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Can I Be Candid with You? The Real Definition of Candor

A few weeks ago, a college student introduced me before I spoke at a conference. I heard him practicing out loud shortly before he was to read my introduction on stage. As he practiced, I heard him struggle with the word candor. Initially he pronounced it as can-door vs. can-dor. He’d never seen the word and didn’t know what it meant.

The word candor is not being used on a regular basis. Younger people may not know what it means. And, in my experience, people who are familiar with the word often misinterpret candor to mean bad news. Most people expect bad news to come after the question, “Can I be candid with you?”

The definition of candor is to be honest, truthful and forthright. We at Candid Culture define candor differently. The Candid Culture definition of candor:  Telling people what you need before challenges occur. Anticipating everything that can take a project or relationship off track and talking about potential pitfalls before they happen.

Think about the projects and processes in your office – hiring someone new, sourcing a vendor, training people on new software. The potential breakdowns are predictable. You know the pitfalls that can happen when starting anything new because you’ve experienced them.

What if candor sounded like, “We want this project to be smooth. There are a couple of things that will make our work together go well and a few things that may delay the project and have it cost more than we budgeted. Let’s talk about what needs to happen for things to go smoothly, ways to prevent missed deadlines, and how we’re going to handle breakdowns when they happen.”

Some call a conversation like this setting expectations, others call it planning. In my world, these conversations are called candor –talking about what you need when projects begin, rather than letting the anticipatable train wreck happen.

Candor isn’t bad news. It’s telling people how to win with you vs. making them guess.
Examples of candor at work and at home:

“Here a few of my pet peeves… It would be great if you could avoid them.”

“What will frustrate you?”

“I turn off my cell phone alerts at night, so feel free to text or call me anytime. I’ll respond to all messages in the morning.”

“I respond to text messages mostly quickly, then voicemail, then emails. If you don’t get a reply to an email within two or three days, don’t take it personally. Chances are I haven’t read the message. Feel free to follow up with a text or voicemail.”

“I work best by appointment. Drop by’s are hard because they interrupt my flow. Email or text me if you need something, and I’ll tell you when I can swing by. Does that work for you?”

For the most part, we treat people as we want to be treated. Other people aren’t us. They don’t do things as we do and don’t know what we want. Don’t make people guess how to work with you, what you need, and what you expect. Be candid and tell them! Then ask what the people you work and live with expect from you.

You won’t get what you don’t ask for.

The Story of Candid Culture: You Can Have Whatever You’re Willing to Work For

Five years ago today, I left my secure, corporate job to start Candid Culture, an international training and consulting firm, bringing candor back to the workplace, making it safe to tell the truth at work. Leaving the security of a regular paycheck was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, so scary that I talked about it for 12 years before finally taking action. After talking with friends and family about starting this business for so long, that they cut me off, on May 14th, 2007 I quit my job and left for Singapore to speak at my first international conference.

I wasn’t ready. I had no prospects and no plan. I didn’t think I’d be successful. In fact, I was reasonably convinced I’d fail. I was consumed with fear. But for the first time, my desire had become greater than my fear.

candid cultureTwo things moved me out of vacillation and into action.

Catalyst #1:  For the first time in my career, I had a job I didn’t like. Before my last job, I would have done every career-related (a.k.a. real) job I’d had for free. In my last job I made a lot of money but was unhappy. I swore I’d never be someone who kept a job for the money.

Catalyst #2:  I didn’t want to look back at the end of my career and wonder, what if?  When I was in high school I was captivated by the Henry David Thoreau quote, “I want to live deep and suck the marrow out of life.” I made a decision then that I would not live my life controlled by fear.

So I quit.

My definition of success was low. All I wanted was to be able to pay my mortgage and not live under a bridge or with my parents. Given how low I set the bar, it’s amazing my first year in business with Candid Culture was as good as it was.

The past five years have been the most fun, rewarding time in my life. I’ve had the privilege to speak in seven countries and on three continents, in 23 states, and with organizations of all types and sizes.

Our work is different. It is edgy and direct and rarely what people are expecting.  I cherish the feedback from conference attendees and clients, “You are a breadth of fresh air.” I can’t imagine being told anything better. Fresh implies different. And different can be scary.

We help organizations shift from cultures of silence and fear to a climates of candor and trust. Creating a more candid culture takes courage.

Thank you for your courage and your trust, and for believing that your organization can be a place people want to work and where they do their best work. I look forward to the next five years.


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