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Criticism & Manipulative Insincerity

When you don’t Care Personally or Challenge Directly, criticism is Manipulatively Insincere.

Here’s an extreme example. We know you’d never be as bad as the villain in this story, Billy, but we offer it to you as a cautionary tale.

Kim once gave a pitch to a venture capitalist — let’s call him Billy — that went horribly wrong. She only got through about half her presentation because Billy asked about a competitor that Kim had never heard of before. She became so flummoxed that she was totally incoherent for much of the presentation.

The next day, Billy called Kim up and said how much he’d enjoyed the meeting.

“Really?” Kim blurted out. “I thought it was the worst pitch I ever gave!”

“Oh, you’re much too hard on yourself!” exclaimed Billy, who proceeded to tell Kim how impressed he was and dismissed her ignorance of a major new competitor as totally unimportant.

Kim was completely confused. Was her understanding of what made a good pitch so off? Was she just suffering an irrational crisis of confidence? Had she actually done as well as Billy said?

Then, Billy went on to say how impressed he was by Kim’s background. He mentioned a company where she once worked. “Did you happen to know X there? Would you mind introducing me to him?”

Now Kim understood! Billy didn’t really think her pitch had gone well. He just wanted an introduction to X. Using guidance as a means to accomplish your own agenda is Manipulatively Insincere.

More about this story and others is included in “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” published by St. Martin’s Press. Learn more

Video: You Have Spinach in Your Teeth

If you’re already familiar with the Radical Candor framework, you know that we’ve labeled the axes “Challenge Directly” and “Care Personally”. Radically Candid praise and criticism is high on both of those axes. We also sometimes call them the “Willing to piss people off” and “Give a damn” axes. To really understand how this plays out in each of the quadrants, it‘s helpful to walk through a real-life scenario.

Let’s imagine you have spinach in your teeth.

How would people tell you?

With Radical Candor, they would pull you aside and tell you quietly and kindly. You would learn that you had spinach in your teeth and be able to fix the problem, and you would feel minimal embarrassment.

With Obnoxious Aggression, they would call you out loudly in front of everyone. You would learn that you had spinach in your teeth and be able to fix the problem, but you would feel pretty embarrassed.

With Ruinous Empathy, they would be too reluctant to tell you because they might make you feel embarrassed and it would be awkward for both of you. You wouldn’t learn about the spinach in your teeth until much later, maybe after many more people had noticed it.

With Manipulative Insincerity, they wouldn’t tell you, but would talk about it with others to make themselves look “cool”. You wouldn’t learn about the spinach in your teeth until much later, and even more people would know about it.

Watch our Co-Founder and COO Russ act out these scenarios in this video from Zendesk Relate Live Ascend:

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