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In an effort to avoid conflict, leaders and team members often conceal their true feelings, withhold their opinions or outwardly agree and go along with the crowd when inside they are vehemently opposed. For some, this lack of candour also extends to hoarding information or avoiding communicating with others entirely, in an effort to save face or get and stay ahead of the pack.

Strength of the strategic plan and the ability for executives to collaborate cross-silo with their teams depends considerably on the trust and respect that exists within and between teams. The willingness to come forward with authenticity and transparency, to be frank in saying what’s true for me, is a key factor in building up that trust and respect.

In Jack Welch’s book Winning, he describes a lack of candour as businesses’ “dirty little secret”. Welch summarizes the positive effects of candor on an organization as:

  • Creating better outcomes: getting more people in on the conversation leads to more minds and more ideas.
  • Speeding things up in the process: surface, debate, improve, decide.
  • Cutting costs: replace boring meetings, pointless updates, and presentations with real conversations about the core issues.

It makes perfect sense. So why aren’t we more candid? One reason is that we’re taught not to be at a young age. Sensitive or awkward issues are softened or avoided. Our parents scolded us for pointing out something that we thought was obvious but “wasn’t a nice thing to point out.” But the main reason we’re not candid is simple: it’s easier not to be.

Healthy debate requires an understanding of the difference between ideological versus interpersonal conflict. Ideological conflict is healthy and constructive in that we are disagreeing on what we feel is best for the organization, the merits of a decision, or the way to proceed. Interpersonal conflict is damaging because focus is on difficulties with the other person.

Encouraging healthy debate and frank conversation is a great way to ensure that we aren’t simply doing things the way they’ve always been done. It pushes us to think about things in new ways, consider new lines of business, and take a second look at things we assumed we would always do. As a leader, modeling the behaviours that actively promote candour within your organization is a key part of your role. Here are a few ways to model candour, to build it in to your culture and to open your organization up to new ideas and ways of doing business:

Be real. Take some time to think about where you might be staying silent simply because it feels easier. From there, make the decision to be frank and speak your mind as often as possible. Focus on sharing information factually without spending too much time trying to “spin it.” Most people are smart enough to see through the spin and will feel that you’re probably hiding more than you’re sharing.

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