Rarely do teams grow and thrive on their own. Left alone, they tend to lose focus, energy and momentum. The risk of the status quo and mediocrity creep in and if we aren’t careful, good people tend to coast and great people start to leave. As leaders, our willingness – or lack thereof – to engage in candid conversations can be a game changer not only to the results we achieve but the way we achieve them.

All too often though, candid conversations take on a negative connotation and are diluted, left too late or avoided altogether. A big part of our role is to manage, guide and develop the people who work in our teams and, to do this effectively, we need to care enough to be honest and confident enough to engage in the tough conversations.

John Maxwell, author of Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, suggests that one of the main reasons even the most well-intentioned leaders fail to effectively engage in the tough conversation is they don’t see how they can care and be candid at the same time.

It is this belief that care and candour are mutually exclusive that all too often gets in the way, which is ironic given that most of us are actively seeking honest and truthful dialogue even if it feels a bit uncomfortable to hear. There is no doubt that how and when you deliver this dialogue is critical as is the intent for giving it.

As Maxwell notes, it’s like going to the doctor or surgeon for a procedure – while we know it might hurt we know the intent is to help with whatever issues we might be facing.

The real danger of not engaging in the candid conversation is misalignment, confusion and conflict. Not only does this affect individuals, it can also pervade the broader team compromising performance, timeliness and results. Mistrust starts to breed and individuals question the value of what they do and the impact it has.

At the heart of balancing care and candour is relationship. People will not care what you think unless they believe you value both the ‘greater good’ and them as individuals. Candour requires trust and trust requires relationship.

Leaders who invest in getting to know and understand their people and provide opportunities for them to perform successfully and to be heard are rewarded with an openness to listen and engage.

When leaders engage in the difficult conversations with positive intent, everyone wins – clients, customers, shareholders and employees. Confidence is lifted, trust grows and focus is sharpened. Not only is momentum built and sustained, it is increased.

So how do we balance care and candour? I would encourage you to consider the following 7 tips as you plan for and engage in candid conversations.

7 tips to help plan for engaging candid conversations

  1. Invest in trusted relationships:

    Without trust, there can be no candour.

  2. Consider the ‘when and how’:

    What is the most conducive environment for both parties to engage?

  3. Check for assumptions and emotional triggers:

    Investigate the core of the issue or purpose.

  4. Set the intent:

    Use neutralising statements that don’t incite defensiveness and define what needs to be resolved or discussed.

  5. Make them evidence-based:

    Anchor examples of behaviour, outcomes, and opportunities in recent events.

  6. Ask and listen:

    Prepare your questions and be prepared to listen for different views and perspectives.

  7. Focus on future outcome:

    Maintain a solution- or action-oriented focus that propels forward action.