—Gaining Common Understanding

Introduction

Candor requires attention to the six elements of: peer relationships, respect, thinking, feeling, clarity, and veracity.

You hear their words, but are you buying this? Our conversations are most genuine when we begin with well-considered thoughts, acknowledge our feelings, are clear and honest about what we want to say, and we treat our listeners as respected peers. These are the six essential elements of the authentic expression we call candor.[1]

Objectives

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Attribution: User lbeaumont created this resource and is actively using it. Please coordinate future development with this user if possible.

The objective of this course is to improve your ability to communicate accurately and effectively.

This course is part of the Emotional Competency curriculum and the Applied Wisdom Curriculum. This material has been adapted from the EmotionalCompetency.com page on Authentic Expression, with permission of the author.

If you wish to contact the instructor, please click here to send me an email or leave a comment or question on the discussion page.

Characterizing Candor

Candor is authentic communication. It is honesty, straight talk, making clear thinking visible, an essential element of earning trust, a step toward gaining a common understanding, and a congruence of intent, thought, feeling, and expression.

Related terms, and close synonyms include connecting, directness, forthrightness, frankness, genuineness, honesty, good faith, impartiality, openness, outspokenness, probity, sincerity, straightforwardness, transparency, truthfulness, uprightness, veracity, true talk, and straight talk. These all refer to important aspects of authentic expression we call candor.

Attributes

Candor requires attention to the six elements of: peer relationships, respect, thinking, feeling, clarity, and veracity. Communications with all of these elements help to increase trust in relationships. Each of these elements are described below in detail.

Peer Relationships

Peers have equal power and therefore a symmetrical relationship. When power is balanced between the communicating parties they treat each other as equals and facts, thoughts, opinions, and information can emerge and be considered and examined undistorted by the deference, emphasis, censorship, obedience, and often resentment or rebellion that characterize power differences. The information can be considered on its own merits without anyone being unduly influenced by the stature[2], status, or reputation of the speaker or intimidated by any threat of harm or repercussions. Information is complete and representative rather than selective, and inquiry is free flowing rather than suppressed or inhibited. Questions are welcome and fully explored and responded to. Dialogue is the only form of communication where the participants act as authentic peers working together toward a shared understanding. It is distinct from the power-based forms of communications such as discussion, debate, distraction, dismissal, delegation, disingenuous, diatribe, and dogma. Censorship is also based on power rather than peer relationships. Focus on the facts, not the power stance.

Peer communication can require patience, especially when there is a substantial difference in the background or experiences of the participants. Imagine a conversation between an opera singer and a physicist. If they are discussing a complex opera topic, the opera singer will have to patiently fill gaps in the physicist's understanding of the topic to be able to communicate accurately. This can be difficult to accomplish without seeming to be condescending, stating the obvious, or overlooking pertinent missing background. However don't confuse differences in experience or background for ignorance, stupidity, stubbornness, or status differences.

Respect

Respect demonstrates that you value humanity. Don't be mean. Demonstrate authentic positive attention as you listen, treat others as fellow human beings, and demonstrate your appreciation. Value the intelligence of the listeners. Refrain from any form of unkind remarks including: insult, revenge, ad hominem attacks, barbs, cruel or mean-spirited remarks, sarcasm, unkind jokes, slurs, digs, distortions, put downs, condescension, non-verbal disparagements, attacks, and innuendo. Interrupt the speaker only when it is essential to improve your understanding and advance the conversation. Refrain from nagging, shouting, condescension, and other annoying behavior. Listen carefully to fully understand their point of view. Ask genuine questions to increase your understanding. Address areas of doubt and skepticism. Work to move yourself toward what they understand. Demonstrate sincere appreciation.

Demonstrating respect provides important balance for the other dimensions of candor. For example, it is true but disrespectful and unhelpful to tell your grandmother she looks old. It is usually unwise and disrespectful to emphasize hurtful, disgusting, or especially private information if it is not needed to advance the conversation. Similarly, even though you may be feeling intense anger, it is often best to moderate your public display of the most powerful emotions, and especially violence. While a peer-level exchange of information is essential to healthy dialogue, people who have achieved especially high stature particularly deserve our respect. Strike a balance that ensures both truth and grace with a constructive purpose. Accomplish the task as you strengthen the relationship.

