On Useful Candor
The reason we aren’t candid with people is we are protecting someone. It may be someone else, our self, or both.
Five things we protect:
- Status quo.
Why we protect:
- Capability. For example, we protect 120 pound boxers from 220 pounders.
A better way:
The guiding rule for candor is “usefulness.”
Candor is not saying everything you feel regardless of the consequences. That type of openness is useful in some areas but not in all.
A leader’s speech is always candid and useful.
Ten days in the hospital and counting demonstrate the value of candor. The people caring for me need to hear my complaints, but complaining rubs me the wrong way.
Under normal circumstances, talking about a pain in my side is complaining. However, three broken ribs may transform my complaint into useful information; information that helps us all effectively reach shared goals.
On candor that is not useful:
- Constantly repeating complaints isn’t useful its self-defeating.
- Candor apart from usefulness is cruel.
- Seeks the highest good of others.
- Never publicly blows off steam.
- Is mission guided, vision driven, and defined by shared values.
- Shifts through complaining to asking for options and solutions.
Rather than protecting someone, yourself, or your organization, have useful candor.
How can leaders develop useful candor within organizations?
That’s candid and crystal clear 😉 as they say, if you want to hear a sad story, then be the first to tell ……. but that really is not the place where productively one should dwell !!
May God heal your pain soon.
Leaders can develop useful candor within organisations by being first. They should create feeling in others that they are reliable and trustworthy. This is the first step. I believe this is crucial step and candor starts from here. I could be difficult or rather impossible to create candor without being authentic first.
Almost all the reputed and reliable organisations have leaders that have strong integrity and powerful faith within or outside the organisations. In India, Tata group of companies have created a trust, transparency and leadership credibility in and around the world. When we discuss about ethics, trust and transparency, Ratan Tata, current chairman of Tata Group is the natural and obvious example and role model.
I also remember the idea of Harvard Business School about knowing, being and doing. First leaders should know about candor, then they should be by setting their own examples and finally they should reflect candor in their actions and decisions.
Such great advice~my favorite is when candor is NOT useful:repeating our complaints. Sometimes I think we (or at least I) hope if we keep pointing out examples of our complaint, the person will miraculously say “Ohhhhhh, now I see what you mean! Thank you, I’ll fix that right away!” Truth is, that rarely happens, and your advice to NOT repeat the complaint is quite valuable. Thanks!
That’s just what I’ve been concentrating on all week! Thanks so much!!
Dan, it’s great to see you becoming more active again. You’ve been in my thoughts.
Candor is a real challenge for leaders because most in the workplace have learned to be skeptical about motives. Leaders have to develop the trust of their co-workers and team before their candor will be accepted as true transparency rather than something manipulative.
I’m not going to claim complete success, or to have a great solution, but here’s my approach.
1) Communicate the good and bad factually, in terms of the organization’s goals rather than your feelings.
2) As scripture says, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.” The more we embellish our communication, the less honest it seems.
I had a commander who lined out any adjective in his written communication; he felt descriptive words were manipulative in that they tried to make the reader feel a certain way about something. For him, “two months of supply on hand” was honesty, “a huge overstock” was hyperbole, even though both were technically true.
When leaders model candor, and respond appreciatively to it, the team will eventually follow.
Timely message. Thank you. Now, let me be candid: Be honest about your pain and concentrate on getting better! 🙂
I’ve discovered that sometimes you have to be wise about those with whom you are candid. If you are willing to be candid but know the other party well enough that you recognize your comments will not be accepted, you may need to help them see what you see. Your determination to be honest (candid) about the real nature of the situation may involve another strategy to help them recognize painful realities. Sometimes personal and organizational health starts with a candid revelation seen by those who need to see it. That kind of insight arises when the light bulb goes on in the hearer’s mind, not just by telling them about a problem. Asking good questions that enable others to see the situation differently goes a long way in this regard.
