Honesty and Candor

You might find this surprising but there was a time when I used to be extremely paranoid of giving any kind of negative feedback. This, you have to agree, kind of sucks if you are in a position where one of your primary duties IS to do so.

Actually scratch that. I wasn’t scared of giving feedback. I was literally ANXIOUS of voicing ANYTHING which might make anyone mildly uncomfortable Because, you know, I don’t want to be the one to “ruin your day”.

And what did I do to fight that? Some people suggested “faking it ’till you make it”, which is a great way to battle anything. But not for me.

What I did was drown myself in books! Yep! I kid you not. I wanted to understand WHY is it that I’m feeling this uncomfortable, so I got my hands over anything that was remotely related to having difficult conversations.

Is it self-esteem? High level of empathy? Lack of practice? Something else? I was determined to find out.

Whatever it was, I knew two things for sure – I must not be the only one experiencing it and There has to be psychological explanation.

So I picked and read tons of material (full list will be provided at the end of the article). Stuff like Extreme Ownership, Difficult Conversations, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Radical Candor, etc. You name it and I likely read it.

Funny enough, all of those provided SOME base to it, but it wasn’t until I laid my hands on Creativity, Inc., where I found this topic of “Honesty and Candor” which is when all of it clicked in its place.

The Candid Framework

I highly recommend reading the whole book, because it’s an overall amazing resource. BUT, if you want a gist of the Honesty and Candor chapter, here it is:

There is a huge difference between being HONEST and BEING candid. Being 100% honest all the time is STUPID. What you want to do is aim at being 100% CANDID.

And you know what? This just gave me a permission to remain being anxious, all the while giving me a framework to still voice the stuff that needed to be voiced out. Win-win and kind of what behavioral part of therapy does πŸ™‚

Here’s my very layman description:

Being honest means speaking your thoughts in an unfiltered format. And this can be a rather stupid thing to do!

An example of “being honest and voicing it out loud” could be – “You act like a dumb idiot who doesn’t give a crap about this project!”. It’s totally legit thought to have, but voicing it is rather stupid, to say at least. It could even get you hurt because poking other person’s ego could lead towards being punched in the face. Not good.

Luckily, there’s a better approach. One that lets you still think somebody is an ignorant idiot, but helps you voice it in a more friendly manner. I call it “The Candid Framework”.

Being candid means speaking your thoughts in a way that focuses solely on the behavior of the person, all the while radiating support and empathy for them. It means you CARE (professionally, at least).

Here’s the same thought being voiced in different manner – “When you act silent and distant during meetings, it makes us think that you are not really interested in the outcome and eventual success of this project. And I’d like to find a way to improve that”.

It’s the same thought but framed such that you are not focusing on the PERSON but on the BEHAVIOR. And you are showing that you care about improving it.

For me, personally, this made ALL the difference in the world! All of a sudden it gave my permission to remain being anxious about being honest (phew!), but it also gave me a framework of how to provide feedback when needed and, eventually, help someone realize that their behavior should change. It’s a win-win! And so far it worked out rather nicely πŸ™‚

How to be more Candid

First and foremost, you have to understand that it takes patience, practice and a bit of courage. Last one being probably the hardest part because it’s that mental leap that you have to make, but once you do – every subsequent time becomes tenfold easier.

Being candid means understanding the following:

  1. You ALWAYS focus on BEHAVIOR. It’s never about “YOU did this”, but “WHEN YOU ACT LIKE _______” or “WHEN YOU DO __________”. Behaviors, not personalities!
  2. You provide feedback because you CARE. You care about somebody else’s career and/or personal image. And by omitting this you actually demonstrate that you DO NOT care enough in order to correct it!
  3. Read #1 — it’s ALWAYS about behavior!

The trick is – when you make it about a PERSON, you are playing on the edge of attacking their ego; and trust me – nobody likes having their ego attacked and they will, naturally, fight back (either by arguing or going fully silent). However, making it about BEHAVIOR shows the empathy (i.e. you understand how this makes others feel) and initiative (you want to correct this for the future good).

Again, it’s all easier said then done, but just like anything – it takes practice; or reading a lot; or both!

Now, valid question could be — how to avoid slipping towards arrogance?

It’s a tough one, I know! You could be trying to be candid whereas other person could portray you being assholish and, again, feel as if it’s about their ego. It sucks!

