Candor vs. Civility

On July 27, 2018, in Dr. Todd Dewett, Editorial Advisory Board, HRExaminer, by Dr. Todd Dewett

“You cannot choose civility over candor. Civility is vital, but without candor it is useless.” – Dr. Todd Dewett

Candor Versus Civility

by Dr. Todd Dewett

Here is a harsh truth I see in many teams. Otherwise competent professionals can’t bring themselves to discuss the most basic realities that define their teams: members who behave rudely, members who produce poor quality work, members who are not completely honest about issues, sacred cows that have existed in the group for years . . ..

This is unfortunate since getting past these barriers is required for real performance improvement.

You cannot choose civility over candor.  Civility is vital, but without candor it is useless.  Let me be specific.  When I say candor I am referring to positive, as-needed, on-the-fly, performance-related, frank and honest conversation.  Great conversation is never heavily nuanced, political, or politically correct – and in the best conversations there is very little beating around the bush.  The main goal is not to save someone’s feelings, but to get the point across accurately so that everyone gets it immediately.  With few exceptions, great teams choose candor over civility.

Dr. Todd Dewett | Founding member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Dr. Todd Dewett | Founding member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

In order to successfully embrace candor as a team norm, keep a few things in mind.  First, do your best to address issues, not people – and choose a positive frame for your comments.  Any idea can be framed negatively or positively.  The more emotionally loaded the issue, the more necessary a positive frame.  Next, admit any shared blame you have – i.e., own your contribution to the current state of affairs being addressed. Another great piece of advice is to only engage candor when you can offer solid ideas and solutions, not merely indictments and criticisms.

To have candor is not to lack civility.  It simply means that you have set performance as the highest priority.  To name the “elephant in the room,” to tell the Emperor he has no clothes –  these are difficult tasks.  Leaders must be honest and look in the mirror. If your group can’t manage a little candor, you are choosing mediocrity.  Time to start having real conversations.


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