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Candor or Diplomacy:  Which One Should We Focus On?
By Scott Morrell






The Answer is Both! 

What is the template for an effective communicator? Should today’s leaders emulate the hard driving Bill Gates of Apple, Inc. or lead with the softer approach such as British Prime Minster, Margaret Thatcher? Should a leader focus on being Candid or being Diplomatic? What is the most effective style? What ultimately motivates? When a person relies on Candor they value: being direct, forth-right and “saying what they mean”. When a person relies on Diplomacy they value: exploring mutual interests, taking the time to listen and sending messages of empathy.  


However, if a leader over-focuses on Candor or Diplomacy, the leader may run the risk of alienating some of their followers and ultimately become an ineffective communicator. When we recognize attending to both (Candor AND Diplomacy) is essential and supplemental to “either/or” thinking, a leader is likely to strive closer toward being an effective communicator and, in turn, cultivate the entire organization. Therefore, we ought to teach our leaders to focus on being both Candid and Diplomatic for organizational effectiveness. 

    An Actionable Road Map

    Consider that there is an active energy system (like gravity), acting upon us at all times, constantly pushing and pulling us between these valuable tensions (i.e. Candor AND Diplomacy). These polarities are unavoidable, indestructible and unsolvable. How then shall we make sense of this reality?


    Most people are visual learners. Graphically seeing the polarities with their upside and downsides is a good start. However, identifying measurable Action Steps and Early Warning Signs, and assessing the performance of the polarities over time are vital.


    I recommend organizations start with measuring (empirically) how well they are presently leveraging each polarity of importance. Quick assessment results allow leaders and teams to see, with multiple stakeholder input, how well the organization is performing on each pole.

     


    Take Action

    In order to experience both upsides (e.g. the value of both Candor AND Diplomacy), action steps should be created to define SMART goals: who? what? where? and when? These accountability measures help leaders, teams or an entire organization to mobilize the behaviors needed to focus on that pole. When living in upsides of both poles at the same time a greater purpose is achieved. In other words, if we maximize measurable behaviors in Candor AND Diplomacy the organization will outperform organizations that only emphasis one pole over time. 

     

    Examples:

    Action Steps: Candor

    1.   For clarity sake, script out tough messages.

    2.  Limit the time for 1:1 meetings; get to the point.

    3.  Use the word, “Let me be candid…” in your communication.


    Action Steps: Diplomacy

    1.  Leave time in meetings to ask about important events in another person’s life.

    2.  Ask for alternative views and reward ideas provided.

    3.  Differentiate between one’s positions and be explicit with their interests.



    Warning Signs

    How would we know if one pole becomes more emphasized at the neglect of the other pole?  Early warning signs can point to the imbalance; they diagnose where attention is needed.  Early warning signs are also measurable things we can count for the purpose of informing the leader, team or organization they are trending downward on one pole.

     

    Examples:

    Early Warning Signs: Candor Outcomes

    1.  Increased silence in meetings.

    2.  Decrease in ideas offered by subordinates.

    3.  An increase of data from 360 degree reports that a leader is “cold and/or too blunt”.

      

    Early Warning Signs: Diplomacy Outcomes 

    1.  An increase that the leader never really shares their opinions.

    2.  Increase in comments of ambiguity among team members.

    3.  Confusion among subordinates on direction.


     

    There is No Mystery:  A Five Step Process

    A 5-Step Process allows an organization to fully diagnose and prescribe behaviors desired to achieve a competitive advantage and/or effective leadership.


    1.  SEEING - See an individual, team or organization and their Polarities more completely

    2.  MAPPING - Create quality and/or assessment ready Polarity Maps

    3.  ASSESSING - Assess how well key Polarities are being leveraged

    4.  LEARNING –  Make meaning of assessment results from diverse stakeholder perspectives

    5.  LEVERAGING – Achieve the greater purpose of each Polarity


    Stone Arch Organization Development has an innovative tool, Polarity Assessment for Continuity and Transformation (PACT) ™, available to help with mapping your Candor and Diplomacy realities.