Let’s be honest…

Tabatha CoffeyFrom time to time I come across a television show that I can barely bring myself to watch.  I like to think of myself as a relatively courageous person – but when it comes to watching people being humiliated on television I have a tendency to curl up in the fetal position.  Up there on my cringe worthy viewing list is Tabatha Takes Over (formerly Tabatha’s Salon Takeover).   Just one among a myriad of reality shows to choose from, this one features Tabatha Coffey, a hairdressing salon guru who brings her years of hands-on experience to the challenge of helping struggling salon owners turn their businesses around.

Before I share why I find this show so difficult to watch, it’s important to acknowledge the successes I’ve witnessed.  On the couple of occasions I’ve managed to watch through to the end, Tabatha has dramatically improved the performance of the business.  The impact she has had on the people, systems and processes is clearly evident.   However! … my concern is with the message the show sends about it being OK to be honest without respect or sensitivity.  The way Tabatha goes about ‘helping’ people makes me want to hide under a blanket until it’s over (or yell at the television in defense of those she’s ‘helping’).

Tough LoveRecently I came across an article by Tabatha in the Huffington Post.  While I have to admit to agreeing with some of what she said, the article also revealed why Tabatha approaches things the way she does.  In short, she believes she’s doing the right thing.  In an attempt to reclaim the word ‘Bitch’ (which is apparently often used to describe her) Tabatha argues she is merely being honest and telling people what they need to hear. However, Tabatha also appears to believe that honesty at any cost is the best policy.

While I have absolutely no idea what really goes on behind the scenes, I imagine a team of people picking up the emotional train wreck Tabatha must leave in her wake.  My own experiences of what it takes to benefit from confronting people with harsh realities are far removed from Tabatha’s approach. While telling the truth is an important opportunity to help people understand and take ownership, if not delivered well it won’t work. Brutal honesty on its own can be destructive or inspire defensiveness.

Tabatha argues, “I have standards and expectations and I have no problem voicing my opinion”. What Tabatha fails to appreciate is that her honesty isn’t the issue – her lack of compassion and kindness is.  She goes on to say, “A bitch is not mean or cruel, but a bitch is honest” – I encourage Tabatha to contemplate the meaning of ‘ mean’ and ‘cruel’ – her abusive rants certainly fit with the definition of those words in my mind.

People Manager's ToolkitAs I share in my latest book The People Manager’s Toolkit “The single most important aspect of a people manager’s approach to managing performance is tough love — that is, being completely honest while delivering feedback with compassion and sensitivity.”  Helping people to improve takes growing not only their awareness but also their confidence.  There is little value in knowledge and skills if the person is too hesitant or doubtful to use them.

Avoiding the truth undoubtedly holds people back from reaching their potential.  However, unless delivered well brutal honesty can be equally damaging.  Tough love demands that you deliver fair and necessary feedback with both conviction and kindness. While Tabatha certainly has the conviction part mastered, there is a lot more she needs to do to dial up the kindness piece of the equation.

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