Candor Could Blow Up in Your Face
A reader asks, “Any advice on how to cultivate candor?”
First steps toward candor are dangerous, even explosive. It could blow up in your face. People will say, “I can’t believe you brought that up.”
- Remember lack of candor empowers manipulators, preserves the status quo, invites gossip, and undermines trust.
- Engage others. Tell teams you’re working on candor. Model candor by talking about candor.
- Maintain the 3 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. Positive work environments require 3 positive interactions for every 1 negative.
- Serve the best interests of others. When you’re in it for yourself, candor is cruelty.
- Ask questions before making statements. Leadership candor isn’t rash.
- Practice candor with a friend.
- Step into push back. Ask things like: What’s uncomfortable about bringing this up? What could go wrong? What could go right? How can we move forward?
- Over-emphasize kindness and courtesy. Candor scares some. Soften your tone. Lower the volume and slow the rate of your speech.
- Make things better. Candor apart from forward movement is whining. When you address difficult issues, make immediate incremental improvements.
- Lift up your head. Optimism is candor’s right hand.
- Stand your ground. Determine if push back centers on method or issues. When push back is about rudeness, for example, listen and adapt. But, if push back suggests you can’t talk about this tough issue, keep talking about it.
- Give it time. Jack Welch, candor’s champion, said he worked on candor with GE during his entire tenure as CEO. He acknowledged it’s a tough topic and they still had room for growth when he left.
Bonus: The deeper issue of candor isn’t the elephant in the room. It’s the reason teams conspire to ignore it in the first place.
10 Essentials for Dynamic Candor
When Candor Means They’re a Jerk
How can leaders cultivate candor?
Fantastic list, beautifully written. My favorite “optimism is candor’s right hand.”
What’s more dangerous and useless than a pessimistic leader with candor!
Thanks for this. Lack of candor is often accompanied by a lot of complaining. Because people won’t say what’s on their mind, they keep it for the water-cooler and it becomes negative gossip about people, not the issue that needs candor. That said, candor should not become a debate about who’s right. Candor should be about creating dialogue on both opportunities and what needs to get better.
Couldn’t agree more on the connection between lack of candor and gossip.
What’s best is better than who’s right. Thanks for your insights.
5 is my favourite…ask questions first! Good post
Lets face it, uninformed candor is destructive.
Your bonus comment re: why people choose to ignore the obvious is profound.
Some reasons may be:
1) Speaking up involves risk of rejection.
2) Accepting criticism means acknowledging that something must change, i.e. something is wrong or suboptimal. Change is unsettling, causes fear, requires effort.
3) For people to value candor, those in authority must be willing to accept criticism as well or better than they give it.
4) Every organization, from the smallest family unit to the largest multinational, has experienced flareups around “taboo” subjects. When the perceived pain of addressing them is higher than the perceived gain, people learn compensating behaviors.
Great insights. I think most of us have been burned by a leader who chose the elephant over honesty. We learn quickly that if we want to get ahead we ignore the elephant too.
I’m delighted you teased out these ideas.
Reblogged this on Lead Me On and commented:
Many of us confuse authenticity with the right to speak our inner being candidly and without much editing. After all, being authentic is being who we are, right?! But this article gives us really practical ways of understanding candor so we can see that it’s something good leaders do strategically, and that it’s different from being authentic. Authenticity is really a quality, or sometimes a value. But effective authenticity requires skill, mastery of professional relationship strategies like candor. Thanks, Leadership Freak for clarifying some skillful, practical, smart, necessary ways for leaders to be candid and thrive!
In my last class, I provided one tricky case study where group of students needed to come out with the solutions. The situation was related to individual vs. organizational benefits. Making right decisions could make you losing promotion where following your boss could damage organizations but ensure your promotion. Only few students came out with decision that they are not worried about their promotion but about organizations. There was rich debate between two category of people.
I supported the decision taken by few on the ground of ethics and its consequences. I questioned why people are more concerned about their promotion knowing that practice is unethical and has hidden intention.
The moral of the story is that leaders should support right and ethical decision publicly even if majority of people refute it. Such support should be justified based on some universally applied values and virtues in the system. I think, this could be one way to cultivate candor.
I appreciate your story from the classroom.
The idea that candor should connect with values and virtues is so powerful.
