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Brené Brown: 4 reasons being Unclear is Unkind

Leadership study shows speaking the truth transforms negotiations.

Brene Brown - thumbnail

Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.

Brené Brown first heard this slogan in a 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

“I was on slogan overload at the time, and didn’t think about it again until I saw the data,” the research professor and TED sensation writes in Dare to Lead.

The data she’s referring to was from a 7 year study she conducted on brave leadership.

It revealed that most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves we’re being kind; when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair.

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  1. In Dare to Lead, Brown makes these four points: Feeding people half-truths or bulls**t to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.
  2. Not getting clear with a colleague about expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering, is unkind.
  3. Talking about people rather than to them is unkind.
  4. It's easier than a tough conversation to say “Got it, on it” and run.

In other words, we fear being uncomfortable, and that self-protection is harmful.

In Daring Greatly, Brené talks about the ways harm can manifest itself.

“When we’re struggling with anxiety, disconnection, vulnerability, feeling alone and helpless, the substances and behaviours – be it booze or food or work or endless hours online, feel like comfort but the reality is they cast long shadows over our lives,” she writes.

She tells in Dare to Lead how when we are in fear, or an emotion is driving self-protection, there’s a fairly predictable pattern of how we respond to that fear, and assemble our armour

  • The armour being:I’m not enough.
  • If I’m honest with them about what’s happening, they’ll think less of me or maybe even use it against me.
  • No way am I going to be honest about this. No one else does it. Why do I have to put myself out there?
  • Yeah, screw them. I don’t see them being honest about what scares them. And, they’ve got plenty of issues.
  • It’s actually their shortcomings and issues that make me act this way. This is their fault, and they’re trying to blame me.
  • In fact, now I think about it, I’m better than them.

Brené says it’s not a long walk from “I’m not enough” to “I’m better than them.” In fact, she says, it’s standing still. In fear. Assembling armour.



Armored Leadership: Being a Knower and Being Right vs. Daring Leadership: Being a Learner and Getting It Right

Brené has this advice for this aspect of Daring Leadership:

  • First, name the issue. It’s a tough conversation, she writes, but clear is kind.

Here's an example: “I’d like for you to work on your curiosity and critical thinking skills. You’re often quick with answers, which can be helpful, but not as helpful as taking the time to make sure we are asking and answering the right questions, which is how you’ll grow as a leader. We can work together on this.” 

  •  Second, make learning curiosity skills a priority. Knowers often have a lot of people talking behind their backs, and that corrodes trust.
  • Third, acknowledge and reward great questions and instances of “I don’t know, but I’d like to find out” as daring leadership behaviours. The big shift here is from wanting to “be right” to wanting to “get it right.”

Find out the Top 10 Leadership Qualities this year, and see how you measure up. Download our FREE guide:

For explanatory scenarios illustrating Brown’s study findings on daring leadership, I recommend you read this excerpt from Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

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