I once worked for a career outplacement firm (supporting people who lost their jobs) and had a client who was very smart and accomplished. After a few sessions together, he landed an interview for a job he really wanted. So we practiced his interview skills, including body language.
He answered all the practice questions well. He was dressed meticulously and he smiled at least four times during our session — one of the best ways to ace an interview.
But he couldn’t keep his eyes off my chest. It was uncomfortable for me and very distracting. I didn’t quite know how to handle it because I didn’t want to compromise our professional relationship. However, I thought it was in his best interest to be candid.
So I said, “Bill, if you interview with a woman and keep your eyes on her chest like you’re doing with me, I guarantee you won’t get the job.”
Poor guy. He turned purple. He may not have realized what he was doing. He apologized. And thankfully he did get the job. Hopefully, addressing this issue helped him throughout his career. It wasn’t the first time I’d had to be candid with a client and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But it’s not easy.
Pro’s and Con’s of Candor
There are all kinds of reasons why we avoid candor, including:
- Someone might get their feelings hurt
- We dislike conflict and don’t want to cope with the fallout
- We fear being labeled a troublemaker or “not a team player”
- It’s hard to know whether we’re being candid or just overly blunt and obnoxious
Classic philosopher, Immanuel Kant believed that not being candid is more about self-interest and can be the ultimate form of alienation.
When people avoid candor to curry favor with other people, they actually destroy trust, and in that way, they ultimately erode society.” —Immanuel Kant
Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric said, “Lack of candor is the biggest dirty little secret in business…lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.”
The benefits of being candid outweigh the risks. When you’re being straight with people, they’ll have more respect for you, even if they don’t agree with you. And the more you do it, the more likely others will be willing to follow suit. It’s the most effective way to address issues and find speedy solutions.
How To Create Candor
To create candor, at work or at home, make it a goal everyone can buy into. If they struggle, offer the following ways to ease into it. They can start with:
- “It’s my opinion that…”
- “I believe that…”
- “We would be well served by…”
- “After giving this much thought, I…”
- “That may be true, but my perspective is…”
- “Let’s address the elephant in the room…”
In some circumstances, you can also use the “4-F Model” to guide you through the communication process:
F – Address the Facts
F – Describe the Feelings involved, if applicable
F – State the Fallout or results you want to achieve
F – Then ask others for Feedback
Welch describes how he was able to create candor in his organization. He said, “To get candor, you reward it, praise it, and talk about it. You make public heroes out of people who demonstrate it. You yourself demonstrate it in an exuberant and even exaggerated way. Candor works because candor unclutters.”
To encourage others to use candor, avoid retaliation or punishment once they speak up. To get into the habit yourself, start out with low-risk circumstances. Call out the good things that happen as well as those that may be more critical. Train yourself to eliminate the fluff when you talk or email, just as you would do when writing.
Finally, make it a goal to get to the point and say exactly what you mean!
Inspiring and Humorous Quotes
“My definition of an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger.” —Billy Connolly
“People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.” —Isaac Asimov
“…the history of ideas — both social and scientific — shows again and again that even the most brilliant thinkers typically grasp only part of the truth, and a fuller understanding comes only after a clash of ideas with others, even when those others are fundamentally mistaken on the whole.” —Thomas Sowell
Books I Recommend
Winning by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch (especially Chapter Two about Candor), a great management book.
Falling Up: humorous poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein. Also author of Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic and The Giving Tree. Humorous, light-hearted books to read to your youngsters, or even to yourself, for more creativity and a positive outlook on life.
Movie I Recommend
Created Equal: the story of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Excellent movie. Inspiring! Visit justicethomasmovie.com “Unscripted and without narration, the documentary takes the viewer through this complex and often painful life, dealing with race, faith, power, jurisprudence, and personal resilience.”