Tell me I have spinach in my teeth

Would you tell me I have spinach in my teeth? A spider in my hair? If you knew I was about to engage in a business deal with an unscrupulous vendor, would you tip me off? If you cared about me you certainly would! Then why do so many people struggle to be forthright with business colleagues and employees about things they should tell them, but don’t?
Giving honest information and feedback is a continuous struggle for many, and it doesn’t seem to get easier once you reach the executive suite. In fact sometimes it’s more difficult, since the information can be so politically charged.
Let’s examine some scenarios and ask yourself, “Would I tell the person?”
Your peer has been sounding increasingly frustrated. She is top performer and well regarded in the organization. But, as of late, she complains about her boss, who is slow to adopt new ideas. She has also gotten much more critical about the corporate culture, she describes as “prehistoric.” She has been trying to get the company to adopt a new project but has been stymied. At lunch she launches into another diatribe about her boss. Do you say anything?
Venom has a way of leaking out, even when the person thinks she is being discrete about whom she vents to. Eye rolls, tone of voice, or a grimace give us away subconsciously. Eventually, if frustration builds, she will do or say something that can come back to bite her. She may trust the wrong person with a negative comment that gets back to the wrong person. So, tell her how she sounds—in a caring way. “Jackie, you really sound bitter. I know you are frustrated but I think you are at risk of saying or doing something that could come back to hurt you.” That is likely to stop her in tracks and make her realize how her frustration could hurt her reputation. Hopefully, it will be a wakeup call and she will find a ‘work around’ that channels her energy in a positive way.
Your employee is smart and dedicated and wants to get ahead. But he is so abrupt and arrogant, he has alienated many of his peers. Some of his peers have even told you they don’t want to work with him on future projects because he is such a “know-it-all.” His background and skills make him an asset to the organization, so you are reluctant to ‘ding’ him on his performance reviews/salary increases, because the company values what he brings. But how he works with others causes negative noise in the organization.
It’s your job to tell him. If his attitude has upset colleagues so much that they won’t work with him, his career is in trouble. It’s only fair to tell him straight. If he is too arrogant to hear it or believe it, or deflects blame, you have to hit him with a two-by-four. That includes a lot of clear examples and how it is hurting him, along with the consequences of not changing his behavior (his performance review, salary and promotional opportunities will be affected). If you don’t tell him, not only are you unfair to him, you look weak to those around you.
Pat looks and acts like a bubbly cheerleader. She has a good education, an excellent work history and good results. The problem is she is so sugary sweet, she comes off as fake and some of her peers either don’t trust her, or don’t think she is credible. She is eager to please, and you suspect, a little insecure, so you worry about hurting her feelings or squashing her enthusiasm. Would you tell her if she were your employee? Your peer?
If you were Pat’s boss, you should tell her, since it is having a negative impact on how she is perceived. If you were her peer, it would be trickier, but if there is some mutual respect between you, I’d encourage you to give her some friendly advice. I’d wait until the moment presented itself…she might make a comment about the culture, or getting approval for a project, or her career interests… Use that as a jumping off point. “May I give you some friendly advice? I think you would have a better chance selling your idea to senior management if you pitched it to them using the same tone and words they use. You are very enthusiastic—which is good—but I’ve noticed it can be interpreted as fake, or Pollyannaish. They may not trust that you have taken a tough, hard look at all the pros and cons, if you present yourself as an over-the-top cheerleader. I think it can take away from your message and I’m not sure they take you seriously. You have a lot to offer, but I’m not sure they can see past that.”
Well? How did you do? Would you tell someone they had spinach in their teeth?

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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