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Roll Out Radical Candor on Your Team

A number of you have asked how to roll out Radical Candor on your team. How can you get started with some of the ideas from the book and the podcast as a group? Last year, I wrote an Advice Column post answering a CEO’s question about introducing the concepts and starting to build a Radically Candid culture. But let’s get more specific. Here are a few simple things you can do:

1) Start a book discussion group.

Have your team read a chapter of the book each week and use our questions to get the conversation started.

2) Print the Radical Candor framework.

Put up the printouts in conference rooms, 1:1 rooms, or wherever your team will see it regularly. Having the ideas top of mind can help when a feedback situation arises.


3) Share your own stories.

Think of your own stories in each quadrant and share them with your team. When did somebody give you some Radically Candid feedback that maybe stung a little bit in the moment but stood you in good stead for the rest of your career?

 

For more ideas, read about this company who created a Radical Candor award. What other things have you and your team done to get started with Radical Candor?

A Big Change for Candor, Inc.

This year was a big year for Candor, Inc. We launched a podcast, Radical Candor: How Not To Hate the Boss You Have or Be the Boss You Hate. We also launched a new app, the Candor Coach. It was also a big year for me personally. In March, my book Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity was published, after four years spent writing it, and it hit both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal bestseller lists for several weeks running.

Russ and I recently put our podcast on hold to focus on our product, the Candor Coach. The value of focus was that it forced us to see facts more clearly: the 3 different apps we’d built didn’t help people to have more Radically Candid conversations. Our investors told us they didn’t think we could develop a software platform on the kind of time frame demanded by venture capital. This was hard to hear. Like most entrepreneurial teams, all of us at Candor, Inc. resisted this conclusion. We wanted to keep trying. We still had money in the bank. Why not keep going?

Over a bunch of sleepless nights, I realized something important. When we started the company, we thought some lightweight tips and reminders to solicit feedback and to have impromptu 2 minute praise/criticism conversations would really help people improve their feedback. Now, we realized we were dealing with changing deeply rooted human behavior: the tendency to avoid hearing, giving, or encouraging feedback. Tips and reminders weren’t enough. Tracking conversations wasn’t enough. We needed to help people change their mindset and their behavior. A software system that could change behavior was going to take significantly more time and investment than we had bargained for. I still believe it’s a nut that can be cracked. But not in 18 months, which was about how much cash we had left.

Watching my daughter perform in a play recently, I realized there was another big problem as well. I was using my iPhone to record her performance. About a minute in, I looked up from the tiny screen in my hand and actually watched my daughter herself, not my daughter in my phone, sing, “Believe it or not, I’m walking on air.” Tears immediately swam in my eyes. The emotional impact of watching my daughter rather than my phone was incredible. In that moment I really understood something that we’d talked about while developing the app. We were trying to build an app that would prompt people to put their phones down, look their colleagues in the eye, and have real conversations. We could not employ any of the usual tricks to make our app addictive, as the whole point was to get out of the app and into the real world. Yet we were competing with all the addictive apps. Another reason why building the right thing was going to take a lot longer than 18 months.

The app wasn’t getting much traction, but meanwhile Radical Candor was becoming a thing. The term Radical Candor is popping up in unexpected places — it is now a meme. It’s spreading to all different kinds of companies all over the world. It’s even getting preached in churches and rolled out in synagogues, and gaining traction in Washington of all places. Hundreds of CEO’s are rolling it out in their companies top down. Thousands of young employees are taking the initiative to try to improve the culture at some of America’s largest corporations from the bottom up.

In other words, the book and the podcast have begun to shift people’s mindset and their behavior. We get messages every day like this one:

Kim’s book has struck so many chords for me and my company (and I suspect many companies). It’s one of those, “of course! She’s found a way to define the thing that has seemed so hard to verbalize, but what I knew to be true.” My colleague heard her last week and came to me and said, “we’re a product of ruinous empathy!” Yep. And I asked our co-founder to read the book, and he said he had multiple epiphanies in the first few chapters.

Or this one

I’m about 75% done with Radical Candor. I’ve found the stories really interesting and can relate to many of them since I’ve made the same mistakes or witnessed them. I’m going to focus on being a better listener and soliciting feedback regularly. I thought doing it once a year was adequate. I realize how wrong that logic is now. I’ve always prided myself on being a good, fast, logical decision maker and now realize that I need to include others more in that process. There are so many things to put in practice!