Authentic candor starts with introspection. Effective candor takes patience and vision. Blurting out emotional complaints is not effective. The best leaders recognize issues, assess roles needed for solutions, communicate what they are seeing from their perspective and then seek out the perspectives of those who will help to create solutions. Candor can be done well, and fostering it within an organization starts from the top down.
Liked your example of the difference between complaining & useful information, it makes it crystal clear when to say something. Having been born with some physical difficulties, I always preferred the stoic approach & didn’t complain until the day a doctor told me my lack of complaining nearly cost me my life (I apparently was a lot sicker than I realized). I now try to weigh what I say, using the same kind of yardstick as your example & ask myself – do they need to know this or would this just be a complaint? Thanks for your insight & I hope you feel better real soon!
Hi Dan, great to have you back on board. everything we try to protect is a figment. When we address reality then we start being useful. that said, can / can’t believe you’re hammering away at this whilst in hospital 🙂 – that’s reality. Richard
Wow, I thought I was seeing things when a “new post” arrived in my inbox! Great to see you back here, Dan, but please do not overdo!!
I had so many thoughts go through my head as I read this. I guess since “medical” is in the theme I will go with this: I have a parent who exaggerates every medical “symptom” he has. It infuriated me for years, and I tuned out. When we had an opportunity to discuss in a monitored (therapist) setting, I said something to the effect of “your constant complaints about things that aren’t that bad bother me.” His response, “But I AM sick.” Lesson for me: our candid observations will not always influence the person we think we are “changing” or “enlightening”. I think the takeaway for this from a leadership perspective is we may say to someone, “Your lack of punctuality hurts all of us” but there may be a more difficult road to helping them overcome that — they may feel/say “I have so many demands with my personal circumstances and I always make up for it and work harder than that slacker over there who gets here at 8:00 on the dot”.
Candor does’t always result in the outcome we anticipate. Thus presenting leaders with additional opportunities to coach change in measurable, specific ways.
Glad you’re back.
In today’s economic climate, employees are more prone to being silent than candid for reasons of survival. This diminishes good decision making and innovation. If there ever was a time for “Leaders” to welcome candid input, now is the time. Unfortunately, too many leaders look for confirmation of their so-called wisdom while ignoring or, worse yet, penalizing those offering candid feedback.
Modeling candor is tricky and needs to be well thought out by a leader before traveling down that path. However, done well, it can be a very powerful tool.
I am currently doing research for one of my columns on Speaking Up, Remaining Silent in the workplace from a safety perspective. For those of you that are interested in the topic, the entire Journal of Management Studies, September 2003 issue was devoted to the topic. Thanks for your perspective Dan, I’ll be sure to include them and reference Leadership Freak.
Dan, Dan, Dan….should you be typing yet?! As Seth Meyers on SNL says….”Really!?” Glad you have dropped in Sir, great to hear from you.
One foundational piece of candor has to be unconditional positive regard. Are you being candid with negative intent or positive? That’s where Meagan’s introspection fits and your ‘highest good’.
Whatever the situation, the message conveyed (and received?) needs a thread of positive intent. Certainly trust, (believe or have faith) but verify, fits in here too.
The candor also needs grounding in a common language and data can play a role. Consensual data can drive action. Opinions and perceptions, less tangible, more subjective may be factored in–but should not be presented as hard data.
Regarding the common language (or shared values/metrics), that is a pre-planning piece if at all possible. Not possible in your case. Using your very personal example–pain management. It is one of the highest priorities in healthcare. As soon as possible, a baseline tolerance and duration needs to be identified. You tell me the pain is really bad–how do we jointly measure that? Smiley/frowning faces, numerical ratings–common language. How long has the pain be a 4 or moved to a 6 or higher. How quickly do I respond when you tell me that information? And when you get that pain pill, an hour or so later, (If I am doing my job) I check back with you and you give me that rating number or face again to see if the pain pill helped…or not. If we truly share that value, the pain can be managed well.
