Three Keys to Creating Candor

I work with a lot of leaders who want to be better at managing conflict.

Frankly, that's not their real issue. What they really need to do is get better at dealing with the absence of conflict. Far more teams suffer from the disease of pseudo-harmony than overt disputes. Personal attacks are quite rare.

If you want a litmus test for much pseudo-harmony you deal with at work, answer this: How many "meetings after the meetings" do you have? Meetings after the meetings are a sign of the unwillingness to speak out in the open. It costs time, energy, and worst of all, commitment. People who are afraid to speak up are also unwilling to buy-in.

The key ingredient that's missing from those meetings? Candor. Candor is the willingness to have straight talk, and to say what you really think. It's the direct opposite of politics, which Patrick Lencioni, in his Five Dysfunctions of a Team, defines as "when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.” Sound familiar?

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, in his book Winning, writes,
“Lack of candor blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.”  Without candor, you can't even begin to harness the full power and talents of your team. It means the willingness to have robust dialogue. This feels scary for some people, because it can mean stepping into a place of emotional discomfort.

Yet, even if your team is willing to be vulnerable with each other and create trust, there's no guarantee that you're going to wind up having robust discussions that lead to new ideas and better results. If that's the case, how do you create candor? How do you foster passionate debate among a team who genuinely wants to perform at a higher level? As a leader, instill these three keys:

1.Raise the Stakes

One of the main reasons for pseudo-harmony is the issues on the table aren't worth the effort of getting emotionally uncomfortable. If our priorities are trivial, why should I bother? Pick issues that are important. If people aren't passionate about the issues, they won't care about the outcomes.

2. Create Emotional Investment

People will suffer, sacrifice, and do all kinds of amazing things for that which they care deeply about. People don't debate to comply; they debate when they commit. Build trusting relationships where people know that it's ok for them to bring their whole selves to work and to the discussion. Real candor is not perfect. It's messy and heated at times. Be ready for it.

3. Use a Real Challenge

To get a team engaged in a passionate debate, you need them to be focused on a real work challenge. It will be messy, complex, and multi-faceted. If everyone already agrees about the issue, what is there to debate about? It's good to start with something where the team is not aligned. Then they go through the process of hearing each other out. In the end, not everyone's choice will be the "winner", but everyone will have had their say. People need to weigh-in before they will buy-in. Your final decision will be much better as a result of everyone's input being thrown into the pot and stirred up.

What else have you done to create candor on teams? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.