Notes like those, in addition to being enormously reassuring, have provided important guidance. These notes showed us that the best course of action is to keep doing what is working–the podcast, writing, telling stories, doing workshops–and pause our efforts to develop the software. It makes sense to continue investing in the things that are working, and to stop investing in the things that aren’t. The book, the podcast, the talks, the workshops, the in-person coaching–all these words and human connections are what has been working and where we need to focus. Not the software. We are in Silicon Valley, so seeing this felt a little like realizing the earth was not at the center of the universe. But it isn’t, in fact…

So here is what’s coming next. Russ, the Candor Coaches and I will continue to do talks and workshops for companies who are rolling out Radical Candor. Russ and I are going to re-start the podcast in the fall. Russ and I will do everything in our power to help everyone on the Candor Inc. team find a job they are thrilled about. Not that they need my help. They are some of the best engineers, product managers, UX designers, content marketers in the industry, all very much in demand. Our failure to build a great product lies entirely with me–I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the behavior-change problem that we were wading into, and so for the first year of the company’s life we were building the wrong type of product.

As for me, I’ve come to realize that the best thing I can do to support people who want to make Radical Candor a reality in their organizations and in their lives is to focus on doing the thing that I most love to do: to write. So expect more blog posts, social media musings, further announcements about forthcoming articles, a new book, and maybe even a TV show based on Radical Candor. I’d love to hear from you about what I can do in these areas to help you with your efforts around Radical Candor. Because we won’t have any engineers to fix things when they break (which they inevitably do) we are going to disable Candor Coach and the Candor Gauge.

Thank you for all your support for Radical Candor so far, and I look forward to engaging more with all of you through my writing, and, more importantly, encouraging you to engage with each other, live and in person!

Civil discourse: try some with your beer this 4th of July!

Civil discourse and Radical Candor in our country have been dealt a heavy blow by an innocent sounding phrase: “politics divides.” These two words have silenced millions of small conversations that should have happened, and resulted in a political food fight very few of us are enjoying. The phrase “politics divides” has silenced us at work, and even around our Civil Discourse painting from Maine Council of Churchesown dinner tables. It’s caused us to turn our minds off, and to leave those hard issues to others.

That phrase, “politics divides,” may be one of the most dangerously insidious expressions in our language. It has left the notion of civil discourse in terrible disrepair in our nation. Just as the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” kills feedback and Radical Candor at work, the phrase, “politics divide” is ruinous for civil discourse.

If we can’t find a way to have a disagreement, then go out and have a beer together, and start the conversation again the next day, our democracy may fail.

The first time somebody told me that, I thought he was just a silly old man longing for a past that had never existed. He was a senator, kind enough to talk to a bunch of college students spending the summer in DC. Something was troubling him deeply, he told us. Collegiality had gone out of government. Once upon a time, it was possible to have a raging debate in the Senate, and then to enjoy a meal together. In my eighteen year-old arrogance, I dismissed him. I thought he was just saying that it wasn’t any fun to be a senator any more. I didn’t understand that when he warned us that it had become impossible to “reach across the aisle,” he wasn’t just talking about his power lunches. He was talking about his ability to get things done for the good of the nation.

Civil discourse–the ability to have the hard conversations and still care about the person you disagree with even when you think their position is wrong–is not just a nice to have, it’s one of the foundations of democracy. Our reluctance to jump in and have the hard conversations with each other has led us from a state of ruinous empathy to one of manipulative insincerity.

Real civil discourse has been sorely lacking from Democrats and Republicans alike. I am just as saddened by the rhetoric of people I agree with as I am by that of those with whom I disagree. We’ve resorted to a kind of unproductive name-calling we should have outgrown in second grade. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. It is so tempting…

This Fourth of July, try to have a political conversation with somebody on some topic you disagree on. Don’t judge the success of the conversation on whether you change the other person’s mind, or change your mind. You just have to be willing hear the issues from the other person’s perspective, and to express your point of view with respect but with unstinting clarity–all the while, not losing sight of the fact that you actually like the person you’re talking to, even if you don’t agree about abortion or healthcare or gun control.

But don’t set off the fireworks in this first conversation. Don’t choose the topic you care most passionately about and the person whom you have the most fraught relationship with. Choose something you care about but doesn’t make you see red. Choose a person whom you respect and get along with easily.

