Nine Steps to Making Candor a Bigger Part of Your Life

Ferrazi_Keith_wBy Keith Ferrazzi – Ferrazzi Greenlight

Do you find that your colleagues and acquaintances would rather do ANYTHING than give you truly candid feedback (when it’s critical)? Meanwhile at home, you can’t get your family to lay off with the candor?

A friend was griping about that the other day, and there were lots of nods and laughs from the group. How can we get our coworkers to up the candor – and get a few more kudos from loved ones when we do things right?

Obvious but worth stating: If you want it, you’ve got to ask for it.

To make getting and giving candor a bigger part of your life, here’s a list of things to keep in mind.

1. Find People You Respect

We can’t be candid with everybody—nor would we want to be. Which is why we need to hand-pick the people around us whose opinions we value. When you think about it, we respect people for their kindness, their friendliness, their intelligence, their wisdom, their drive. It’s important to find someone we respect before even attempting to engage candidly with them. What do I mean by respect? It comes down to acknowledging another person’s uniqueness, value, perspective, and wisdom. If you don’t respect someone, believe me, they’ll sense it, and it will be impossible to establish a safe place between the two of you.

What about those people who may not have the business acumen you would like to see in an advisor, but whom you respect deeply as a person? These people can be great lifeline relationships in your life, but they’re probably not the ones who should be advising you on specific business issues that require particular expertise. Make sure you’re asking the right people the right questions—but in all cases, you’ll need that backbone of mutual respect.

2. Create the Opportunity

To open up a dialogue with another person and ask for his candid feedback, you might need to tee things up in advance of a meeting with an e-mail, so your friend has time to ponder what he might say beforehand. Here’s an example: “Jim—I was hoping you would do me a favor. You know I’m gunning for that promotion. Frankly, I could use all the advice I can get. I really respect your opinion. You see me every day—would you be willing sometime to give me a half-hour of candid feedback about what I do well, and what I am less strong on, from your perspective? Whatever you tell me will be deeply appreciated.”

If you’re after someone’s honest feedback, let him know you’re looking for real, objective criticism—not compliments or half-truths. To do this, first be honest with yourself. Ask yourself, Why am I approaching this person? Toward what end?

3. Make It Clear Any Feedback You Get Is a Gift

Express your gratitude when you receive feedback. What you’re asking for is a gift—of time, honesty, and thoughtful feedback. Here’s an example: Even in my dealings with Greg Seal, I sometimes have to remind him I need tough, objective feedback! When he delivers, I always convey my thanks that once again, he’s reminded me of the meaning of true friendship.

4. Acknowledge Your Faults

Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not. Most of us know, deep inside, what’s holding us back. By acknowledg-ing that you have things to work on, you make it much easier for others to be honest with you. You might begin: “Listen, I know I’ve got plenty of stuff to work on, but I hoped you might be able to point out a few things in particular that I could focus on.” By acknowledging up front that you’re imperfect (who isn’t?), you pave the way for another person to be honest with you.

5. Tell the Other Person What You Plan to Do with the Advice

You’re not asking for advice to put the other person on the spot, or to “test” her. You’re certainly not going to get angry or defensive. You’re simply gathering information. Tell the other person honestly, “I’m hoping to collect enough feed-back from a bunch of people I respect, to prioritize what I should focus on first. I’ll certainly get back to you on this, if you want. I will appreciate anything you have to tell me. Don’t be shy—please tell me exactly what you think.”

6. Don’t Tell Them What You Want to Hear

My advice is to begin generally and wait for the other person to make the first move by coming up with something specific. If she hems, haws, and otherwise resists giving you targeted feedback, say something like, “Really—I mean it. I would be deeply appreciative.” Then pause. A pause is a very effective way to encourage others to respond—most people will do anything to avoid an awkward or embarrassing silence.

Be sure you don’t start by leading the witness—by identifying your faults and asking the other person to confirm them. You’re after candor here, not an echo effect. Let yourself be surprised.

7. Ask Specific Questions

Once the other person has given feedback, it’s okay to bring up specific examples about yourself that you want to get reactions to. For example, you may say, “I think I may come across too strong. What do you think? Do you recall any specific examples?”

8. Take It or Leave It—but Deliver on Safety

Remember that asking for criticism doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Criticism is what it is: candid feedback from someone you respect and whose opinion matters to you. Ultimately, you decide how or whether you use or act on that feedback. When I disagree with someone’s perspective, I simply say, “Thank you,” or “I appreciate hearing that.” If I’m confused, I’ll ask for clarification—before thanking the person once again! Remember, you have nothing to lose—you are ultimately in control.

9. Paying Them Back

Ideally, candor should be mutual—but it doesn’t have to be if that person has no interest in your candid feedback. That’s his choice. Remember, most people get a tremendous amount out of helping others. If you are truly thankful for their input, they will be paid back instantly by the good feeling they’re getting from helping you. For me, the pinnacle of generosity is allowing other people to help us—particularly when they care about us.

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One Response to Nine Steps to Making Candor a Bigger Part of Your Life

  1. Justin Locke says:

    bravo for addressing this. i read this blog 3 times because it is such an issue for me, and i suppose for others as well. just a desultory response:

    i have a technique of using groups of people to critique my work. I call them (to myself) my board of directors. This includes people all across the scale, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, altho it’s typically about previewing something i have written or some other media. i have learned there are some people who are just very good at giving tactful honest feedback. it’s good to cultivate such people gradually rather than expect them to do one big hit and done.

    what i have also learned is, silence has much meaning. if people don’t like something, their first response is often to say nothing for fear of hurting your feelings. it’s important to read the silence.

    another issue has to do with economics and politics. i would truly hesitate to say anything bad about someone (to their face anyway) if they had power to hire and fire me. if they have the consciousness and maturity to seek criticism and make me feel safe in giving it, they are probably not the kind of person who is truly in need of criticism!

    i come from the world of orchestras, and in that realm, the conductor/ manager is god. it is simply not proper protocol for anyone to criticize that person to their face, as even if the conductor appreciates it, the other members of the orchestra do not approve of such things. to start telling the conductor how to do things implies a major level-leaping that can engender resentment from others who perhaps are afraid to say the same thing or may not agree with your assessment. funny i never thought about that til just now.

    anyway, it sure is a ticklish business! next step is how to do you get someone else to open up criticism? best, jl

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