From my experience (and research) the key seems to be about building the pre-conditions to providing candid feedback. There are two approaches that I’m aware of:

  1. Relationship building — this is pretty much the standard one that you want to do – build a relationship and rapport with other person. Show yourself as a human and learn more about them. DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT start providing corrective feedback until you are both feeling comfortable in the (professional) relationship.
  2. Creating feedback-friendly environment — this is a really interesting one I picked up from the Creativity, Inc. Inside a company, they created a group called “Braintrust”, which is all about people who (seemingly) trust each other and when they meet, they meet to exchange feedback with the sole purpose of pushing the common goal further. Here’s a nice video where the author himself talks about it.

All above is way easier said than done; sure. My aim with this article is to equip you with ideas that you can and should further explore. You can find list of useful resources at the end of this article.

Going for a deeper dive

Everything above focused on breadth — as in, what you should know so that you can explore further and deeper.

What I’d like to focus on now is some introspection that I did over the years. As such, it’s interesting ONLY if you want to understand more about myself and my thought process.

I kept wondering – WTF is the problem? I definitely wouldn’t call myself a person with low self-esteem or confidence. And yet, thinking about saying something “negative” to a person would make me go all sweaty.

“How about I just ignore it and they’ll probably figure it out themselves” would be a de-facto approach. Never worked but hey … Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.

I read a lot and I spoke a lot to my therapist about this and we somehow managed to pinpoint a possible root cause of it — I (seemingly) have a deep fear of being abandoned.

It makes sense in a way and seems to be reflecting a lot of previously unexplainable behaviors. The problem with saying NO, the problem of giving feedback, the problem of voicing different opinion, … Stuff like that.

The usual flow goes something like this — if I say something negative to this person, they will in turn feel bad about what you said. By feeling bad, they will consequently dislike me because I was the messenger of “bad news”. And by disliking me they might stop acting so nice around me and, in turn, might want to stop being “friends” (for lack of better word) with me. And if this happens too often, I might lose all “friends” and no one will be cool with me any more.

That’s like, in a nutshell, a thought pattern. A stupid one, I agree, but the more you peel it down the more shit you run into.

Interestingly enough, there legit was a time when I wished I’d give less fucks and be way less empathetic. Assumption being – if I was less empathetic, I’d have better time finding my way around people and, maybe, be a better manager.

Let me spoil this for you right there – it’s a horrible assumption!

Do you know what’s the name of the condition where people show no empathy and/or remorse? Psychopathy and/or sociopathy (depending on the other behaviors)!

I’ve met quite some people who’d be characterized as mildly psychopathic and, even though they could get a better kick-start of their career, over a long stretches of time, they just can’t persist. They are HORRIBLE to be around and even though they may command respect, they are simply people that you don’t want to be “bossed” by. They might succeed in some low-competition professions, due to sheer luck of replacement, but in a highly-competitive market like IT is – they get kicked out the way rather quick.

As my therapist says – it’s easier to teach a nice girl to act as a slut then it is to teach a slut to be a cute girl. Well, not his exact words, but I prefer this version πŸ™‚ Hence, I lived long enough to find myself being happy about the fact that I have high level of empathy which, these days, I successfully tame with the use of above-mentioned framework.

Give it a shot!

Useful resources

As I said, when it comes to reading stuff on the topic of conversations, I like to believe I’ve read all there is. Or at least most of it.

The list below contains only the books that I’ve read and liked:

  • Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull — this article is named after one of the chapters, so it’s a no brainer that I recommend this book. Reason why I love it is because it tells a story from a POV of a software engineer trying to navigate his way through failure and success. Give it a shot πŸ™‚
  • Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen — the name says it all. It’s a book dedicated SOLELY to how to do difficult conversations. It honestly helped me TREMENDOUSLY and I can highly recommend reading it!
  • Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin — if you read any of my articles, you’ve likely come around this book. If not – well, it teaches you a LOT of things, and one of those things is holding people responsible for things. And providing feedback is one of the things you need to do in order to make this work.
  • Radical Candor by Kim Malone Scott — I didn’t like this book THAT much, but I like the idea. And the idea is that you are literally doing people a disservice by not providing immediate feedback. Some people say that reading a blog post with the same name is more than enough, so feel free to choose!
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman — yet another book that I keep recommending. And that’s because it’s just amazing. It helped me understand A LOT of things about my perception of stuff so I definitely recommend giving it a shot!
  • Manager Tools podcast — I stumbled upon this one by accident and I’m extremely grateful that I did so! If you never listened to them, go navigate to their Basics page. There’s also a book written by one of the podcasters, called The Effective Manager. I haven’t read it myself, but I did hear some positive reviews of it.

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