Start by asking why they have the opinion they have on some policy. Listen with the intent to understand. Repeat what they’ve said to you to make sure you understood correctly. Ask more questions. Then ask if they’d like to hear about your point of view. Only if they seem genuine when you proceed should you continue. Explain your position. If the conversation is going reasonably well but you still don’t agree, try switching sides. Ask the other person to take your position, and you take theirs. To learn more about having these sorts of conversations and being a great boss, check out my book Radical Candor.

This conversation going to feel unnatural. Why should you have it?

Because it’s your job. If you are an American citizen, you are a boss. The founding fathers made each and every citizen of this country a leader. It’s the job of all of us–we the people–to choose our executives, legislators, and judges carefully. It’s our ability to hold them accountable for good governance. And it’s our job to elect somebody different if they are failing us. In other words, we hire, hold accountable, and fire the team who governs this nation. That’s a very basic job description of a manager. You might not want to be a manager. But if you vote (or even if you should’ve voted but didn’t), you are one!

Part of a boss’s job is to give feedback to peers. If we can’t lead by example–if we can’t discuss the important topics of our time with our peers–with each other–in a civil way, then it’s going to be difficult for us to insist that the representatives, the senators, and the President whom we elect to follow us.

 

 

 

A good woman decides to become a boss!!

This note from a nurse-midwife who decided to become a manager made our week. When a really good person decides to become a manager, the world becomes a better place. It’s not only managerial leverage, it’s good person leverage!

Hi Kim and Russ,

I am a nurse-midwife who long ago chose to “move up the ladder” in health care by becoming a clinician rather than going into management.  Well, soon it will be my turn to join management as first the assistant chief, then the chief of the midwifery service where I work.

Everyone at work thinks I will be great at managing, but I secretly suspect they are wrong!  I have lived my life trying to make people like me (and I’m good enough at it to make them want to promote me to leadership!). However, when I have been put in a leadership position in the past, I have become a control freak who doesn’t want conflict–what a miserable combination!

Anyway, I heard about your podcast on Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, and I have started to listen to it and you are giving me hope that I will be able to do this.  I especially appreciate the perspective that criticism is helpful and necessary for the person to succeed.  Using praise as a tool for success rather than to make someone happier (and like me) is another great reminder for me.

I have a student midwife under me and I have been practicing on her–I gave her very thoughtful and true praise last night and it brought tears to her eyes–in a good way!  I have been giving her criticism as close to the moment as possible, in a direct, non-apologetic and positive way, which is also working.

So, thank you both.  I think your podcast (and I probably need  to read Kim’s book too!), will help my team be more successful in the years ahead.

Sincerely,

N

Give Praise That Isn’t Patronizing

Praise usually seems much easier than criticism, but a lot of people actually hesitate to give praise. They worry about coming across as patronizing, pandering, or just insincere. We think that praise is even more important than criticism, so we want to help people learn to give it the right way.

Here’s a question we got from one of our podcast listeners:

I am a new manager of two administrative employees. Their day-to-day tasks are important to my team. Most of the time, the employees do a good job and keep our operations running smoothly.

However, I find myself only giving them negative feedback when something goes wrong. It feels patronizing to give praise when the employees do a good job since their tasks are not tied to specific projects. Do you have any tips for how I might give positive feedback and show appreciation?

Thank you for the great question! First, check out episode 3 of our podcast. We talk with Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, about “Ruinously Empathetic Praise.” There are some great nuggets about what good praise looks like, and the summary is this: good praise is specific and sincere.

Focus on the Good Stuff

Here’s my core piece of advice: You have to really try to look for the good stuff. Many times, we’ve just trained ourselves to be “blind” to all the great little things people do every day because, frankly, we’ve decided “that’s just their job.” Yeah, it is, and it’s ok to convey to people when they are doing their job well, even if that’s what’s expected. Reinforce the good behaviors and the good work, and don’t take for granted that it will just continue forever.

You have to really try to look for the good stuff.

If you really try, I’m sure you’ll see a ton of good stuff that people are doing… And regardless of whether these things are tied to specific projects, you can still give praise in a non-patronizing way.

Be Specific and Share Why It Matters

Remember that the purpose of praise is to help people understand what to do more of, what success looks like, and what is valued.

Whether managing an administrative person or anyone else, I’ve found it helpful to make sure that the person and I were on the same page about the nature – or objective – of their job, and to give praise that made reference to that shared understanding.

