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Do you want to know what you don't know?

“You didn’t get the job.”

Those five words carry some serious weight. Plus another pound or two, given the copious amounts of [insert favourite comfort food here] required to soothe the sting of the message. I deliver this news to people, as is required in the life of a recruiter. But there was that one time…

“You didn’t get the job.”

Who, me? Yes, it was me, and I am so grateful (really, after an initial nacho platter binge). Flashback two decades, and here’s how it rolled out:

A marketing dynamo in my own right, and used to landing roles (although I did refrain from using “guru” on my resume, as I was of course, both smart and savvy), — I was keen to land the Director of Marketing role with Anthem Properties, and had sailed through the second interview stage. Ariane Laird played interviewer to my interviewee, and we connected strongly (though not literally, as this was in the days well before LinkedIn).

To seal the deal, I reached deep into my arsenal of creative attention grabbers (as we marketing dynamos do). The unique and thoughtful follow-up of chocolate cigars was delivered on cue, with a cleverly crafted message to celebrate the upcoming “birth” of Anthem’s new brand, with me as the proud parent.

Lo and behold, the expected call from Ariane arrived…drum roll please! She loved the follow-up, best she’d ever seen. Thought me to be a highly skilled marketing professional. And I’m waiting for it… “but you’re not getting the job. You’re not direct enough for this role. Our CEO requires direct communication.”

(Full stop on drum roll; marching band trips over each other.)

Ariane was direct. “You’re not getting the job.” The news was unexpected, in that I usually nailed job interviews, and even had a sense of pride in my natural interviewing ability. But, the explanation was not surprising. “You’re not direct enough. This culture requires direct, and I’m not sure you’re it.” This I knew, but no one had ever called me out on it like Ariane did that day. And, knowing is better. (Thank you, Ariane. No, really, thank you.)

I knew I wasn’t always direct with my communications, but like the black and white of printed words, hearing it out loud was an opportunity – mine to accept, or mine to reject. In this case, truth turned transformative: the notion of “direct communication is clear communication” would niggle in my mind as I prepared for conversations and meetings. I was not an overnight success story – keep in mind that “things” change, while people transform – and both are a process.

Ten years after hearing “no,” I was not only fully accepting of this truth revealed a decade earlier, but using it to my advantage. I learned to take a step back in situations where I was not being direct, and correct my course. Why? In being on the receiving end of that difficult conversation, I realized that being direct doesn’t make things easier…but it does make things better.

Have the difficult conversation.

Ariane Laird could’ve told me “no” in a way that softened the news, letting both of us off the hook. “It was a tough decision; it could’ve gone either way...” or “You did everything right, but the other candidate had some industry-specific experience…” or even could’ve had someone else make the call. But she didn’t. She chose to deliver her feedback with honesty, and without hesitation. And although she really didn’t owe me anything, she took the time to invest in me that day.

Difficult conversations are the ones you need to have. Choosing to deliver tough feedback, corrective direction or just some honest words demonstrates belief in the value of people – as individuals and as teams. People don’t have the same opportunities for professional growth without consistent and accurate feedback. The hard talks make the investment in the people – allowing for transformation and growth – and contribute to the overall health of the team, and the organization.

Yes, it was hard to hear “no.” (And there may have been a fervent desire to take back those chocolate cigars and turn them into s’mores). But it was honest, and we both knew it.

“Even though I know
I don't want to know
Yeah I guess I know
I just hate how it sounds.”
One Thing, Finger Eleven

Have the difficult conversation, and have it as soon as you can. Yes, it may cause discomfort. And it comes with risk — I knew in my heart that a direct communication style wasn’t my strength, but I had been unaware of how it could hold me back.  I may have rejected the feedback as wrong, or even mean-spirited. Or not — most people want to make a positive impact in their daily lives. Feedback can initially be one of the most difficult conversations, but we all need opportunities to move forward through learning and growth.

What relationship could you move forward by having an open and direct conversation today?


Peter Reek is the Founder and President of Smart, Savvy + Associates. We find high-calibre marketing, communications, creative and sales professionals with proven track records and in-demand skills for companies who need them, across the Pacific Northwest and in Toronto. We also provide leadership and training development programs for workplace programs, corporate retreats and individual growth opportunities. Contact Peter to discuss your organization's training needs.

Peter Reek

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