Candor, Criticism, Teamwork

We’ve all been there: trapped in pointless meetings where participants are afraid to speak honestly. We twiddle our thumbs through diplomatic PowerPoint presentations, waiting for the meeting to end so that the real conversations—which usually happen in private—can begin.

The desire to avoid conflict is understandable, but it’s one of the most debilitating factors in organizational life. Lack of candor contributes to longer cycle times, slow decision making, and unnecessarily iterative discussions. A too-polite veneer often signals an overly politicized workplace: Colleagues who are afraid to speak honestly to people’s faces do it behind their backs. This behavior exacts a price.

My team interviewed executives at six top banks to gauge their teams’ level of candor. We found that the teams that scored the lowest on candor saw the poorest financial returns among those banks during the recent global economic crisis. In contrast, groups that communicated candidly about risky securities, lending practices, and other potential problems were able to preserve shareholder value.

Indeed, in our research at more than 50 large companies over the past three years, we identified “observable candor” as the behavior that best predicts high-performing teams. But asking people to be candid in the absence of a supportive organizational culture is a challenge. We believe that forthrightness should not just be encouraged but required. We’ve developed three techniques to help coworkers at all levels interact more directly.


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Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi


New York Times best-selling author, speaker

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