“Don’t call that lady fat,” mothers often tell their children. But in the workplace, politeness often comes with a price. If you don’t tell your boss what's bothering you, you’re doomed to live with the problem. If you don’t point out the flaws in your co-worker's concept, an entire project may fail because no one spoke up. Candor doesn’t come easily for most people, but with practice you can learn to be honest and help others to be frank, too.
Break the Big Group into Smaller Units
It’s hard to speak freely in front of a large group, especially when you don't know everyone. To encourage candid conversation, break the big group into smaller units and give the small groups tasks to work on together so they can get to know each other and build trust. Once the smaller unit has bonded, then you can ask hard questions and get honest answers.
Shake Up the Seating Chart
Private offices may make people feel important, but they create real, physical barriers. They make the occupants seem unapproachable, decreasing the chances that those who have something honest to say will speak up. Private offices also prohibit the inhabitants from hearing the real conversations going on in the trenches. Break down those walls, and even cubicle barriers, to encourage the kind of spontaneous free-flowing conversation that builds relationships and candid discussion.
Treat Emotions as Facts
The next time you're sitting at your desk fuming about something a colleague did, conduct a Zen-like examination of the situation. Try to understand the situation from her perspective and figure out why she did the thing that irritated you. Dare to broach the topic with your co-worker, but don’t stray into the Land of Emotion. Treat emotions as facts. For example, instead of saying, “You make me so mad when you do that,” say, “We have so little private space in this office, so I feel like you’re violating my very limited territory when you put your coat on my chair every morning.” Propose a solution and ask for your colleague’s help to relieve the tension and make both of you feel more comfortable.
Practice on a Small Scale
If you think a particular business practice is unwise, or an office policy makes you uncomfortable, and you’re hesitant to approach the boss about it, start on a smaller scale by raising your concerns with colleagues and asking whether they think the issue is worth bringing up with the boss. Don’t let the conversation become a gripe session or a gossip-fest. The aim should be positive action, preferably a constructive group approach to ask the boss to reconsider the policy or decision of concern.
- Ridge Training: Candor at Work
- Stanford Graduate School of Business: Create Candor in the Workplace, Says Jack Welch
- Harvard University Gazette: That’s Not What I Meant at All
- Wall Street Journal: How to Change Your Organization’s Culture
- Harvard Business Review: Candor, Criticism, Teamwork
- Harvard Business Review: Speaking Up Takes Confidence, Candor, and Courage
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.