Radical Candor

When was the last time somebody gave you effective feedback on something you do not see in yourself? Recently, a colleague sheepishly pointed out a blind spot. I was first surprised by the candor and the accuracy of his insight. Over the next several minutes, I pondered his comments and moved to full acceptance. It was not pleasant going down—but good for me.

I was grateful for the guidance. And I’ve also pondered on the opportunity costs of all missed occasions to provide helpful feedback. Why is it so difficult for us to give each other constructive observations? At one extreme, some insecure leaders desire to be liked so much they simply don’t want to risk “rocking the boat.” The other extreme: Psychopathic leaders who are so self-absorbed they have no problem telling everyone they see what is wrong with them and how they can be “fixed.” To be better leaders and teammates, we must build both the context and fortitude to give each other the best of ourselves, our best advice for the good of the individual, and our mutually binding goals.

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin’s Press, 2017), put together a simple, pragmatic model for understanding the types of coaching we give each other and how we can improve our feedback-giving skills. The centerpiece of her framework is a two-by-two quadrant that compares the degree of Caring Personally and Challenging Directly.

The first parameter is Caring Personally, built on the strength of trust. It’s earned over time invested in the people you’re giving feedback to. It must be authentic, sincere, and solely for the best of the person or the organization.

The second parameter is Challenging Directly—easier said than done. It’s about having those 1:1 conversations and providing your personal behavioral observations, allowing for a give-and-take discussion to be thoroughly clear and fully understood. It’s best done in real time and in the right setting.

Using these two parameters, Scott helps us diagnose four different types of feedback:

  • Manipulative Insincerity: (Low Caring Personally/Low Challenging Directly) “It’s praise that is non-specific and insincere or criticism that is neither clear nor kind.”
  • Obnoxious Aggression: (Low Caring Personally/High Challenging Directly) “It’s praise that doesn’t feel sincere or criticism that isn’t delivered kindly.”
  • Ruinous Empathy: (High Caring Personally/Low Challenging Directly) “It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good or criticism that is sugarcoated and unclear.”
  • Radical Candor: (High Caring Personally/High Challenging Directly) “Will help you and the people you work with do the best work of your lives and build the best relationships of your career.”

Radical Candor resonates with my experience. Yet with so many misfires I’ve seen over time, it’s a skill that needs to be constantly renewed. I highly encourage you to think about these two parameters and approach your next feedback conversation with both in mind. Radical Candor will make feedback more effective.


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