Tact and the Sycophant.

Tact and the Sycophant.

At lunch this weekend, my 10-year-old son told me “at mom’s house, we keep our opinions to ourselves.” I didn’t even finish swallowing my food before I said, “I completely disagree,” quickly stopping all conversation at the table.

I asked, “When should you freely share your opinion, even if it isn’t well-received?” All three of my boys had good answers. When a friend is being a little to crazy on the trampoline or if you know something that could help someone, like telling them they are going the wrong way to the airport, etc.

We quickly boiled it down to a litmus test: if your opinion can prevent unwanted harm or facilitate something good, share it and don’t be shy. People who don’t have the guts to say what they think, especially when it can help someone or prevent something bad from happening, usually live quiet lives of despair.

“You’ll never get what you deserve in life if you keep all your thoughts and opinions to yourself,” I said, “Plus the conversations are a lot more interesting and you’ll probably learn something about the other person that can help you both in the future.”

I share this story because you own a business and you have a handful or even scores of employees who are afraid to share their opinions with you. The smartest and most-successful amongst us are really good at helping our employees be tactful, yet we do not surround ourselves with sycophants. Brené Brown calls it “getting comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.”

I had private clients in town this weekend who are very smart and capable, growing quickly and experiencing the challenges and complexities that come with growth. One of the challenges is stepping aside and letting someone else take the reins on projects and responsibilities inside the practice.

In determining who will step up to the plate and be their team leader, the only question I had for one potential inside hire was whether or not she could be blunt and honest yet tactful with you if someone needed to be fired. Their immediate answer was, “Absolutely not.”

“So, she’s not a leader,” I said. Keep looking and make sure you put people in positions of responsibility who are comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, who are not sycophantic in their approach with you, and yet, can still be tactful with subordinates.

My parents and grandparents taught me this skill when I was a child. I’m now teaching it to my kids. Never assume your employees and team leaders had this taught to them at a young age. Odds are, they didn’t and you must insist that you are surrounded by tactful leaders willing to share their opinions.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.