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Lesson 15. A Guide to Being Delightfully Honest

We were at a leadership meeting and the discussion had been a particularly tough one. For an hour or so, everyone was stressed while we worked out a plan to fix our issue. At the end of that meeting, I could see how drained everyone was. I had taken a very strong stand and was pretty passionate throughout the discussion. So, I said, “Other than that . . . I feel pretty neutral about the whole thing.” Then everyone laughed as we got up to leave.

When I walked out of the meeting with my CEO, he turned to me and said, “I really appreciate how you use humor in our leadership meetings.” I was lost (as I often was with my greatest mentor Marc Dettmann)―he was always a few steps ahead of me. Marc went on to say, “You pick the right moment to make everyone laugh and lighten the mood. After a difficult conversation, you say something funny, people relax, and then we all move on. It reduces the tension.”

I was unaware of what I was doing, but it all made sense when he explained it to me. I think the reason why I started doing that was to make people feel better. I often waited until the difficult conversation was over (rather than while it was happening) so my humor would not appear to be making light of anyone’s perspective or downplaying the issues discussed. Years later, I realized that I was promoting honest conversation. My jokes helped reduce the pain that can come from having an honest conversation. Telling those jokes inadvertently promoted the honest conversations this CEO wanted to have.

Honest conversations can be painful, especially when everyone in the room is dealing with a tough choice. We all are reluctant to be honest. We all contribute to the problem. By trying to be funny at just the right moment, I was telling everyone: It’s okay. We’re all good, so let’s move on.

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