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What do we want when we want open honest communication?

We usually don’t talk about real deal communication when we’re talking about the warm fuzzy stuff.  We’re happy to communicate that all day long.

It’s the bold truth, the hard truth and sometimes the painful truth that we want to know.  We want to trust who we work with and the only way to get there is to know that you’re in the know – of the good, the bad and the ugly.

But confrontation to get to the “truth”, especially at work, is hard.  Why?  Think about the impact to the employee when the “truth” comes out – discipline, reprimand, written warnings which can be humiliating, embarrassing and worst case, degrading.  We do not seek to be “open” in our communication for fear of “punishment.”  And more often than not, we do not get the truth through punishment, but rather more lies to try to cover up the incidents that lie at the heart of the “crime” to avoid said punishment.  Oh the tangled webs we weave.

So how do we get to the painful truth in a way that will help the company learn, improve and move forward?

Consider the Confessional Gong.

Yes, you heard right.  This past Monday I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Eric Larsen who works at Neenan, a progressive archistruction (their word J) company (www.neenan.com) in Ft. Collins, CO.  In the room where I met Eric was a big gong.  I asked him if this was used to celebrate successes in meetings and he said no, actually quite the opposite.

During a company meeting, if someone has caused a large mistake within the company – cost the company money, caused conflict on a team, jeopardized a project opportunity – they self select (with some serious courage) to go up in front of the room and tell everyone what they did, apologize and then hit the gong.  The resounding sound of the gong is a healing energy release for the guilty and the entire team.  The individual who goes up to the front is essentially saying I recognized that I messed up, I’m sorry that I messed up, I’ve learned from my mistake and I hope you all have just learned from my mistake.  Employees often receive praise and admiration for having what it takes to go up in front of the team and admit their mistakes.  Eric said that at a recent meeting there was at least 10-15 minutes of gonging – meaning a lot of people were getting up in front of the room.  He said it was a serious practice.

I asked Eric if these public work confessions have ever come back to “haunt” an employee in a review, a raise consideration etc. and he said never.  Management knows the tremendous benefit of this practice and knows not to jeopardize the incredible foundation of trust, honesty and openness that has been created.

In fact, Eric said, it’s not unusual for the CEO to go to the front of the room and hit the gong himself.

Now be realistic.  Don’t expect to bring a gong into your next company meeting and have employees run to the front of the room with wild abandon.  You have to have the culture and values (alive and well) that support this practice.  And you have to be absolutely committed to not have the confessions ever cause harm to the confessors.

If you had a confessional gong, and a truly safe space to say the unsaid, what would you say?

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3 min readLast Updated: April 5th, 2021Published On: September 17th, 2010Categories: Employee Performance Improvement, Improve Employee EngagementTags:

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