I remember talking with a group about respect. Sometimes respect is used as an excuse for not saying the truth. “I don’t want to hurt their feelings.” But, the truth is, it’s disrespectful to lie, pretend, or ignore situations.” You can see that I value respect. 🙂
Thank you for expressing your stand for ethical behavior. At times, it is very hard, but it is always right to do right. I once refused to fire a foreman with 24 years of service, against the wishes of the V.P. (my boss at that time) who needed a scapegoat. A couple of months later I refused to sign a sheet to accept engineering charges from the U.S. corporation in a Canadian plant, because no work had been done – the sole reason was that the U.S. President and V.P.’s needed better numbers for bonuses. Finally, I refused to engage in the interdepartmental war that was going on between the sales V.P. and the operations V.P. – so was mistrusted by both. In less than 4 months, I went from being a rising star to a pariah. Needless to say, I left the company a few months later. When a headhunter called, I responded.
Though not easy at the time, speaking up and holding firm was the right thing to do. My career was not adversely affected, and I still have friends from that company, even though I left 23 years ago.
I salute your courage to stand against the flow. It is very easy to go with the flow, but very hard to take a stand. And the fact is that, those who takes stand may face odd difficulties and challenging situations for some time, but ultimately wins.I also feel that unethical practices may also affect the career but there are other bigger opportunities as well. We should have vision to see those opportunities. In case of mine, I left job of Air force for career elevation to join banking service, but left banking service because of politics, discrimination, and unethical practices. Some key incidences made me to make crucial decision. In one of incident where bank advertised 15 vacancies for HRM/Personnel management for higher position through competitive exam. I applied for the exam as I had relevant qualification and experience. In the written exam result, only 5 candidates were qualified and I was one amongst them. As per rules, candidates qualifying written exam can not fail personal interview, however they can get minimum passing mark at least. It means, all those qualified in written test should be selected. I appeared for personal interviews where top management of the banks were present. When result was declared, my name was not there in the list.
I was shocked but helpless. Some of my friends suggested me to write to top management about this. But there were other groups as well who suggested that top management will respond in specified format that everything is fair and right. They will also keep you monitoring for doing this. Then I asked question to myself- Can I change such practices? and the answer was No, then I asked second question, Can I change myself? And the answer was “Yes”. That was the moment I decided to leave the bank and now I am in Academic enjoying my position with respect. I live better life in terms of living on my terms and conditions without compromising standard and ethics.
But, that was not easy task. I struggled, suffered but enjoyed those sufferings. I feel proud to make decision to live my life respectfully, honestly and ethically.
Oops sorry number 3 ridiculous. For me.
What, I have two situations, conversations that don’t go well, negative, if you will, so the next four will be positive or what….else??? Lol
I try to take each opportunity to keep it as real as I can.
For me true honest communication is never negative. Might feel less than comfy, but that does not mean negative, it means uncomfy.
I have found what works for me is a vital spiritual experience. Available to anyone and one sure fire way to get this experience is to work the 12 Steps.
Or try a plethora of other solutions which never really work or there would not be so many options. One way works no need for 20.
Connect why’s I have found works wonders. Amazing how communication works when I am communicating with people who believe what I believe.
Have a great day Dan.
SP back to connecting why’s, keeping it real, being authentic, now!!
I find positive work environments are never an accident. It takes constant work to create and maintain them. Making sure that positive interactions outnumber negatives is a powerful tool.
Affirmations, gratitude, recognition, and “atah boys” are important and powerful ways to build positive environments. As an added benefit, positive environments are more productive than negative.
I Absolutely Concur!!!!!! Just think, for me, numbering experiences is a bit out in lala land. I just try to treat each experience like it is the last time I am ever gonna chat with someone and let the chips fall where they may.
I find it simple, but like you Dan I find it not easy and requires constant vigilance!!!!
Good stuff, thanks Dan.
SP back to now!
Thanks for the excellent insight. The lack of candor is often due to the lack of trust. If I don’t feel safe bringing it up, it’s going to get stuffed. Courageous leaders (and followers) will be candid regardless of the environment.
I’m starting to feel like a dog chasing it’s tail. Lack of trust causes lack of candor. Lack of candor causes lack of trust… and then back again.. 🙂
I think candor breaks the cycle, even though it’s dangerous and painful.
