In the workplace we all have to deal with awkward conversations. There is always the conversation you wish you cold avoid, or skip altogether. What if you could take the “awkward” out of that conversation? This week’s story, Candid Conversation, by Deb Calvert offers some very sage advice to help us through these situations. If we can learn the right way to be “candid” – and there is a right way and a wrong way – we can make these difficult conversations easier on us and the other person, with the added benefit of being productive.
by Deb Calvert
I n any given work week, there is at least one conversation you would rather not have. One conversation that you know will not go well, where people will express emotions that make you uncomfortable. One conversation where you may hold back because you do not trust your own emotions or reactions. One conversation that can overshadow the whole day, week or workplace. Why not dodge these uncomfortable conversations altogether? What would be the benefit of learning to deal with these situations candidly?
First and foremost, people who speak candidly (not cruelly) report higher levels of job satisfaction, confidence and results. By communicating clearly and openly about what is on your mind, you can even be more effective and more productive. You will not waste time and energy anticipating or dealing with negative reactions (yours or someone else’s).
So what is a candid conversation? The dictionary defines candor as “the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression, free from reservation, disguise, or subterfuge; straightforward.” Being candid means speaking plainly and not holding back what needs to be said.
Signs of a non candid conversation:
- You are not objective in your assessment of a situation. In order to be open and sincere, you first have to evaluate and consider multiple perspectives. Being “free from disguise or subterfuge” means you have to look beyond your own emotions and agenda. Being candid is not about being self-serving.
- You are blaming or shaming others. Being “free from reservation” does not give you license to attack, to point fingers, or to make others feel bad. Note that “straightforward” includes the direction “forward.” Looking back and saying things that are not productive in moving the team forward will be counterproductive – you will not enjoy the benefits described above by using candor as an excuse for lashing out at others.
- You use superlatives (always, never). These words compromise your credibility. They are instant flags to others that you are embellishing the truth because very few things are always or never. Stick to specifics and actual examples if you wish to be seen as sincere.
- You beat around the bush, minimize your own statements or apologize for what you say. There is no need to soften or qualify the truth if your intention is to remedy a situation or to help others. In fact, you can do more harm than good if you are tentative instead of being candid. Being “free from reservation” means you are certain about what you are saying. The way you say it must reflect that certainty if you expect others to understand your meaning.
- You feel you are protecting someone from the truth. By withholding information or diluting feedback you give to others, you may feel that you are being kind. It is far more likely, though, that you are gambling with someone else’s reputation and professional standing. Not knowing means not having a chance to correct course. Your kindness may be the very thing that stands in the way of someone else’s success. Think about it this way – would you rather hear a hard truth that hurt for a moment but gave you the insight you needed to improve OR would you rather continue to operate in a way that diminished your contribution, credibility and standing? Really helping someone else may mean telling them the truth, candidly.
To prepare yourself for a candid conversation, you should take time and think through what you will say and how you will say it. Check your intention. If you are harboring thoughts of payback, wanting to take someone down a notch, feeling superior, or looking for a scapegoat, then the time and situation is not right for you to be candid. You first need to get those emotions and motivations in check.
When you are able to view the pending conversation as essential for the team’s productivity and when you feel that your comments can be constructive and helpful, then it is time for you to initiate the candid conversation. Here are some pointers to help you prepare for it:
- Get clear (in your own mind) about what you want to accomplish. What outcome are you aiming for in this conversation? There should be more substance to what you say than “I just thought you would want to know.” Consider offering ideas for alternatives. Describe the impact so the other party is able to understand why and how this matters. Keep your objective outcome at the center of the conversation to keep the focus more positive.
- Being clear about your own objectives plus being objective in the way you present this information will defuse much of the emotion and defensiveness. By organizing your thoughts ahead of time and offering specific examples of behaviors you have observed, you will avoid going down a path that is vague and unhelpful. Choose a neutral phrasing about the situation like “I have observed three situations today” rather than an emotional, exaggerated and personal reaction like “You always…” To do this, talk in terms of the situation and the behaviors. Limit the number of times you say “you” and replace it with “I” or “we.”
Replacement phrasing turns “You make me so frustrated” to “I am feeling frustrated.” It shifts from “You need to change” to “How can we work together to do this differently?” These simple changes avoid making others feel ambushed and signal your intent to help by coming alongside them.
- It helps if you can also put yourself in the other party’s shoes. Consider what may be driving the behaviors that you are reacting to. Don’t assume that there is malicious intent or a character flaw. Most people genuinely want to do their best and to be viewed favorably by others. If you assume the worst, you will respond negatively instead of helpfully. Everyone deserves at least one chance to see things differently and make adjustments. You can help them do this if you are compassionate and considerate in the way you view the individual.
Learning the art of the candid conversation is not just the work of supervisors and managers. On a team, every individual contributor has a responsibility to be candid with every other team member. By doing so, your own work may improve, your job satisfaction will be enhanced, and your contribution to the team will be magnified.
Deb Calvert, President of People First Productivity Solutions, has worked as a Corporate Director in a Fortune 500 company and as a consultant, coach and trainer to over 400 businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. Deb is a certified executive coach, one of the “65 Most Influential Women in Business,” an instructor at UC-Berkeley, and a Top 50 Sales Influencer. She is Certified Master with The Leadership Challenge®, conducting workshops and coaching to help liberate the leader in everyone. Her first book DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected has been named one of “The Top 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time” by HubSpot. Her second book, Stop Selling and Start Leading, is now available. You can learn more about Deb and PFPS at www.peoplefirstps.com