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Two colleagues have a candid discussion

Three Keys to Introducing Candor into Lab Conversations

Approaching feedback with candor greatly increases morale and engagement

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Providing effective coaching and feedback is a key leadership skill that helps lab managers grow, develop, and train staff. Providing feedback with candor enables lab managers to be truthful and transparent, providing the opportunity to discuss difficult topics, correct behavior, and share personal observations. Merriam-Webster defines candor as unreserved, honest, forthright, or sincere expression. Using candor does not mean hiding the truth or being easy on staff. It means being able to have authentic, transparent, honest conversations while protecting the other person’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Here are three ways to help you introduce more candor into the culture of your lab.

#1 – Candor over brutal honesty

While candor emphasizes an honest and truthful approach to providing feedback, it is very different from brutal honesty. A candid conversation can explore all of the facets of an issue while separating the problem from the individuals involved. Candor doesn’t mean to hide or shy away from the truth. It means to seek the truth while supporting the person. As Daniel Coyle explains in The Culture Code, brutal honesty is brutal. The danger involved in a dedication to the facts with no accountability for the feelings is to fundamentally damage the emotional safety of the people. A lab lacking emotional safety can never meet its potential. If staff can’t be their best selves in the lab, they will always be something less, and will learn, grow, and produce less. 

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#2 – Value of transparency

Harvard Business Review defines transparency as, “The degree to which information flows freely within an organization, among managers and employees, and outward to stakeholders.” When lab managers can investigate any topic around the lab with honest feedback, any problem can be resolved. When people are unaccustomed to sharing openly and receiving honest feedback, problems are often hidden, partially discussed, or blamed on others. Using candor can free the flow of information so that the real root causes are revealed, and the lab can work together to solve the issues.

#3 – Tool to supporting candor

The lessons learned tool does an excellent job of starting candid conversations about lab activities. A lessons learned asks objective, open-ended questions about how an activity occurred and why the outcomes happened. The key to the tool is a search for understanding and learning. Done properly, lessons learned forbid blaming or scapegoating anyone. The tool uses input from everyone equally and provides a safe environment to explore problems and successes. It can be applied in five minutes to explore a small situation, or over two days to map large projects. This can be an effective entry point for lab managers wanting more candor in their conversations.