Manage time to demonstrate respect for the people and the importance of the issues. Brevity respects the valuable time of busy people and is often the best choice when the task is paramount. In other circumstances leisurely conversations may be appreciated as generous contributions of your own valuable time, thought, caring, and consideration. These extended, organic, and engaging conversations are best when the relationship is most important or the topic is particularly interesting, sensitive, or complex. Particularly important and difficult issues may require several well-planned, extended, and intense dialogues to adequately explore, understand, and address. In any event, match the time spent to the importance of both the task and the relationship.

Thinking

Clear thinking can lead to original, well-founded, congruent, insightful, relevant, and important ideas. It helps us understand our own thoughts, and intentions. Thinking helps us create important, useful, or entertaining original thoughts, ideas, opinions, and questions based on a well-founded theory of knowledge. We can deliberate, evaluate, contemplate, and decide consistent with our values, beliefs, and goals, as we continue to refine these guiding foundations. The most valuable thoughts are constructive, clear, principled, relevant, and well though-out reflections of our enduring values, beliefs, goals, and concerns. Clear thinking is based on valid logic and accurate research. Think clearly before speaking.

Clear thinking requires us to confront our own inherent ignorance and uncertainty. No one can master the millions of published books, thousands of world cultures, and the ongoing ideas and accomplishments of billions of people. We can only do our best to learn what is most important, remain curious, depend on reliable sources, stay up to date in our chosen fields of interest, and make our way through an uncertain world.

Clear thinking is the difficult and essential prerequisite to clear expression.

Feeling

Our feelings help us recognize and acknowledge our emotions. Notice how you feel and express your feelings authentically, both verbally and non-verbally, within constructive and compassionate display rules. Speak from the heart without exaggerating or minimizing your emotions.

Clarity

Clarity is the skill of making ideas visible. It requires clear communication, sharing understanding, saying what you mean. Carefully choose the most accurate words and images to provide the most complete, understandable, and precise representation of your intent. Enunciate clearly, paying attention to accent, inflection, intonation, and sound quality. Speak fluently with eloquence, coherence, and candor. Carefully organize your presentation and write literately, lucidly, and legibly using correct grammar and punctuation. Fully convey your message.

Veracity

Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Be impeccable with your word. Practice the virtue of good faith. No doublespeak, half-truths, false messages, omissions, spin, innuendo, distortions, dismissals, misrepresentations, confabulations, wishful thinking, grin fakes, or plausible deniability. Veracity requires accurate, complete, and representative facts combined with valid logic presented in accurate context. Ensure congruence of your word and your intent. Accurate communications avoid distortions and are realistic rather than optimistic or pessimistic. Veracity requires full understanding, acknowledgement, and acceptance of what is—the world as it really exists, not as we wish it was. This is essential for building trust. Reality is our common ground.

Assignment

  1. Carefully notice conversations you take part in.
  2. Notice the more effective and less effective phrases, sentences, passages and speeches.
  3. Do the more effective speeches include all six of the elements described here?
  4. Are the less effective speeches missing one or more of these elements?

Deficits

Communications often lack one or more of the essential elements. The omissions may be known and deliberate, or the results of an inevitable oversight. These forms of deficient communications decrease trust in relationships. These incomplete communications fall primarily into one of these six major categories:

Insult lacks respect. Synonyms include attacks, crude language, offense, disrespect, affront, cheap shot, incivility, mockery, put-down, slander, slight, and snub.

Decrees lack the equality and balance of power that characterizes peer relationships. Examples include dogma, dismissals, delegations, pronouncements, diatribe and other forms of indoctrination and posturing. Mainstream media reports are another example of power-based communications because the choice of topic, content, attention, and editing is controlled by a few powerful people and the communication is essentially one-way. The superior posture of condescension is not peer based and causes distortions.

Cryptic communications may be well thought out but lack clear expression. Synonyms include opaque, incoherent, inchoate, Fed speak, vague, nebulous, muddled, garbled, inaudible, illegible, rambling, obscure, disorganized, indirect, inconsistent, baffling, indecipherable, and hazy.

Blather is talking without thinking. Synonyms include gossip and bullshit. Examples include small talk, vamping, bloviating, obscurity, and impulsive or hot-headed comments. Please get to the point, and if you don't have a point, stay silent until you do.

Dry communications lack emotional content. This may also be described as bland or sterile. Examples include most technical writing, legal opinions, reference manuals, and much scholarly writing.

