In 1984, I held a part-time job in graduate school teaching public speaking to undergrads. On my first day of class, I turned to that first group of students and told them that, with all due respect to their Business, Science, and Math professors, my class on Communication skills was THE MOST important learning they would undertake in their college career. It would, I claimed enthusiastically, more deeply affect their work, their relationships and the world around them than any other topic of study.
The nearly thirty years of teaching and coaching that have followed from that experience have only convinced me more of the prime importance of communication in our lives. To this day, all my professional work has been grounded in the core belief that becoming genuinely better at communicating is better for your life. I’ve seen first hand how conversations foster or damage the relationships, ideas and commitments that people bring to the organizations and causes they belong.
From that unique vantage point, I’ve developed a way of working with clients and audiences that reflects the same urgency that guided me to the front of that classroom. Now the sense of importance is accompanied by a set of insights, honed from thousands of teachable moments, about what works and what doesn’t when we communicate not only with others but with ourselves.
I revere the capability that humans have to create emotion and meaning through their spoken words. I’ve seen the best and the worst and much in between. And I strive every day to help others learn from what I see.
Why Constructive Candor Matters
Communicating with other people is hard. Especially when the outcome matters to you. Giving a speech. . . Dealing with a work issue. . . Talking with your spouse or your kid.
Life turns on conversations. But so many of us lack the tools to speak to others when our deepest feelings and needs are on the line.
Constructive Candor is a process and a way of thinking I’ve developed that gives you to best chance to have productive, powerful conversations.
It turns something fraught with fear, problems and drama into something easier and less worrisome.
Constructive Candor is a way to prepare for, engage in, and sustain the conversations that matter the most. A way to make sure you’re at your very best and giving yourself a genuine chance to connect with and influence others.
Based on the years I’ve watched and listened to people communicate, I’ve come to believe there are three types of communicators. When confronted with something that could change for the better through the right conversation, are you:
The Silent. You’re not going to bring “It” up, because that will just make things worse. See if this sounds familiar: I’m just going to keep my head down…. It won’t make any difference anyway. I might get in trouble . . I might hurt their feelings and they’re not going to do anything about it anyway so why should try?
The Bitcher. Are you one of those people who spill their frustrations or ideas to listeners that are already friendly, or at least tolerant, towards you?. The Bitcher is the employee who has a conflict with a colleague that drains the energy of the whole team. But the only conversation that’s happening is with a third and seemingly sympathetic party. And by the time the Bitcher is done, he is convinced that he is more right than before he got there, and usually feels not much more need be done or can be done. The Bitcher finds the convenient scapegoat to blame the conflict on (who is never in the room to hear the concerns) It’s the parent who complains to other parents about bad education or a bad teacher, yet never finds a way to the school to share their concern.
The Honest. These are the people who finally build up enough frustration that it pushes them into the room with the person that is the source of conflict. And to their face, they tell them how angry and disappointed they are in the person or the situation and DEMAND that something be done, because if something isn’t done, it’s just going to get worse.. They usually mix in that they are just being honest or direct or candid or speaking their mind or getting it off their chest and that someone better fix it.
See the problem? Though the engagement and directness increases from #1 to #3, it is simply not good enough to make the situation and the people involved better. Even at the most engaged and energetic (#3), the mistake is little (if any) effort is invested to build (CONSTRUCT) a solution together that has the best chance to work.
Without the strength created by the right conversation over time, nothing grows except skepticism, pessimism, and frustration.
Yet there IS a chance to be better. A fourth place to communicate. In a place of Constructive Candor.
Constructive Candor means that you enter an important conversation remembering that ultimate success in our lives comes from inviting others to converse with respect, trust and humility. And then you back it up with your actions: With the right preparation, you begin by speaking directly to the uncomfortable, challenging issue at hand. You then ask as many questions as the number of statements you make. You strive to listen more than you speak. And you conclude with shared clarity and encouragement about what will happen next.