Let me give an example for one of my favorite Administrative Assistants, Lauren, that might help you think about this for your situation. So the nature of Lauren’s job was to help me be more effective and efficient with my time, which in turn allowed me to lead my organization better, which in turn helped the organization succeed.

This objective – and our shared clarity of the objective of her role – drove my praise of Lauren. By telling her specifically what she had done, and how it helped fulfill that objective, I was able to make it clear why her work mattered and help her repeat this success. And when you do that, it’s very hard to come across as patronizing.

Here are some examples:

  • Lauren would regularly anticipate a scheduling anomaly and set me up for success by budgeting in travel time or finding opportunities to schedule events that were close to my home at the end of the day to reduce my commute. These are specific things that made my life better, more efficient and led to greater efficacy. I would regularly call out those specifics to her, express my appreciation, and talk about why those things she did were so helpful.
  • Lauren was also my “eyes and ears” – At the time, I had a ~750 person global team, and it was hard to know what was going on all the time. I relied on many sources of information to know the heartbeat of my org, but Lauren was an extremely important one because for a variety of reasons, people would readily confide in her. Many times, she helped me get out in front of an employee relations SNAFU by putting things on my radar.

Clarify Your Thinking with Notes

If you’re having concerns about coming across as patronizing, try this exercise. Go lock yourself in a room right now and don’t come out until you’ve written down 5 good things each person you want to praise has done in the past 7 days. For each thing, write down specifically what the person did, and make a couple of notes of why it mattered. How did it positively impact you, the team, the company, the project? I bet you’ll discover that there is PLENTY of non-patronizing stuff to call out.

Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter!

Radical Candor and the Candor Canary at Gem

We have a great story to share with you about a company that rolled out Radical Candor in their organization. Gem, a Los Angeles based blockchain company focused on healthcare and supply chain, recently introduced their 20-person team to Radical Candor and developed a really fun way to recognize their successes. Read on for ideas on rolling out the framework with your team!

– – –

As People Operations Manager at Gem, Madeline Mann had been hearing some feedback from the team about the company culture, but she couldn’t quite put into words what the consensus was. Then a colleague sent her a link to Radical Candor, and as soon as she saw the 2×2 framework, it became obvious: the company’s penchant for Caring Personally was leading them into Ruinous Empathy territory.

To help the team learn about Radical Candor and start moving in the right direction, Madeline kicked off a four week facilitation based on the Radical Candor articles, book, and podcasts. First, she introduced the concept of Radical Candor and the four quadrants, and asked the team to think about their company culture. Where on this 2×2 were interactions at Gem more likely to fall? The team opened up and agreed that they had an unparalleled ability to Care Personally, but that they often failed to Challenge Directly. It was clear to everyone that most interactions at Gem fell firmly in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant.

For the remaining weeks of the facilitation, the team at Gem spent 10 minutes of their weekly all-company meeting to focus on Radical Candor. They introduced new tenants of Radical Candor, shared observations and stories from their week, and gave out an assignment for the week.

For example, one of the weekly assignments for the team was to give Radical Candor to their lead. The team used some tips from Radical Candor Episode 8: How to Give Feedback to Your Boss to help them.

  1. Assume good intent
  2. Ask questions to understand their situation
    1. Get the context
  3. Try “I’m not sure I agree with that, are you open to another perspective?”

At the end of every week, team members rated the interactions that they and the rest of the team had that week. Had they still been in Ruinous Empathy territory, showing they Cared Personally but not Challenging Directly? Or had they moved towards Radical Candor and been able to both Care Personally and Challenge Directly? Here’s how they rated their interactions over the course of the facilitation:

This exercise got team members reflecting on their week and thinking critically about how well they felt both themselves and the team were embodying Radical Candor. They also shared some of the techniques that were working for them to Challenge Directly. For many people on the team, having the shared understanding of Radical Candor, and the term to describe it, made it easier. They would state their intention of offering Radical Candor before giving pointed feedback as a way to quickly acknowledge, “I’m a little uncomfortable saying this, but I’m doing it because I care.”

I’m a little uncomfortable saying this, but I’m doing it because I care.

As a way to encourage and reward their progress beyond the four weeks of facilitation, the Gem team decided to elect one person each week who had excelled at Caring Personally and Challenging Directly. They award this person the “Candor Canary” trophy, a name they chose because canaries are known for constantly singing and being heard. And unlike a dog’s bark or a crow’s caw, a canary’s song is beautiful and welcomed, just like thoughtful feedback.

