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Courage: the keystone to authentic working relationships

Apr 06, 2023
By: Tom Cox

As construction leaders continue to face increased competition for workers, they’re looking for ways to retain and develop talent — including evaluating their workplace culture. A culture built on valuing and developing people can help retain workers and attract potential new talent. And that kind of culture starts with courageous communication.

When it comes to relationships, how much courage and authenticity do you consistently demonstrate? Being direct and speaking your mind requires balance. You want to speak from your sense of self, but do so in a way that preserves and values relationships and reveals a sincere desire to make people or situations better.

This can be especially challenging in the context of working relationships. The imbalance of power that exists from leader to direct report often leads to unspoken words or missed opportunities that could have yielded different results.

These are not always major ethical issues. Sometimes they only entail responding and sharing feelings about a situation, rather than keeping them inside.

To foster better communication, you need to create a workplace environment where everyone feels they can voice their authentic thoughts. In creating that environment, there are two roles: the leader and the direct report. And each of these roles comes with their own responsibility.

The leader’s responsibility

For people to be willing to share, the leader must create an environment of trust and openness.

Given the imbalance of power noted before, there is a natural tendency for most people not to speak up or share what they may be truly feeling. Leaders need to be proactive by asking for thoughts and feelings on topics, leaving no stone unturned.  

People who have worked in large corporations may recognize the unfortunate cultural reality that tends to dampen — or outright crush — the opportunity for openness and authenticity. This reality can be present in small companies as well, especially those where the leadership views people as simply part of the system of production.

And in construction worker culture, it’s easy for leaders to focus on completing projects over proper consideration and delegation to their team.

In these situations, feelings often have no place. Experience teaches people to show up polished and buttoned up and gives them the sense that sharing feelings is viewed as a weakness. All of this despite HR’s various and valiant attempts at being cultural champions.

But demonstrating empathy, asking about feelings and sharing feelings about a situation is not a weakness. For leaders, stating their perspectives in the context of both thoughts and feelings sets the conversation’s tone. It helps build authentic relationships and invites others to do the same.

The direct report’s responsibility

Whether the leader creates the environment or not, there are times when direct reports need to share and press an issue.

Direct reports are usually the followers in situations. But true service to an authentic relationship with their leader depends on their willingness to be honest and open with their thoughts and feelings. If they feel they can’t be, then they may start to evaluate if it’s worth staying in that situation. 

For direct reports, the opportunity to demonstrate their sense of self-worth often exists in those moments where they take the risk of sharing their feelings about a situation.

Sharing feelings can be a powerful approach that helps avoid the potential of confrontation. But when the feelings expressed are open disagreement, it can also elicit an equal and opposing reaction from others.

The context is one of emotional intelligence. According to the MHS EQi model, one of the roots of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Inside self-awareness is self-regard, which they define as “respecting oneself; confidence”.  

While there are many components to developing and practicing emotional intelligence, there is a reason that this is the first concept that the MHS model puts forth. People who lack the confidence to care for their feelings and then express them appropriately will likely be less effective in their relationships.

It takes courage and confidence for direct reports to be open, but they should do so out of respect for themselves and their relationships. Direct reports have a responsibility to continually evaluate opportunities to influence leaders by sharing thoughts and feelings.

How Wipfli can help

Wipfli advisors are here to help you stay ahead in a competitive labor market. We offer proven methodologies to addresses critical issues such as leadership and team development, succession planning and talent management. Contact us today for more on how we can help your firm become a more engaging, cooperative environment.

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Tom Cox
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