, she’s been having a difficult time getting up and down the stairs.” MJ knew she would have to have a conversation with her about continuing, although it would be both awkward and uncomfortable. Yet, she remembered what she teaches about negotiation. It’s really just creative problem solving. “We both have a problem and by not talking about that problem, we’re not making it any better.”
She opened the conversation with her cleaning lady with these words: “Peg, tell me what you want out of this relationship going forward. I’m noticing it’s getting harder and harder for you to get up and down my stairs. I care so much about you, I’m not firing you. I just want to know what works for you.”
“Let me come less,” Peg said, suggesting that MJ hire someone else to do certain tasks. “Here’s the stuff I’ll continue to do for you that only I can do, because I know you and your life. And I’ll continue to buy the supplies because you’ll forget to get them!”
By having the conversation, they figured out Peg’s highest use and her value. And she didn’t have to feel as if she was letting anyone down because she was unable to perform her job as she had previously.
Not only does speaking your truth with grace and tact require preparation, but more importantly – vulnerability. And most of us don’t like feeling exposed, raw and open to judgment, which is often why conversations that need to happen, don’t. But when we’re willing to stand in our truth, and speak up with grace, we set ourselves up for success.
Is there something you need to say? Speak Your Truth here, in the comments section.