Candor is about being honest, with a twist. It comes from a position of being sincere. Often times it involves caring about someone else or an issue.
Candor goes by a few other names as well. “Telling you how it is”, “giving the hard facts” or “not sugar coating it.” Whatever the name, I’ve found that being candid is hard. It’s hard to look someone in the eye and tell them something they might not want to hear.
It takes courage. It’s far easier to say nothing or tell a little white lie in hopes of protecting someone’s feelings. But, when it comes from a place of caring, when I want to help the other person, the truth IS the only option. Telling a lie may help me, but it won’t help them.
The opportunity to be candid, often centers around some piece of feedback. Someone might say, “Did you read my essay? What did you think?” or “How did I do on that presentation?”. These are opportunities to compliment and a chance to suggest areas for improvement.
It would feel good if all I ever heard were compliments. But, if that was the case, I would never get better at the things I care about.
It can be hard to hear the truth, but every piece of feedback I’ve ever gotten has helped me get better in some way.
When someone makes a suggestion for improvement, the natural reaction is to be defensive. I’ve responded this way more times than I care to count. I had what Dr. Heidi Grant calls a ‘be good’ mindset. In this state I want to prove my skills and show how I stack up against others. In this mindset, any form of constructive criticism puts me on the defensive.
When I’m defensive, I can’t see the truth in what someone is trying to tell me. I shut down. I feel like they are attacking me personally. When, in reality, they are trying to help.
As the good Dr. points out, a ‘get better’ mindset can change everything. With this mindset, it’s about improving skills, not proving them. I forget about measuring myself against others. The only comparison that matters is how I measure up to myself? Am I improving from one day to the next or not?
Whenever I’ve had this mindset I’ve been open to feedback. I also found I take action on the suggestions sooner. The result is always a good one. I improve on what it is I’m doing. I get better, faster.
6 years of practice
I had a unique opportunity to practice giving feedback and being candid. As a City Councilman for 6 years, it was my job.
In a way, the entire job was about telling the community what I thought. There are two ways to do this. The first is by voicing specific concerns or compliments. The second is by voting yes or no.
The coward’s approach would be to vote without voicing a question or concern beforehand. It can hard to take a stand on issues when you’re out in the open. But being silent wouldn’t be helping anyone but me. Sharing my thoughts allows others to respond, offer more feedback and creates discussion.
It’s impossible to make everyone happy in roles like this. But that’s not the job. The courage to voice an opinion is the same courage it takes to give candid feedback to a friend or employee.
This should all sound very logical. Yet, most people avoid being candid. It’s why when I come across someone that is, they stand out. They are that lighthouse on a shore of lies.
Act like a coach
Coaches are great at giving feedback.
Back in high school, our Varsity soccer coach would always yell the same thing. Receive the ball, turn and then move down field. Sounds simple, but everyone loved to receive the ball and start running immediately. They forgot the deliberate turn and pause.
When he saw someone do this in practice, or a game, the feedback was immediate. It was also very specific, it was about the turn. And it was feedback that would help the player and the team perform better. And guess what, we did. Every player improved day-in and day-out.
At work, it’s no different. When I do something well or screw something up, I need to know right away. Of course, I don’t always like it, but I need to know it. If I don’t, I can’t improve.
It’s rare to find coaches at work. One thing I should have done more of, is sought out feedback from peers and managers. It’s my responsibility to get better, no one else’s. If I need coaching I need to find it.
When I do find someone to give feedback I try to remind myself that it’s a gift. If I get defensive, people will stop telling me what they think.
And this is a gift I can give others. To make it worthwhile it needs to be immediate, specific and come from a place of caring. Just like a coach.