Time >> trust >> candor … while I agree that candor can be (should be) encouraged in an ongoing way, my observation is that candor develops over time (like a plant we can feed it, water it, but there is a time component we can’t remove..)
I’ve seen this in non-profit boards that share a deep commitment to a shared vision, even know one-another, yet there is an “in-meeting” behavior that takes a few occasions to work out. (I’d call it an informal pecking-order but that term seems counter to your posts intent!)
Thanks for emphasizing that candor is a journey. The only think I wonder about is the connection between trust and candor. It’s pretty hard to have trust when people aren’t being candid with each other.
I lean to candor coming before trust with one important condition. We must believe that leaders are using candor in order to help not hurt.
There is a well-established “forming, storming, norming, performing” sequence when new groups are formed. Some of this has to do with defining roles, and some of it with establishing trust, candor, and work processes. People do not naturally trust until it is earned. One way to hasten the “trust me” cycle that I found useful when hiring an Executive Assistant (perhaps the closest working relationship in business requiring absolute trust to be effective) is to tell the person before hiring them: “Trust is crucial to this role. You will need to trust me before I’ve earned it, and I will need to trust you before you’ve earned it. To be effective, we will need to have absolute candor, and tell the other if there is something wrong. I not only won’t be angry if you give me negative feedback, in fact I expect it. You may be hurt by feedback I’ll give you – and that is not my intent. As we learn to work with each other, we’ll learn to adapt our feedback to maximize candor with minimal hurt”. This may sound corny and artificial, but it really works. It does make for an interesting job interview, however.
Brilliant! Thanks for sharing.
“Trust me before I’ve earned” is powerful. Or, trust me until I UNearn it.
Thanks Marc, I would enjoy seeing this played out, a “fly on the wall” in your interview process.
@Ken – I don’t do this for every interview, but have done it for E.A.’s., since their entire job hinges on trustful cooperation, managing information, time, and priorities.
My present E.A., who is the best I’ve ever known, was so surprised by this approach that she initially refused the job offer, since I was candid about the fact that my feedback might cause hurt at first. Fortunately, the recruiter knew me well, and convinced her to take the job. We’ve had an immensely fruitful working relationship for nearly 6 years, one that has benefited both of us and the entire group I lead.
Dan, I’m thinking “chicken or egg?”
Avoiding candor? The only times I’ve had to deal with the fallout of candor avoidance is when the boss doesn’t feel it’s worth his/her time to explain decisions & actions to the staff, or if being candid doesn’t further his/her agenda. Then it falls on me as my team’s leader to go into damage control mode.
Candor has to be handled carefully, as you have taken great pains to point out, Dan. My experience is that I, as a leader, have to model candor first, before I can expect candor in return. And model it in the best ways possible. Not negative, as in, “Well, don’t you want to know the truth?” And not self-centered. Candor has to be presented from your followers’ perspective — what is the value to them.
Then there is an issue that often rides on candor’s coattails — confidentiality. I tell my team that for me to be candid with them, they must understand the importance of confidentiality (in those instances where it comes into play).
Your experience and insight add value to this conversation.
I’m glad you’re pointing out that effective candor isn’t selfish, self-centered, indulgent, or an excuse to act like an idiot.
Candor sometimes hurts, but for me receiving it, is better then a fake smile. At least I know where I stand. If you know where you stand then you know which way to move.
Relationships without candor are facades.
It’s so true…we have to know where we are before we can get where we want to go.
Candor is a component of both authenticity (@carolburbank spoke to this well) and integrity. I believe that as leaders, we have an obligation to bring matters to the table in a clear and concise manner. @alalnkay1 points out the strong likelihood that what is not addressed in a proper forum, will ultimately be addressed in the arenas of water coolers and back rooms. The approach we take in displaying candor takes practice and a developed skill for our message to be received and embraced as constructive. As with trust, one must earn a positive reputation for candor. The list presented here is excellent and it reminds us several times to engage the audience in discussion, and to listen.
The feel I get from your comment is that candor isn’t an excuse to be ill mannered, abrupt, or cruel. Developing the skill of candor includes thinking of others…Anyone can be a bull in a china shop. It takes skill to enter sensitive situations with candor and tact.
Candor isn’t running rough shod over everyone.
Reblogged this on Movers, Shakers, Leadership Makers.