Jun 30, 2022 - Economy

The beautiful clarity of true candor

Illustration of a coffee mug with the Axios logo with steam forming a thought bubble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The hardest thing for most aspiring leaders and managers to master is giving clear, direct and sometimes very hard feedback to others.

Why it matters: Candor, done right, is a time-saving, culture-strengthening, clarifying gift.

  • It gives the recipient total, unvarnished visibility instead of false praise or ambiguity.
  • If you do it deftly, they will thank you.

The backstory: My obsession with candor was born at the Washington Post. It’s a great paper, but it always troubled me in the mid-2000s that those in charge would move struggling reporters to less prominent beats, without shooting straight with them about their shortcomings.

  • To me, it is more humane to be respectfully honest about people’s weaknesses so they have a legit shot to change.
  • At Axios, candor is one of our core values: You do not duck the tough stuff. We push ourselves and leaders to have the difficult chats with total precision about what needs fixing and on what timetable.

What candor is:

  • Being clear and direct
  • Being honest in words and tone
  • Confronting difficult topics
  • Saying what you mean and meaning what you say
  • Saying it to someone’s face respectfully but bluntly

What candor is not:

  • License to be a jackass
  • Passive-aggressive
  • Indirect
  • Averting tough conversations
  • Hiding in fake niceties
  • Speaking emotionally and defensively

We think a lot about candor. Here are a few tricks that help us:

  1. Write down precisely what you want to say before saying it.
  2. Scrub out any hints of passive-aggressiveness or camouflage.
  3. Say what you need to say clinically, without emotion. And don’t lard it up with unnecessary words or caveats. Be direct. Be clear.
  4. Thank the person for taking your words in the spirit of candor and give them license and time to respond in kind.

The big picture: Think of candor as a disinfectant for all the game-playing, difficult-decision-avoiding nonsense most of us hate at work — and in life.

Go deeper