Constructive Candor

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHER PEOPLE IS HARD—giving a speech, dealing with a work issue, talking with your spouse or your kid—especially when the outcome matters to you.

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 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 identified three types of communicators:

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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 improve the situation and the people involved. Even at the most engaged and energetic level of communication (#3), the mistake is that little, if any, effort is invested to build a solution together.

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 plus 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. So, I like to ask, “What would things be like if it did?” Choosing a direction from there is where communication starts to matter. —DK