Hi Doc. Pain the 5th vital sign ah yes. The problem lies in gauging the pain on the same scale. Women vs. Males, different ethnicities, different countries, different genes, different social environments, and the list goes on. We need to understand that more people die each year in our country from the abuse, overuse, or improper use of pain medications than those that die from illicit drug use i.e. cocaine, and heroine and meth.
No one really knows the amount of pain a particular person has except that particular individual. Was Michael Jackson in so much pain that his physician chose to dose him propofol at home? The patient begs and we “deal.”
What is prudent and how much “overt” suffering can we stand not only as the patient but also as the provider waiting to dispense but in doubt?
I think the epidural with patient control is going in the right direction. I can make the decision to push the button and get “plastered” and unable to speak and sit up or take some discomfort and keep my wits. The pain threshold is in the “finger” of the “beholding.” Certainly this is a conversation for another day with more time and “less” pain. 🙂
Thank you for your thoughts Dan. I believe effective candor, which is often times persuing the hard truth, is essential in the success of any organization. Another important piece of effective candor is the emotional intelligence of the leader. Without it, a leader may use candor in a harmful way. Poor emotional intelligence skills often times leads to blind spots that are not visible to the leader. The following link is to a humorous video of a leader with poor emotional intelligence skills. Emotional Intelligence.
Hi Dan, it is amazing that you are back on line when you should be resting but then I understand with deja vu staring at me.
Candor is always welcome and like everything else in life it all boils down to the delivery. The truth is never sour. It is the dressing we pour on it the determines its taste. A culture of authenticity demands that candor be part of the equation and things won’t add up until we understand that. Everyone wins when candor is golden. The “candee” and the “candor” will both be closer when mutual sincerity and honesty bind them together. Transparency is a liberating sensation that clears the smog and makes us all breathe easier and see each other as we really are. Stay well my dear friend and may the “force” be with you. 🙂
Candee—great one Al! And to link with your SW reference…C3PO—candee, candor connection, positive opportunity.
Great to see/hear from you again, and luck to you for a speedy healing. Our world so needs what you have to give.
I am struck by the clarity of your proposed model of maturity in this post. That may not have been your intention with the post. However, you have basically painted the picture of a completely mature parent, life-partner, citizen and asset to one’s life in your model of candor.
In reading the post, I realized how few examples I’ve had in my life, particularly my early years, of people whose actions and communication embodied what you presented here. No wonder it’s been such a struggle arriving at maturity in my life. Thanks for defining it in under 300 words!
Hi Dan. Thank you. This is so profound and right. Candor makes the day for us all.
A perfect day consist of openness combined with a caring attitude. Candor requires a good portion of courage but it’s Oh … so rewarding when you see peoples faces open up and genuine presence and care emerge. Yes, let us have more of Candor!
Candor is authentic.
It allows for transparency, vulnerability without weakness, honesty, and purity of motivation. It’s a huge step in paving the way to ask for help with what you want or need.
In your example, “My ribs hurt and I would like some pain medication,” is candid. It’s truthful, transparent, and vulnerable. It’s also necessary information for those who want to be of service to you.
If, instead a patient said (as I have heard them say), “Nobody pays attention to me. I hurt. The nurse never comes in and doesn’t care about me. The service around here is lousy.” they would not be showing up with candor. Some or all of these things may be true, but they are filled with judgment and are not candid statements.
Thanks for all you do, Dan. My candid hope is that you will heal thoroughly, take care of yourself, and allow yourself to receive the care of others.
Thank you! It’s very helpful to know that assessing “usefulness” makes the difference between complaining and reasonable requests.
A great post coming from such personal experience
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I think I generally agree. However, a leader should use candor to ‘save face’. Whilst it might be useful to say something if it will embarrass someone it might be better to use some candor and chose a more suitable time and place. Leaders need to be politically astute and respectful.