Lies lack veracity. This includes any misrepresentation or distortion of reality. There are many examples including fibs, half-truths, misrepresentations, pandering, fabrications, confabulation, falsification, exaggeration, being out-of-touch, avoidance, invalidation, hoax, prevarication, grin-fake, bogus issues, red-herrings, irrelevancies, feigned ignorance, discounting, denial, dismissal, distractions, fantasy, hidden agendas, and sidestepping important issues.

Several forms of communication lack more than one element. These are described here where the missing elements are identified.

Obfuscation—intentionally obscuring the message—lacks clarity and veracity.

Pitching—advocating a single point of view to promote a special interest—lacks veracity, feeling, and respect. Withholding, misrepresenting, or distorting important alternative viewpoints is dishonest. Often insincere emotions such as joy and excitement are displayed, while doubt is dismissed. The style of communication, inherent distortions, and lack of consideration for more important needs of the audience are often disrespectful. Other examples include evangelizing, persuading, selling, advertising, advocating, fear mongering, lobbying, and charming.

Fawning—appeasing someone because they hold power over you—lacks peer equality, veracity, feeling, and thinking. It is a failure to speak truth to power. Appeasement, yessing, insincere flattery, false praise, kissing up and other failures to speak truth to power are not authentic. They are not peer-based communications because the primary message is submission and obedience rather than accurate and thoughtful feedback on the issue. They lack veracity because they are not accurate expressions of true thoughts and feelings. The feelings expressed are not the emotions actually experienced. The thoughts expressed are dominated by submission, obedience, and fear rather than reflection on the issues. Respect is often lacking because although deference is shown it may not reflect broader and authentic considerations of humanity.

Condescension—pretending to be a peer while believing you are superior—lacks veracity, feeling, respect, and peer attributes. Pretending is dishonest, it does not reflect what you think or what you feel. It is disrespectful because it does not authentically recognize your common human bonds. It is not an equal, peer-based relationship, because you do believe you are superior rather than equal.

Vague Language—an ambiguous message—may result from several deficiencies. It may be a lack of clear expression, or a lack of clear thinking, or a deliberate attempt at deception and evasiveness. It could also result from ambivalent feelings, or conflicts between feeling and thinking. It may be some combination of two or more of these deficiencies. Fuzzy thinking, ambiguous words, conflicting information, complex grammar, obfuscation, and incongruence are all examples of vague language.

Mystique—creating an aura of mystery—withholds clarity and peer relationships to maintain distance and an enhanced image. The mystic must remain separate to remain special. Once he is revealed as just another one of us, the mystique is gone. Feelings that are not authentic may be projected, diminishing the veracity of the feeling dimension of candor. These pretenses can be disrespectful.

Demagoguery—Impassioned appeals to prejudices and emotions—evokes strong emotions to distract from faulty thinking. The feelings are overdone, the thinking is weak, the veracity suffers, and the ruse is disrespectful.

Scolding—Finding fault, blaming, and declaring what is right—establishes an adult-child relationship rather than a peer relationship. It lacks respect and peer attributes.

Sarcasm—bitter counterstatement—says the opposite of what you are thinking as it passive-aggressively expresses anger and protest. It lacks respect, and clarity, and denies ownership for angry feelings.

Melodrama—exaggerated or unfounded emotional displays—seek to draw unwarranted attention and distort the importance of the message being sent. The feelings displayed are bogus and clarity and veracity are often compromised.

Assignment

  1. Carefully notice conversations you are able to listen to. These may be conversations you participate in, lectures or speeches you listen to, news coverage of debates or other events, film portrayals of dialog, or other conversations.
  2. Notice the more effective and less effective phrases, sentences, passages, and speeches.
  3. Are the less effective speeches missing one or more of these elements?
  4. Identify the missing element and the effect it has as you listen.

Congruence

If the essence of candor can be captured in a single word it is congruence—alignment and agreement. This includes congruence between the intent and the words, between the thoughts and the intent, between the words and the feelings, between the verbal and non-verbal expression, between the facts and the words, between the words and the actions, and congruence between the speaker and listener as humans who respect each other as equals. Congruence between thinking and representative evidence, goals, beliefs, values, and doubts is especially important to candor.

