My last two blogs were about building a team culture of candor and courageous listening. But to do both well, what teams really need is a culture of skillful candor. Communicating with candor without skillfulness can be experienced as attacking, unloading, or showboating. It can be hurtful and drive people back into avoidance masquerading as politeness.

There are some really great books out there about the skill of delivering uncomfortable, controversial, or critical messages. If you and your team are looking for a way to get up to speed on these skills, here are two books I highly recommend.

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott
This book is organized around seven principles, each illustrated by a compelling story. The author provides specific conversation structures and sample language that help us prepare, deliver, and listen to difficult messages so that we tackle the tough issue, achieve mutual learning, and strengthen the relationships that matter most to us.

Standing in the Fire: Leading High-Heat Meetings with Clarity, Calm and Courage by… me
If Fierce Conversations helps us learn what to say and do when it comes to candid conversations, my book explores what’s going on within us when emotion, defensiveness or internal resistance show up. Fire shows us how to build inner capacities like curiosity, clarity, and compassion in the face of a “high-heat” conversation.

Think about some of the most significant organizational and corporate disasters of our time – the BP oil spill, Enron, the Space Shuttle Challenger, to name a few. In each of these cases, people came forward in the aftermath and said, “I knew but did not speak up.” Organizations with cultures that encourage people to step forward and say what’s difficult will thrive in this fast-changing world.

Want to hear more about skillful candor? Listen to this recent podcast where I discuss my book Standing in the Fire.

Photo Credit: Jayphen