I recently had the chance to speak with Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and co-founder of Candor, Inc, a company dedicated to helping managers and employees develop stronger relationships. She has synthesized these ideas under the name Radical Candor.
Radical Candor already has the support of legendary managers like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Google’s Shona Brown as well as countless other managers of smaller teams.
While Scott is thrilled that so many managers want to inject Radical Candor into their company culture, she knows that this is only half that battle.
Even if everyone in the workplace is on board with it in theory, putting it into practice is its own challenge. Here, Scott gives a brief overview of Radical Candor and shares her tips for how managers can implement it.
“This combination of challenging directly while caring personally is the essence of Radical Candor.”
When did you first see Radical Candor at work?
I’ve worked at quite a few companies in my life, and while my experiences at most of them were generally positive, one company stands out from among the pack: Google.
Google is frequently lauded for its outstanding workplace environment and routinely tops lists of the best places to work. Many of these lists attribute the positive atmosphere at Google to the company’s free snacks and generous parental leave policies. While these things certainly help, during my six years there I came to realize that there is something much deeper going on at Google.
Google has a culture of honesty that means that bosses and employees can communicate efficiently. They say what they really think without sugarcoating it, but what’s vital is that they do so while taking the time to cultivate meaningful relationships with one another.
This combination of challenging directly while caring personally is the essence of Radical Candor. With Radical Candor, people on the receiving end of negative feedback know that it’s meant not as a personal attack, but as a genuine effort to help them become better at whatever it is they do.
Why does Radical Candor seem so revolutionary to us?
In short, because it is. Radical Candor contradicts many of the cultural norms that we’ve been taught since childhood.
“Radical Candor contradicts many of the cultural norms that we’ve been taught since childhood.”
For example, many people are raised with the adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That leads to managers avoiding criticism at all costs. In other words, they are unwilling to challenge directly.
On the other hand, as soon as people get their first job, they’re told to “be professional,” and all too often, professionalism is interpreted as ignoring your humanity and that of others. This makes it impossible for them to care personally.
Therefore, to implement Radical Candor, bosses and employees alike must reject both their own upbringing and the deeply entrenched cultural connotations of “professional.” It is for this reason that Radical Candor is just that – radical.
How can employees and bosses build good personal relationships?
Developing strong and lasting relationships requires consistent effort over a long period of time.
That’s not to say that you have to do lunch every week or engage in constant schmoozing. Chatting about the weather is not how you build relationships, and after all, you’re at work, not a cocktail party. There are several other ways of connecting with people that will lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships.
1) Ask the Right Questions
Strengthen your relationships with your co-workers by asking questions that show that you care about their needs and their experience at work. Potential questions include:
“Chatting about the weather is not how you build relationships.”
- How happy are you right now?
- How productive were you this week?
- What obstacles are in your way and how can I help remove them?
- What can I do to enable your success?
- What opportunities are we missing around here?
Listen carefully to how your employees answer these questions, and if they request your help with something, do your best to fulfill their needs.
2) Offer Praise More Often than Criticism
Praise does not exist to make people feel good. Rather, praise works to show people what success looks like and what’s valued, and is an important tool in the toolbox of all managers.
Therefore, strive to offer more praise than criticism. Doing so will ensure that your employees learn what to do more of, so they can repeat their success.
How can people ensure that their feedback is internalized?
Unfortunately, giving feedback doesn’t guarantee that people will actually hear it and use it to inform their subsequent actions. This is due to two common pitfalls in the way we give feedback, but fortunately, both are easy to avoid.
“Offering honest criticism only works if you also demonstrate that you care about your co-workers.”
1) Don’t Give a “Feedback Sandwich”
The “feedback sandwich,” also known as the “compliment sandwich,” is a method of delivering criticism so that it does not hurt anyone’s feelings. The “feedback sandwich” is comprised of a compliment, followed by a criticism, followed by a compliment. The logic is that when a piece of criticism is preceded and followed by praise, the emotional blow will be lessened.
The problem with this philosophy is that it risks the criticism becoming lost in the fog of compliments. It’s likely that people will feel bolstered by the praise and forget about the criticism entirely, rendering it useless.
2) Challenge Directly While Caring Personally
Offering honest criticism only works if you also demonstrate that you care about your co-workers and are invested in them both as employees and as people. If you fail to do so, it’s likely that your criticism will be interpreted as a personal attack, and people will be so offended that they’ll be unable to hear your message.
How do you show that you care? In the short term, this can be accomplished in just a few minutes. For example, if appropriate, make sure that you begin all meetings with introductions, and make statements that show that you value the people around you before you criticize them.
“If you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to call attention to it in the presence of your employees.”
What does this look like in practice? Let’s say that you feel that an employee is going about a project in the wrong way. Call him or her into a meeting and say, “I can see that you’ve been working really hard on this.” This shows that you care personally. Then say, “However, I think that that focus is misdirected.” This is your candid criticism, and the fact that you’ve shown that you care personally means that it can be discussed in an environment that feels collaborative, rather than combative.