Truth be told, for the thirty years of my work, Constructive Candor still remains rare. When people hear about it, they both “get it” and pretty quickly tell me how hard it is and why it might not work. I know that. I then like to ask, “What would things be like if it did?” Choosing a direction from there is where it truly starts to matter. There’s consequence in either choice, right?
How I Work
You’re faced with new responsibilities in your organization or maybe some concerning input that you need to be a better leader and communicator. (On top of everything else you need to figure out and get done!) Through interview-driven feedback collection, you and I take a hard look at the perceptions that others have of how you treat them. Then, if you’re up for it, we find ways to make things better. Here I serve as a unique sounding board and a candid broker of ideas for you.
No matter how talented or smart you’ve been told you are, your success and the success of the organization you care about is going to happen only after you and others figure out the best way to work together and find a way to stick with it. I serve here as a guide to what proves to be a very difficult and productive set of conversations with you and your colleagues about what it takes to communicate with genuine collaboration. I believe it may be the hardest (and most important) thing for a group to do.
The widest road to provoke new thinking and the action that can follow. Striving to communicate better and create change that matters has taught the clients I’ve worked with some lessons that anyone can learn from. I’ve been fortunate enough to create delivery of those lessons in a way that people find entertaining, uplifting and practical. Speeches have moved audiences for centuries and I am honored to continue this practice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is it you do?
Clients have called me their coach, their work shrink, their (pick your favorite clergy-type), or their teacher. What do we work on? The fundamental issue that keeps coming up is how do you go about being the best communicator you can be, especially under the pressure of working with others to get something important done.
I’m a trusted filter for your ideas, for your fear, and for connecting the way you speak and converse to results that matter.
Why are you solo?
Helping clients build the most productive communication strategy, I believe, is intimate work. We need to freely be able to deal with the hard realities of perceptions and impressions that others have of you and your credibility. Approaching those conversations with a practical optimism takes trust and respect. I bring that to every conversation we have. I invite you to do the same.
There is a practical limitation and affect that “solo” has on my business. As a friend reminded me, the service I deliver has its highest value “en vivo.” That means a focused client list and a healthy fee structure. It, ultimately, is the simplest model of creating the best learning.
How long does it take?
How much does it cost?
The most often asked question. (Actually it’s two, huh?) Candidly, though understandable, it’s often asked at the most unproductive time. Unproductive because the question(s) come before you’ve clarified what it is you’re setting out to accomplish and what you’re willing to invest to succeed.
Is it worth investing a four to five figure fee in learning that takes, on average, multiple months and years if you aren’t clear and committed to remarkable outcomes? Not likely.
Can people really change?
My short answer is yes. Do clients make life-altering changes? I see it more than often. Although, the rarified air of change is change that is sustained. That’s where efforts to communicate better, outlive the presence of the coach. That’s much harder. That’s change that builds faith and trust in oneself and in others. And that is where our work aspires to go.
Are you up for sustainable change? Or, as classically posed to me: Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Yep. If the dog wants to learn.
What is the difference between those who sustain the change and those who too quickly fall back to old ways?
More than once, I have said those who say they don’t need to get better or can’t change are those who would benefit most. But they are, at their heart, too scared to do the hard work. They will never invest.
The others who find some short-term value in the work and revert to old ways likely did it for a reason that’s not sustainable like “my boss told me to change” and they were looking for an easy fix. That is the work not worth doing.
The most successful clients believe that growing is admitting not only that they don’t know something, but think deeply enough to ask genuine questions and embrace new approaches to old problems. They also know that, when you wipe it all away, Shakespeare got it right over 400 years ago when he wrote:
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”
That’s a demanding thing to admit, let alone undertake sustained work to address. But those who do, ultimately help make the biggest difference in the places and relationships they care about.
What’s your favorite movie?
Virtual tie: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Godfather Part II.
Drew Kugler at Marlborough School (2014)
Drew addresses how parents are literally "mis-preparing" their children for the future they face and what can done to productively address the challenge.