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  • Keri Schwebius

Honour the absent

Become a better leader by having direct and honest conversations.



When I was in my first residency at Royal Roads University for my Master of Arts in Leadership, my professors introduced me to the idea of honouring the absent. This means don’t speak about someone, either positively or negatively, when they aren’t in the room to hear what you say.


The negative


This may seem obvious. Personally, I don’t want people saying negative things about me behind my back. I definitely don’t want people gossiping about me. But it’s about more than that in the workplace. If you see an opportunity for me to be better, I want to know about it. If you only say these things in my absence, you are keeping from me the opportunity to learn and grow. At the same time, you’re talking to others about me and contributing to my reputation in a way over which I have no control.


The positive


Who doesn’t want to hear nice things about themselves? The truth is, people don’t hear enough positive things. At this moment, we’re all dealing with a lot. A few words of affirmation can make a big difference for people.


Next time you catch yourself talking about a colleague or employee, ask yourself if there could be an opportunity to speak to them directly. And if you did speak to them directly, what might that accomplish?


I know. Easier said than done. Afterall, don’t we all need to just vent sometimes? Sure, talking about something—or someone—who’s challenging us can be very helpful. Save those conversations for your partner, therapist, or coach. Once you’ve gotten things off your chest, consider how you can honour the absent to be a better leader and a kinder human.

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