Congrats to Scott Hoch, Gem’s inaugural Candor Canary winner!

Every week the previous winner of the Candor Canary trophy brings it to the all-company meeting and passes the trophy to someone they saw display great Radical Candor. They share the specific example of the new winner’s excellent candor, so that they can illustrate what success looks like — following the HIP approach of using public praise to help everyone learn.

Now that the facilitation is over, the team continues to practice and work towards Radical Candor. Madeline has seen that the Radical Candor ideas and facilitation have helped team members build the habit of speaking up instead of being a nodding head. Team members have reported coming out of meetings and immediately jumping into feedback conversations about how it went. As one employee put it, “At the very core, it has given the team permission to be more candid.”

– – –

Thank you to Madeline Mann and Gem for sharing this story! We look forward to hearing more about your Radical Candor journey.

Does your company have a Candor Canary equivalent? We’d love to hear about how you’re rolling out Radical Candor!

Book Discussion Questions for Radical Candor

Discussing Radical Candor as a team can help solidify the ideas and get everyone thinking about how to start applying them to your day-to-day behaviors.

We’ve put together this list of questions to get you started with the discussions for each chapter, but we’d love to hear your ideas as well! Let us know what drives the conversation for you in the comments below.

Part 1: A New Management Philosophy

Intro

  1. Describe an experience when you didn’t give direct feedback, but you wish you did.
  2. Who are the best leaders you’ve worked for in your career? What made them so exceptional? What can you learn?
  3. Tell a story about the worst boss you ever had. What did they do that made them so bad? How can you avoid those mistakes?

 

Chapter 1: Build Radically Candid Relationships

  1. What does the book say are the key responsibilities of a boss?
  2. Many people mistakenly call Radical Candor the same as brutal honesty. What is the difference between Radical Candor and brutal honesty?
  3. What are some ways that you show you Care Personally at work?
  4. Do you think Challenging Directly is a strength or a weakness for you?

 

Chapter 2: Get, Give, and Encourage Guidance

  1. Describe an experience when you received feedback that you appreciated and that was delivered in a helpful and caring way.
  2. Describe an experience when you received feedback in a way that you didn’t learn from because you resented the way it was delivered to you.
  3. Have you ever been so nice that it ended up working against you?
  4. Have you ever felt there was no way to not be mean if you needed to get your desired outcome?

 

Chapter 3: Understand What Motivates Each Person on Your Team

  1. Have you ever underestimated an employee’s contributions because they weren’t gunning for a promotion? What happened? Did you regret it?
  2. Have you ever clipped the wings of an employee on a steep growth trajectory? What happened? Did you regret it?
  3. Are you more at risk of being an absentee manager or a micromanager? What kinds of situations push you towards one of these modes?
  4. Are you currently on a gradual or steep growth trajectory? Were you ever on the opposite one?

 

Chapter 4: Drive Results Collaboratively

  1. Have you ever tried to tell a team of people what to do? What were the results?
  2. Which step(s) of the Get Stuff Done (GSD) Wheel are easiest or most comfortable for you? What steps do you tend to skip? Where do you get stuck?
  3. What are some of the practices your team or organization has today that fall into the different steps of the GSD wheel?
  4. Are you a quiet listener or a loud listener?
  5. Do you want to foster a culture of debate on a team? If so, how will you do it? If not, why not?
  6. How do you help your team make decisions? Are you worried you grab too many decisions?

 

Part 2: Tools & Techniques

Chapter 5: Relationships

  1. What activities do you do to stay centered?
  2. Describe an experience when you weren’t able to bring your best self to work. What happened?
  3. How do you build trust with your direct reports/ staff? What strategies or activities have been most effective, and how can you tell?

 

Chapter 6: Guidance

  1. Have you solicited feedback from your direct reports/staff? If so, how have you done it, and has it been successful?
  2. Do you have a go-to question for soliciting feedback? What is it?
  3. What are some of the ways that you have rewarded criticism?
  4. Which of the book’s tips for giving guidance did you find most helpful?
  5. What’s something you could do tomorrow with someone on your team to offer Radical Candor?

 

Chapter 7: Team

  1. Do you or can you begin facilitating “Career Conversations” with your direct reports, as a way of caring personally and helping them map out their career trajectories?
  2. Do you know the balance of rock stars and superstars on your team? How do you think about growth for different people?
  3. Did any of the book’s suggestions for hiring and firing resonate as applicable to your team/company?