Choosing to Speak

We have been told “silence is golden” and “If you can't improve on silence, keep quiet”. So, when is it advisable to speak? Opportunities for speaking vary widely. These may include public speaking, business meetings, providing professional advice, professionals engaged to represent clients or client interests, teaching, instructing, negotiating, advising, requesting, correcting, critiquing, investigating, interviewing, sales calls, solicitations, casual conversations, social gatherings, vamping, kitchen table conversations with family and friends, storytelling, small talk, dating, and conversations with intimate partners. Certainly, deciding when to speak and when to listen will depend on each situation. Here are some general guidelines.

  1. Speak up to prevent impending injury, mishap, or loss.
  2. Be impeccable with your word. Embrace reality as our common ground. Advance no falsehoods.
  3. Be intellectually honest. Combine good faith with a primary motivation toward seeking true beliefs.
  4. Speak up to right a wrong you cannot tolerate.
    1. Correct false rumors, gossip, and hateful speech.
    2. Correct consequential factual errors, misrepresentations, omissions, or logical fallacies.
    3. If you witness falsified documents, or illegal, harmful, or unethical activities, you may feel morally compelled to confront the speaker privately or publicly, speak truth to power, or become a whistleblower. Proceed carefully after researching the many implications challenging power and whistleblowing entails.
    4. Avoid the urge to nitpick trivial errors that are largely inconsequential.
  5. When making statements, be clear if you are sharing an idea, telling a story, stating a matter of fact, advocating a position in a controversy, or sharing your opinions.
  6. Increase trust and strengthen relationships each time you choose to speak.
  7. Speak for yourself, and let others do the same.
  8. During consultations, mind your own business. Give ideas and opinions only when they are wanted by the client or problem owner.[3]
  9. When providing feedback, consider if the feedback was invited or not, if it is positive or negative, provided publicly or privately, and if it is actionable or not. Don’t give unsolicited negative feedback without good cause.
  10. Speak up to advance the conversation toward identified goals.
  11. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.[4]
  12. “Say what you mean and mean what you say without being mean.”[5]
  13. Apologize for hurtful errors you have made.
  14. Ask questions only if they sincerely come from curiosity and will advance the conversation.
  15. When you have made your point and secured agreement stop talking. Don’t sell past the close.
  16. There is rarely a good reason to tell your grandmother she looks old. When choosing to disclose, consider: is it true? is it helpful? and is it kind? Weigh these considerations based on each situation.
  17. Humiliation is a powerful emotion that often has long-lasting detrimental effects. Humiliation creates enemies and often triggers a destructive cycle of revenge that can last for a very long time. Fully heed the advice under the respect heading above.

During dialogue, and often in other modes of conversation, it is important to balance inquiry and advocacy. Listen at least as often, as carefully, and as effectively, as you speak.

Summary and Conclusions

Candor requires attention to the six elements of: peer relationships, respect, thinking, feeling, clarity, and veracity. Communications are deficient and incongruent if they lack one or more of these elements.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

When you choose to speak, be impeccable with your word.

Further Reading

  • Runion, Meryl (December 31, 2003). How to Use Power Phrases to Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, & Get What You Want. McGraw-Hill Education. p. 224. ISBN 978-0071424851.
  • Ruiz, Don Miguel (November 7, 1997). The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. Amber-Allen Publishing. p. 160. ISBN 978-1878424310.
  • Ekman, Paul (January 26, 2009). Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 416. ISBN 978-0393337457.
  • Covey, Stephen M .R. (February 5, 2008). The SPEED of TRUST: The One Thing That Changes Everything. FREE PRESS. p. 354. ISBN 978-1416549000.
  • Frankfurt, Harry G. (January 30, 2005). On Bullshit. Princeton University Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0691122946.
  • Nolan, Vincent; Williams, Connie (2010). Imagine That! Celebrating 50 years of Synctics. Synecticsworld. ISBN 9780615413778.

References

  1. This material is adapted from the EmotionalCompetency.com website with permission from the author.
  2. Taken here to mean importance or reputation gained by ability or achievement.
  3. Nolan, Vincent; Williams, Connie (2010). Imagine That! Celebrating 50 years of Synctics. Synecticsworld. ISBN 9780615413778. Confessions of a reformed mathematician, Michael J. Hicks
  4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. Chapter “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
  5. Runion, Meryl (December 31, 2003). How to Use Power Phrases to Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, & Get What You Want. McGraw-Hill Education. p. 224. ISBN 978-0071424851.
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