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Another Uncomfortable One for Your Leadership Skills List: Candor!

Graphic Showing Thinking Angry PeopleWhy does being candid make us squirm? After all, it’s a supervisor’s job to give useful feedback and to help others succeed. So why do we hold back on developing certain leadership skills, like speaking in a straightforward way?

Let’s examine the root of the problem: why we aren’t direct with others. That’ll make it easier to understand the importance of being candid and how such a conversation should sound -- with your direct reports, your colleagues, and your senior managers, too.

Leadership Skills List: Candor

First, let’s define candor. Candor is frankness, openness, and sincerity in speech or expression.

The reasons for dodging candor are many, so we’ll stick to the most common ones. Chances are you’ve noticed yourself making at least one of these excuses at work this week, and probably another one at home, too. Here are the big ones:

1. Fear

Some people are intimidated by authority or people who push back. In uncomfortable situations, they may say whatever ends the conversation most quickly or they may choose to avoid these kinds of conversations altogether. Anger or other strong emotions may be in play here, too.

2. Poor Self Image

Some supervisors are overly concerned with their popularity. Do you find that your need to be liked takes priority over the needs of others who could benefit from your feedback?

3. Misguided Compassion

Some supervisors soften or completely avoid harsh truths because they don’t want to hurt the other party’s feelings. While a noble thought, it’s still not a good excuse for being indirect. How can employees improve if you’re not helping them to learn from their mistakes?

4. Indecisiveness

Sometimes people can’t determine the best way to proceed or are afraid of botching the conversation. In avoiding risk and procrastinating due to a fruitless pursuit of perfection, they fail to make any decision until it’s too late.

5. Poor Active Listening Skills

Are you hearing what’s really being said, or just smiling and nodding? Are you forgetting to show empathy and prompt the person with follow-up questions? You can’t be fair in a candid conversation if you aren’t a full participant in two-way dialogue.

6. Lack of Trust

It’s easier to accept candid feedback from people we trust and from people who trust us. Establishing workplace trust -- up, down, and across the organization -- sets you up for success in other ways, too. If you’re not feeling comfortable in candid conversations, consider what work might need to be done to build trust in the team.  

7. Unsafe Environment

For some, the risk may seem too high for “telling it like it is.” Fear of retribution, whether minor or serious, may exist. Whether real or perceived, this fear can impede the progress of entire teams.

8. Perception of Power Imbalance

When you’re speaking with next-level managers, you may feel it’s not “your place” to speak the truth or share what’s on your mind. You may even feel that your opinion is not worthy, valid, or wanted. Before you assume this is the case, test the waters. You might be surprised as how eager others are to hear your perspective.

Tips for Being More Candid

You can defuse emotional responses and be more effective when you use these tips:

  • Address issues before any toxicity spreads. The longer an issue lingers, the more it can poison your relationship and/or the morale of the office.

  • When meeting, sit together on the same side of the table (not across the desk!). Make it clear you’re a teammate, not a dictator.

  • Focus on the issue, not the person. This will make the talk seem like less of a personal attack.

  • Focus only on the specific concern you’re meeting about that day. Don’t let things go off the rails or start rattling off everything you dislike all at once. Keep the topic narrow.

  • Avoid hyperbole. Words like “always” and “never” only inflame because they are exaggerating the issues. Give specific examples in a neutral tone instead.

  • Offer encouragement so the employee knows you want them to succeed. People feel better when you boost them up instead of tearing them down. Keep your primary goal in mind -- you want and need people to succeed, so focus forward on how to be successful.

  • Make it clear you’re all on the same team, supporting each other. Your success is their success, and vice versa. Let the other party know the purpose of the talk is to improve their chances of success, office morale, and productivity, not issue punishment.

If you’re finding that it’s hard to give difficult feedback, keep working on it! You’re doing no favors by making other people guess or work for the truth. And you’re chickening out if you task someone else with passing along your feedback to other people. It’s got to be you.

How the Conversation Should Really Go

Sometimes, when attempting to be candid, you have to fight your body’s instincts to do otherwise. Muscles may tense. Your facial expression may change. With practice, these involuntary reactions should lessen.

Fortunately, you can prepare yourself for a candid conversation with a few simple steps:

Think about not just what you say, but how you say it. A simple change in angle can produce a wildly different conversation.

Don’t lead with, “I’m unhappy with your actions.” … Instead inquire with an open mind and say, “I want to start by understanding your point of view.” And instead of attacking with “Why didn’t you do this the way I asked?” … start with, “I’d like to discuss ways we can work together more efficiently.”

Not every fire is going to be put out quickly. If the conversation becomes heated, return to “Inquire with an open mind.” That’s a big one, and asking the right follow-up questions may finally get you to the heart of the issue.

In the end, the employee should “get it” and even respect you. They will if you effectively communicate why what you’re saying matters and how the team (and the individual, too!) will benefit from a change in behavior.

Always Leave the Door Open

With these tips, you should be able to reach a mutually agreeable resolution. That said … resolving a conflict does not mean you have to meet in the middle. In the end, you’re a leader, and you must make the best decision for the group. If you need to proceed in ways others won’t like, make it clear to them why you did what you did.

Just make sure you keep your door open for future dialogue. Candid workplace conversations should always be encouraged, not stifled!

To learn more about mastering tricky supervisory skills, try our Workplace Conversations e-learning tool. Click the button below to get started!

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