Can We Talk? The TRUTH Behind Candid Communication
By Kristen Wheeler
It is not always easy to be honest when communicating at work. Being candid can be scary. It can be difficult for a manager to tell a direct report that his or her work is not good enough. It is intimidating for a subordinate to contradict what their boss is thinking or saying. Team members take a risk of potentially hurting each other’s feelings when they provide critical feedback.
Common sense tells us that creating a culture that embraces honest, frank, candid discussions is crucial for opening innovative space. So why then is it so hard to do? Human emotions—we need to learn to check them at the door. Remember, it is not personal, it is productive.
Let’s get to the TRUTH of the matter.
Before we can truly be honest with each other, there must be a foundation of trust. Renown author, Stephen Covey established the 4 cores of credibility which outline the main ingredients for trust: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results. Covey says that trust grows when our motives are straightforward and based on mutual benefit — in other words, when we genuinely care not only for ourselves but also for the people we interact with, lead or serve.
Trust is built through our daily actions and words. And remember, being truthful applies to compliments and criticism. Fake flattery is easily recognizable and can cause people to question your intent.
Having candid conversations does not mean that we thoughtlessly say hurtful truths to our co-workers like Jim Carey did in the movie Liar, Liar.
Respect is essential when using frank communication. Before you jump into a candid discussion, ask yourself the four “W” questions: What are you going to say? When do you plan to say it? Where should the conversation should take place? And, ultimately, why is it important to say?
And don’t forget, it is not always what we say, it is how we say it. Tone and body language are key factors in creating effective dialogue. The purpose of candid communication is to shed light on an issue and hopefully solve the problem quickly. It is never designed to embarrass or shame someone.
Understand that feedback is not a dirty word. Kim Scott is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Radical Candor: Be a kickass boss without losing your humanity. In her book, Scott explains how using radical candor is the art of giving feedback in a way that challenges people directly while also showing that you care about them personally.
I coached high school sports for 24 years. Feedback was my business—I constantly gave it—and received it. Unequivocally, I can say that the coaching staff and the players wanted to perform well. Additionally, we all wanted to know how to perform better. The key to our success was honest feedback on a daily basis. In pre-season meetings we committed to being honest with each other, to not take feedback personally, and to hold each other accountable for our actions. This same formula can be applied to workplace teams.
During big games—or looming project deadlines—there is no time to sugar coat the feedback. It has to be direct, clear, and timely. This is where the foundation of trust is crucial and a group commitment to honesty allows the feedback to be productive, not personal.
It was said that Steve Jobs, Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of Apple, “always got it right.” Not because he always started with the correct answer, but because he insisted that people question, debate, and even challenge each idea. Steve wanted to get it right, not necessarily be right.
Having multiple voices brainstorm, question, and toss around ideas facilitates a team-centered approach. It becomes “our” idea, not “my” idea. Here again, we need to check our emotions at the door and focus on “we, not me.”
The ultimate goal is to use open-minded communication that is team-centered. For some people, especially those who are naturally more introverted, encouraging rigorous debate can feel edgy and uncomfortable. It is important for the facilitator to manage the voices in the room and to open space for those less likely to speak up. Remember, rigorous debate should never include personal or snide comments. Focus on facts, not people.
Diagram by Eileen Habelow, Leadership-Link.
The ultimate goal is to foster a healthy environment where trusted relationships are built and candid conversations drive better business results. In Radical Candor, Scott provides a HIP approach to help us be kind and clear with our criticism and sincere with our praise.
- Humble / Helpful
- In order to be open to reciprocal challenge, we must be humble enough to realize we may be wrong. We don’t have to have all of the answers, but when we are clear with our communication we are helpful.
- Immediate / In person
- There’s no time like the present. Immediate feedback is honest, less time consuming, and allows for quicker results. Communicating in person allows us to read body language and have real-time back and forth discussion.
- Private / Public / Personal
- Best to give criticism in private and (sincere) praise in public. And finally, remember, it should never be personal. Comments are about the work, not the person.