September 20, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
If asked, most of us would say that it’s good to speak up, tell the truth, and say what we mean. Yet we often fall well short of candor for two main reasons: fear and lack of skill. We’re afraid we’ll hurt ourselves or someone else. Do we tell the boss something he doesn’t want to hear? Do we tell our colleagues something that will upset or anger them? Should we admit we’ve made a mistake? Even if willing to speak up, if our attempts at candor are awkward, confusing or inflammatory, no one is helped.
A key element of skilled candor is describing your reality, not “the reality.” Speaking up openly and honestly isn’t the same as venting, shooting from the hip, bluster, argumentativeness, or attack – all of which prime others to resist rather than understand your message. It helps to remember the distinction between your truth and the Truth. When you say, for example, “This is how I see it,” you’re describing your reality. When you say, “This is how it is,” you claim to know not just your perception, but the Truth. No one knows your reality better than you, but anyone can claim to know the Truth at least as well or better than you do.
To describe your reality you need to know it and accept it as your unique take on the situation. A first step is reflection – looking within and asking yourself what you are thinking and feeling and why.
If, for example, you’re in a meeting and find yourself thinking, “This is all stupid. We’re going nowhere.” you could say that, but you’d be making a claim about the Truth that has little chance of being a productive contribution and may be very different from what others are experiencing. A brief reflection on what’s happening for you might reveal that you’re feeling confused and have lost track of what the conversation is about. That lets you say something like, “I don’t know how anyone else is feeling, but I’m lost. I don’t know where we’re going. Is it clearer for you than for me?” That statement shares your reality while giving others permission to see it differently. And it ends with a question asking others to take stock on how things are going.
You can strengthen your capacities for skilled candor when you:
Know yourself. Regular practices like journaling, meditation, or activities that encourage mindfulness build your capacities for self-reflection. Mindfulness is an important leadership skill, essential for monitoring your ongoing assessment of process – how you think things are going in your interactions with others – as well as content – the progress you believe you and others are making on the substance of the task at hand.
Slow down your reactions. Recognize that they are just that – your reactions.
Cool your inner critic. Resist jumping to fast conclusions and ask yourself why when you do.
Use “I” statements, if necessary, to develop the right habits of the mind. It may feel awkward at first, but it’ll keep you honest and focused on what’s happening for you.
Leadership is all about effective relationships and strong communications. So remember, the goal in all this is to find ways to engage others in honest conversations that enable you and others to learn — about what’s happening for individuals, about what’s happening in the exchange, and about how to work more effectively together.