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Candy-Coating Can Be Bittersweet
By Kent Lewis

Our everyday lives are filled with little white lies. It's difficult to get through the day without having to "candy coat" casual and work conversations, just to keep everything moving along smoothly. For those of you out there that believe that "softening" or "spinning" a message to minimize the recipient(s) chances of being hurt, offended or angered, I urge you to reconsider your strategy.

I believe the people of this planet (or at least our country) are worse off after being coddled and babied by friends, family, coworkers and the general public than if everyone took a more direct, honest approach. Of course this is just my opinion, but if you know me well, you know I'm always right.

I've built my personal and professional life around the mantra of maximum efficiency. I feel that life is too short to waste valuable time; you can sleep when you're dead. At the heart of efficiency is simplicity, and in the spirit of getting things done, I prefer to keep my communications with others basic, yet precise. I don't mince words, B.S. or play nice in general, as that's just an unnecessary distraction and a waste of time.

A direct, honest approach to communications will get the job done 99 percent of the time. The difference between being perceived as direct or efficient vs. curt, insensitive, selfish or inflexible is subtle at best. It takes years of practice to get the hang of it, but I'm telling you, it's worth the effort. In fact, I think it's essential in today's multi-media world, chocked full of thousands of distracting messages.

If you're of the candy coating school of thought, let me give you a few examples to help illustrate the problem with being an overly-sensitive softie. Remember the old fable, The Emperor Wears No Clothes? Indeed, telling someone their clothes look beautiful, when in fact, they are naked, does them no favors. Remember that Hitler guy? Did anyone in his administration bother to tell him he was an absolute asshole? We know how that story ends as well.

I could give you dozens of wonderful examples of effective communications from my personal life, but I'm direct, not stupid. Instead, I'll give you a recent example where calling someone out proved to be justifiable and effective. A few weeks ago, I met with a new business prospect that was soliciting advice from a variety of vendors to determine if they would be worthy of getting their business. I'm always willing to offer free advice to give a prospective client a taste of our strategic thinking and value, but I'm not accustomed to prospects expecting it.

After two hours of listening to other vendors in the room toss out brilliant ideas off the clock, I decided to share constructive criticism about their newly redesigned Web site. It was a huge risk, as the comments would have offended the site designer, or a thin-skinned marketing type. I knew my feedback was dead-on valid and I reckoned that if the prospect didn't take it well, they weren't a company I'd want to work with. Turns out, the entire room got a good laugh and the prospect appreciated the candid, yet insightful input. He even went as far as to say "The name Anvil sure seems appropriate, I'm getting hammered here." In the end, they asked for a proposal.

So let's compare the possible outcomes of candy coating vs. direct communications:

Direct Style
BenefitsPositive OutcomesDrawbacksNegative Outcomes
EfficientGets things doneImpersonalDiscomfort
HonestEnlightenmentHurtfulAnger
ConciseAppreciationOverwhelmingDefensiveness

Candy Coating Style
BenefitsPositive OutcomesDrawbacksNegative Outcomes
MotivationalGets things doneManipulativeBacklash
SensitiveEnlightenmentDeceptiveAnger
FlexibleAppreciationPerpetuatingNon-resolution

As you can see above, the positive outcomes are identical, yet the drawbacks are, in my opinion, much greater for candy-coaters. Ask yourself which is worse: offending someone by telling the truth and being direct, or not addressing the real issues and leaving the person clueless as to their situation and liable to make the same mistakes, if not compounding them.

Perhaps being direct is difficult, if not impossible, based on your personality or situation. I'll leave the candy-coaters who are still unconvinced that honesty is the best policy with a few thoughts: what is the difference between candy coating and lying, deceiving, manipulating, cheating? Does the benefit of "softening a message" outweigh the fact that you are enabling, perpetuating or fueling a destructive behavior? Let me be direct here: you're a fool if you still believe in candy coating.

 

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