How can bosses get feedback from their employees?
Supervisors trying to get honest feedback from their employees face a difficult challenge, namely that employees are often reluctant to criticize their supervisors – and with good reason. It’s certainly not unheard for employees to face retribution, including termination, for criticizing their bosses.
Therefore, if supervisors expect to receive honest criticism, it’s important for them to let their employees know that such comments will be welcomed and rewarded, rather than punished. They can do this in several ways.
1) Publically Criticize Yourself and Relish Being Wrong
If you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to call attention to it in the presence of your employees. Doing so will show them that you know that you are not perfect and are open to suggestions for improvement.
“Do whatever it takes to normalize and take the stress out of providing feedback.”
2) Notice and Call Out Body Language
Picture this scenario: You propose a new course of action to your employees. As you speak, you notice one of them frowning slightly. At the end of your presentation, you ask for their feedback. “Is there something we could do differently?” you ask.
Not one of them volunteers their thoughts, but the employee who you noticed previously is now leaning forward in her chair.
Don’t be afraid to call out this body language. Say, “You look like there’s something on your mind.”
The employee may feel more comfortable voicing her opinion once you’ve established that you truly want to hear it and invite her to share it.
3) Reward the Candor
Even if you don’t agree with your employees’ criticism, make sure that they know that you appreciate them giving it.
“If your first attempt to obtain honest feedback falls flat, don’t be afraid to try again.”
You can communicate this in several ways: by listening intently to all suggestions, taking the time to discuss each one in depth and stating “I really appreciate your willingness to voice your opinion.”
4) Get Creative and Theatrical
If you’re still not getting the amount of feedback that you’d like and sense that your employees are holding back, it’s time to get creative.
Give out prizes to employees who offer feedback or distribute “You Were Right, I Was Wrong” trophies. In short, do whatever it takes to normalize and take the stress out of providing feedback.
5) Be Persistent
If your first attempt to obtain honest feedback falls flat, don’t be afraid to try again. It might be that your phrasing needs revision, or it might be that you simply need to keep asking in order for your employees to realize that your requests for criticism are sincere.
No matter the reason, giving up will never get you the feedback you’re looking for.
“Comments that are generic, unclear and nonspecific are bound to set off warning bells.”
6) Embrace the Discomfort
It’s no secret that both giving and receiving criticism can be uncomfortable experiences. But in order to learn how you can improve, you have to embrace that discomfort. Don’t back down from asking for feedback — and waiting for a response — because it feels awkward.
7) Listen with Intent to Understand, Not to Respond
Although it’s natural to want to defend ourselves against any criticism leveled at us, doing so undermines its effectiveness for two reasons.
First, if your immediate reaction to feedback is to begin thinking of ways to respond to it, you won’t be able listen to it with undivided attention. That means that you might miss some of what your employees are saying, and consequently, you’ll miss opportunities to improve your performance and become a more valuable and valued team leader.
Second, if your employees sense that you’re becoming defensive, they might fear that you’ve been offended. This will make them even less likely to be candid in the future.
8) Ask for Feedback at the Right Time
“It’s natural to defend ourselves against criticism, but doing so undermines its effectiveness.”
The alternative is waiting until the event fades from your employees’ minds to the point that an insincere, generic “It was great” will be all they have to offer.
What happens if you don’t implement Radical Candor?
Simply put, the alternatives to Radical Candor aren’t pretty. Whether you care personally without challenging directly, challenge directly without caring personally or fail on both accounts, the result will be an uncomfortable work environment that impairs communication and inhibits growth on both an individual and company level.
1) Ruinous Empathy
Ruinous Empathy occurs when you care about your employees but are reluctant to challenge them. A boss whose only feedback is “good job” or “you’re doing fine” might seem pleasant at first, but eventually his or her employees will become anxious. They’ll have a vague sense that they’re doing something wrong but they won’t know what. Since they’re unable to identify their mistakes, they won’t be able to correct them or learn from them, which is bad for employees and their managers alike.
“You, your employees and the company benefit from enhanced communication.”
2) Obnoxious Aggression
Offering criticism to people without showing them that you care about them leads to Obnoxious Aggression. People will undoubtedly feel personally offended by your feedback and refuse to consider that your points might be valid.
3) Manipulative Incenserity
When you don’t care personally or challenge directly, Manipulative Insincerity results. People can easily detect Manipulative Insincerity; comments that are generic, unclear and nonspecific are bound to set off warning bells.
What are the rewards if you do implement Radical Candor?
You, your employees and the company will benefit from the enhanced communication that Radical Candor brings. Implementing Radical Candor will ensure that you form the best relationships of your professional life and are more productive than you’ve ever been before.
Want to learn more about Radical Candor? Check out Kim’s new book, Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.