We're Gonna Talk About Bruno
Updated: Feb 10
By now you've probably either heard about or watched Disney's latest hit, "Encanto". Regardless of whether you have young children in your house, this movie has resonated with audiences of all ages. Today, we're gonna do the forbidden and yes - talk about Bruno!
To summarize his part in the movie [aka SPOILER ALERT], Bruno is ostracized from his family after they believe he speaks bad omens into fruition. What none of them realize until the end of the story is that Bruno was never responsible for making bad things happen, he was simply sharing the news of what he saw taking place in the future.
For a Disney movie, we probably hold a soft spot for Bruno, recognizing him for the truth teller that he is. But what about the "Brunos" that exist within our workplace?
The last time someone at work declared "I don't think that's is going to work." or "This is going to create more problems than it solves!", was their insight received with gratitude and a willingness to listen? Probably not. Even if that person has proven before that they often pick up on important details that others have missed.
How do the 'Brunos' of your workplace get dealt with?
In her book The Fearless Organization, Amy Edmonson discusses the imperative nature of psychological safety at work. Psychological safety is when a work culture exists where employees feel safe to speak up. Sadly, for most workplaces, the truth tellers who dare to speak up are often labelled as Troublemakers or Naysayers. And, just like Bruno from the movie, they're relegated to the dark and quiet spaces of the organization until no one hears from them any longer. Or until they get fed up and quit.
Why are leaders so quick to shun a 'Bruno' on their team?
Bruno's don't always share their message with reverence and obedience to the powers that be. For leaders who refuse to be questioned, having a Bruno on your team feels like a constant thorn in your side. It may be embarrassing to have your staff member call you out in front of others. Or, having them point out errors on something that has already been decided can be annoying. But in those moments, instead of putting the priority on achieving the absolute best result, ego takes the lead and shuts the conversation down.
Also, Bruno's aren't always asked for their opinion, but are likely to give it anyway. The thing about a truth teller is that to withhold information feels like a lie - it's not within their natural ability to do so. If the Emperor has no clothes, they're not going to stand around and pretend that he does! But unsolicited advice is rarely a welcome thing. In this situation, Bruno's may need to learn that sometimes, it's okay to hold their tongue. If you lead a Bruno on your team, this is a great opportunity for mentorship and coaching.
How can leaders accept the gift of a 'Bruno'-esque employee?
Coaching a Bruno to hold their tongue is only possible if you, as the leader, first understand the value their truth-telling brings to the organization. A Bruno is different than a naysayer because they are usually a high performer who strives for excellence. Their goal is not rooted in negativity and rarely is it driven by personal gain. When their truth-telling nature comes out, it's fueled by their desire for success of the project or the organization.
Bruno's are like a built-in safety system for your team; they can see into the blind spots that others often overlook. The key to leveraging their gift is to consult with them early and often; not once the final stages of a task have been reached. During the development and/or decision-making process, a Bruno's insight can be considered helpful. Whereas in the aftermath of so much hard work and time, that same insight can be considered critical and demoralizing.
What about the Brunos who never return from behind the wall?
Back to Edmonson's book on psychological safety in the workplace - the challenge with shunning people for telling the truth is that eventually, you stop getting the truth. When leaders start to surround themselves with "yes" staff, they lose all diversity of thought and experience from within their team - Brunos or otherwise.
It's easy to admire Encanto's version of Bruno. It's much harder to accept the Bruno's we work with everyday. You can also imagine how the Bruno's must feel, having lived separate and apart from the rest of the team for so long. A Bruno might not be ready to jump back into the fold. And learning to trust a Bruno's insight and acknowledge that they may know more than you give them credit for will take time, too.
Where's the happily ever after for workplace Bruno?
It's amazing how discerning a Bruno can become when they have all the information and they know that their gift is being valued. This is the time and place when a Bruno can start to learn when, where and how it's most appropriate that they share their insights. And with whom! (Maybe just tell Abuela to grab the umbrellas, and that would be that.) Ultimately, working with Brunos and their gifts is a 2 person job; the Bruno to better understand themselves and how to use their gift, and their leader to understand how best to leverage their unique talents and abilities.