by | Feb 14, 2016 | Communication, Difficult Conversations, Leadership, Power of Being Uncomfortable

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Being candid is such a rarity today; maybe it always has been. We say we want it but tend to become defensive when we get it. Fear of negative reactions, conflict, and hurt feelings cause us to not want to be candid. But without it, so much goes left unsaid leaving missed opportunities to see new perspectives, course correct, and improve.

What exactly is candidness? Merriam Webster Dictionary has a simple yet articulate definition: the free expression of one’s true feelings and opinions. Candidness is the quality of speaking with honesty, authenticity, and directness.

But in my (candid) opinion, what’s missing from these definitions is the fact that effective candor is a two-way street. It not only involves expressing your true feelings and opinions but also listening (and considering) to what others are saying. It’s not about “just telling it like it is” and walking away.  It’s about engaging in meaningful conversation or debate about topics that matter to those involved. Candor is a dialogue, not an opportunity to stand on one’s soapbox pontificating, lecturing, or spewing hurtful opinions (think Donald Trump). When candor moves away from individual points of view, it opens the door to honest communication where you can explore meaningful, opposing, even uncomfortable, ideas and perspectives.

Candor Matters
It’s simple…without direct, honest feedback, no one and no organization can improve. Smart ideas are left unexplored when people are too intimated to speak up and share their thoughts. Assumptions go unchallenged leading to poor decision-making and failure to anticipate what might go wrong. A lack of straightforward communication affects every relationship and every organization.  Candidness is essential to solving the problems we face on a day-to-day basis.

The Decision to be Candid is a Personal Choice
No one can make you be candid. It’s 100% up to you to decide whether or not you are going to engage in thoughtful, honest, mutually beneficial communication. Sure, some people make it easier to be candid than others, but ultimately, it’s your responsibility. It might be messy at first…there is always a learning curve when you are figuring out how to effectively communicate with those you live with and work with, but it’s worth the effort (and pain). Like any skill, candor takes practice and self-evaluation. When the delivery of your message isn’t well-received, it may seem easier to shut down and clam up, vowing to never give feedback again, but this is the opposite of what you should do. Evaluate yourself. Was your tone too harsh? Did you have poor timing? Did you try to sugarcoat the message? Which leads me to…

How to Be More Candid Without Damaging Relationships
We all fear being too candid. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or make them mad, we don’t want to be viewed as a jerk, we fear that our words will be held against us, or that we may be passed up for a promotion because we shed light on a problem. These are all excuses. Candor can be done in a way that improves relationships, builds trust, and helps you be more successful. Here are some suggestions…

1.Be kind
Candid feedback does not mean cruel feedback. Remember that the person in front of you is a human being (rather than an obstacle) with hopes, dreams, fears, and feelings…just like you. Being direct can be (and should be) done with compassion. Candor is not about attacking, blaming, shaming, or finger-pointing. It’s about authentically sharing your thoughts and feelings to improve a situation. This means being clear on your intentions, motivations, and objectives. Make sure they are in the spirit of building up rather than tearing down. That being said…

2.Don’t Beat Around the Bush
Candor requires direct, straightforward speaking. Say what you think, say what you mean. Sugar coating the message minimizes your impact and it leads to misunderstandings. But…

3.Be Objective
Remember that what you are about to say is your opinion and as much as it feels like the absolute truth, you might not have the whole story (read my blog on not believing everything you think here). You may be flat out wrong. Being candid is about creating a dialogue; remaining objective helps to keep the door open rather than slamming it shut. To do this…

4.Have Specific Examples
The worst kind of feedback is unanchored feedback. Without specific examples to support your opinions, it’s hard for anyone to gain deeper insight or take you as seriously as they could. Plus without them, immediate defensiveness is created. I’ll give you an example: “I believe this is a bad idea” vs. “I believe this is a bad idea. We don’t have enough information to proceed. Recall the last time we made a knee jerk decision…we had to undo 6 months’ worth of work and start over.” And when it’s over…

5.Ask for Feedback
As I mentioned above, being effectively candid takes practice and the best kind of practice involves analyzing what went well and what went wrong. Plus getting the opinions of others on your candidness gives you the opportunity to get better at receiving feedback, showing that you truly value candor, even when it’s directed at you.

Make no bones about it, candor doesn’t come easily. As Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, states in his book ‘Winning’, “we are socialized from childhood to soften bad news or to make nice about awkward subjects… people don’t speak their minds because it’s simply easier not to. When you tell it like it is, you can so easily create a mess –- anger, pain, confusion, sadness, resentment.” We must let go of these fears to become truly effective communicators. We must be willing to the hard work.

In my experience, the deepest, most valuable relationships I have are with those who are candid with me and whom I am candid with in return. Effective candor = effective relationships.

Like this article? Check out my blog on how to say sorry this right way.

Thanks for reading and as always, please comment, like, and share to spread the word.

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  1. Kerry…… I have been at the receiving end of using candor a lot. What have you got to say when in spite of being kind, objective, and citing examples some people never agree with what you have to say? Are there people in your experiences who simply do not entertain feedback when there are in positions of power and above you?

  2. That’s a tough one. Not everyone takes feedback well. My one suggestion is to say, “Giving you this feedback is difficult for me and I would appreciate it if you’d hear me out…” sometimes approaching it this way helps the other person listen and be less defensive. But there’s one thing I’ve found in my years of developing people, you can’t teach accountability to adults. It’s virtually impossible. So if this person won’t entertain feedback and hold themselves accountable, they probably never will. Then you have a decision to make on whether or not it’s the right fit for you and if it’s worth it to continue to work for or with a person like this. I hope that helps!