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I pay you for your opinion.

So said a client of mine way back when.

(Maybe it’s just me but I never fail to be pleasantly surprised when someone is explicit in placing value on my point of view.)

In this instance it wasn’t any kind of strategic input that said client was seeking. It was counsel. More specifically he wanted a candid point of view on a mutual acquaintance.

And “I pay you for your opinion” was a not-so-subtle indication of his irritation at my hesitance.

I actually think that hesitation in these circumstances is natural and desirable. There are issues of integrity and fairness at play when it comes to talking about other people.

But the main point my client was making has stuck with me ever since.

Candour is a scarce resource and therefore carries a high value.

And candour is scarce because it has consequences.

You’ll know this if your job function involves appraising and developing others. How a person is going to work with you and respond to you in the workplace will undoubtedly be affected by how sensitively you handle those areas where a candid examination of personal and professional qualities is called for. The fact that you have to have an ongoing working relationship with someone can mitigate against true candour.

I’ve recently agreed to mentor someone. And I’ve quickly discovered that mentoring is very different to managing. Separated from the day-to-day consequences of pointed questions and pointed observations, candour comes much more easily. For both parties.

And that degree of separation from the consequences of advice and counsel is one of the greatest privileges of agency life.

Marketing Directors and CEO’s ask you questions that they might be embarrassed to ask one of their own people. Or they ask you questions when they worry that the perceived consequences of a straight answer might deter their own people from giving one.

The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is to be less than 100% candid, no matter how much you think the truth might hurt. The truth might hurt but it shouldn’t hurt the relationship. Quite the reverse in fact.

Because they pay you for your opinion after all.

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