Unsure Where to Begin Improving Your Company? Start With Candor.
Wherever people exist, so too does self-interest. In the office, for example, there’s the political game of resource allocation so people and departments receive what they need. However, there are also the individual politics of having to navigate the difficult personalities, over-inflated egos, and self-serving interests that influence decision-making. I’d rather play in traffic than navigate messy office politics.
While it’s true that playing office politics is about as fun as sitting in cold water, they’re also inevitable. Ignoring the political game isn’t a solution. After all, if you’re not “playing the game” then you lose the opportunities to influence, network or exercise other skills associated with being a leader.
Rather than playing the game known as office politics, try to change the game altogether. Politics are a symptom of much deeper organizational issues such as a lack of trust, poor communication processes or accountability that doesn’t exist.
If you don’t like the game you’re playing, play a different game. Instead of navigating the BS associated with office politics, try instituting trust and candor that juxtapose traditional infighting. After all, one of the best ways to build trust is to extend trust. Here are three strategies for building a culture of candor in your company:
1. Define what it means to be candid.
People sometimes confuse speaking candidly with “telling it like it is” and not giving a thought to how their message is received. That’s not candor, that’s social ineptitude -- or what I call being a social hand grenade. You can be open and direct while still respecting the people around you.
Candor is a sign of respect. When you’re candid you actually save time by addressing difficult issues now rather than letting them fester into something worse (and more complex) later.
2. Remove yourself from the problem.
One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” How you show up -- happy or sad, excited or bored -- is a choice. When you take offense to a hot-button issue that arose from a conversation, ask yourself: “Why am I giving this person the power to offend me?”
The truth is, the problem is rarely “out there.” Rather, oftentimes the problem is how you see the problem.
3. Talk with your team, not about them.
Anonymous feedback is one of the worst practices I see coaching leadership teams. It does nothing to build trust. Hiding behind a wall of anonymity actually perpetuates mistrust by sending the message that candor is not acceptable. It prevents people from facing their fear of conflict.
Problems don’t get solved through backchanneling, gossip or comment cards left in a drop-off box. Ignoring fear doesn't make it go away. Instead, ask for feedback, solicit advice -- and do so in front of the group so people see it. That way, you create a psychologically safe environment for others to do the same while modeling the way yourself. If the thought of talking with your team feels uneasy, then that's exactly what your next step should be.
Always consider the context of the office politics. Seek to understand why decisions are made rather than assume the intent behind them. If you're unclear at any point, just ask. Candor has a way of creating clarity.