 

Chapter 8: Results

  1. How do you approach 1:1 meetings? How’s that different than the recommendations laid out in the book? Will you change your 1:1’s?
  2. How do you help nurture new ideas? Are there ideas from the book that you’ll adopt?
  3. Do you hold staff meetings? How do they compare to the approach in the book? Any recommendations that you’ll incorporate?
  4. Do you think the Big Debate or Big Decision meetings described in the book would help your team?
  5. What do you think about the number of meetings suggested in this chapter?
  6. How do you prevent meeting-creep from taking over the time your team should be spending executing?

 

We hope these questions are helpful in creating a meaningful discussion with your team! Of course, understanding the ideas is just the first step, and changing your habits and day-to-day actions is hard.

Let us know how it goes!

Quitting with Radical Candor

As we’ve mentioned in a couple of podcast episodes (Ep 13: Help! My Boss is a Micromanager and Ep 8: How to Give Feedback to Your Boss), sometimes no matter how hard you try, no matter how much great feedback you solicit and give, a job just isn’t going to work out, and you’re going to have to take the advice I got from Gretchen Rubin:

Don’t forget to quit.

Quitting can be really hard. Maybe you’ve got a team that you feel loyal to, or you’ve invested a lot in the company, or you are worried what will happen next. But it’s really important to leave positions that are making you miserable and aren’t going to get better.

If you do decide to quit, keep the ideas behind Radical Candor in mind — Care Personally and Challenge Directly. Here’s how they apply:

1. No surprises.

When you quit, you’re doing two things–moving away from one thing and towards another. Too often, people have remained quiet about what they are not happy about because they are afraid of being fired if they speak up. But, if you’ve decided to quit anyway, why not speak up about what’s bothering you? Maybe there’s a solution and you won’t have to quit!

A good boss gives feedback along the way, and so doesn’t give a poor performance review or fire somebody out of the blue. Similarly, it’s considerate to give your boss some indication of what’s wrong so that they have an opportunity to fix it before you quit. Make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re making ultimatums. Just be clear about what’s driving you away from this job, if there are things. If it’s purely a matter of moving towards something different, explain that clearly.

2. Express gratitude.

Something has been good about this job. Think about the things you are grateful for, and give voice to them. Don’t just share this with your boss, share it with your colleagues as well. When somebody quits, it makes everybody wonder if they should be quitting too. Don’t leave in a way that makes everyone feel lame for staying. You can alleviate this discomfort by focusing on all the things that you appreciated about the job and your colleagues. If it was a hard decision to leave, don’t be afraid to say so.

3. Keep in touch.

A few weeks after you leave, send a note, or if it seems comfortable, go have a coffee or lunch or drinks with people from your old team. You spent a lot of time with these people, and, I hope, developed some kind of personal relationship with them. It can be disorienting if it feels like you dropped off the face of the earth. It’s hard to believe you “cared personally” if you never talk to the people again after you’re no longer working together.

4. Don’t “poach” indiscriminately.

When you leave one job, there may be one or two people with whom you have an especially close relationship and who are likely to “follow” you. That’s to be expected. But don’t gut your former company. Don’t start reaching out to people you don’t know all that well and trying to hire them away.

 

I hope these tips are helpful in making quitting a little less painful for you and the team you’re leaving. If you have more questions, feel free to reach out in the comments below, or more privately here :)

Radical Candor is Not About Labeling People

The Radical Candor vocabulary can be very useful for creating shared context and a shared standard around feedback. However, there are some good ways and some not-so-good ways to use this vocabulary.

When used within a company, it can be tempting to label people using the 4 Radical Candor quadrants. “Oh, yeah, Obnoxious Aggression – that’s totally Ted!” Or people walking around making the letter “M” with their fingers to identify certain co-workers as Manipulatively Insincere (oh, that doesn’t happen in your office?). Let’s not do that!

These words are meant to be used to evaluate and analyze certain interactions, and not used like Myers-Briggs or another personality test. We all behave in different ways in different interactions, and most of us probably spend time in each of the four quadrants. We would like to encourage people that are trying to build a culture of Radical Candor not to use these terms as labels for people but to evaluate and analyze interactions.

Here are some guidelines for getting the most out of the Radical Candor vocabulary in your organization and remembering not to label people.

Focus on the axes, not the quadrants

The quadrants are handy two-word phrases that are often memorable and relatable. Heck, they are even kind of fun. But they are meaningless without the axes. To analyze or evaluate an interaction, don’t focus so much on the words “Obnoxious” or “Manipulative”, but rather, evaluate an interaction based on whether there was a high Direct Challenge (CD) or whether there was high Care Personally (CP). This is important because it’s possible to act with Empathy in a certain interaction and still achieve Radical Candor (high CD, high CP). It is also possible to act Aggressively in an interaction and still show up Manipulatively Insincere (low CP, low CD) in that interaction.

One of my favorite examples of this is something that happens in every workplace. If you are talking about someone and not to someone, you are clearly not Challenging them Directly, and you’re not demonstrating Personal Care because you’re not really making any investment in that person or that relationship, you’re doing little to help them improve, etc. This can easily be considered Aggressive behavior and some might argue a bit on the Obnoxious side, too. Obnoxious Aggression, right? No – by Radical Candor standards (Radical Candards?), you are behaving with textbook Manipulative Insincerity. And this proves my point that the more meaningful way to look at the interaction is through the lens of the axes, not the quadrant names.

Would you label yourself?

As with many things in Radical Candor, it can be useful to turn things inward first, before trying to apply the ideas to a co-worker. Thinking about the example above, almost no one thinks of themselves as Manipulatively Insincere. I know this because I teach people how to run our workshops and as part of the process, they have to come up with a story of a time in which they were Manipulatively Insincere, and this story is always an absolute struggle for people. “I’m just not that kind of person, Russ.” Yet, whenever we make the decision – conscious or unconscious – to talk about someone and not to someone, we’re operating with textbook Manipulative Insincerity. Many of you reading have done this and many of you reading would not consider yourselves Manipulatively Insincere, right? We wouldn’t either, because these are labels for interactions, not for people.

Another example: Most people would not call themselves Obnoxiously Aggressive (high Challenge Directly, low Care Personally). I know this because in the workshops that I run, I usually ask! But, let me run down a scenario. Imagine you’re in the passing lane on the highway during rush hour traffic, and a dude in a nice sports car cuts you off, narrowly missing your vehicle with his. How do you react? Correct answers include: speed up and tailgate, give him the middle finger, yell obscenities at him. In all of these cases, there is a pretty clear Direct Challenge. And based on some of the horrible things we are willing to say about our fellow man when he cuts us off in traffic, it’s safe to say we’re really low on the Care Personally axis. In this interaction, we are acting Obnoxiously Aggressive toward our fellow citizens. So remember that we’re all susceptible. Just like you wouldn’t label yourself as Obnoxiously Aggressive based on one interaction, don’t jump to a label for another person either.

 

Acknowledge the complicated set of variables

Remember that how you intend to show up on a given day may not be how you actually show up that day. For example, imagine an interaction in which you are fresh off a big win and your co-worker is fresh off a big loss. Or what if your child kept you up last night? What if you are hungover? What if you had a great night sleep and got to the gym? Got breakfast? Got some bad news at home? Got some great news from home? And now ask these same questions, rhetorically, about this theoretical interaction with a co-worker. All of these variables can manifest and make what you think is a Radically Candid interaction feel much more like an Obnoxiously Aggressive one to the other person, and of course, vice versa. Remembering how these outside factors can affect you in a given interaction will help you be mindful that the other person is also influenced by variables that you aren’t aware of. Hopefully this will make you less likely to label their personality rather than the interaction.

 

 

We hope these guidelines will help you remember to use the Radical Candor framework to guide your interactions, not to label people. Let us know what you think, and tell us what your challenges are!

The Candor Boomerang

Marc Murphy, CEO at Atlatl Software, wrote us recently with this great feedback story, and a great new term to start using.

Had a great candor moment this week that I wanted to share. I called it a candor boomerang…

Marc met with a manager on his team and had a great, candid session. Marc shared some feedback with the manager. When he finished, the manager said, “Now can I share some feedback that I have for you?” What came next was some of the best feedback Marc has received as a CEO, and it made an immediate impact.

So proud that we are building an organization that is open to the candor boomerang.

We love this story and this new term, the candor boomerang! People can feel that it is pretty risky to offer feedback to their boss, and it’s so powerful when they feel comfortable turning the table. As a boss, are you creating a safe space so your team can share feedback with you?

For tips on this, check out our articles about how to get more feedback and how to take feedback well.

Have you experienced a candor boomerang? Share your story with us!

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