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Fighting Bloviating BS with Radical Candor

Radical Candor can be applied not just in feedback conversations, but in all interactions. Think for example about Radical Candor during meetings, brainstorming, public relations, etc. Each of these types of communications have their own unique challenges related to Radical Candor. For example, here’s a tricky situation sent to us by a reader:

As an entrepreneur, pre-funding, having invested a great deal of life-savings into our young business, putting it all on the line to pursue my dream, I am immersed in three types of conversations in which radical candor is particularly challenging:

1) As I complete my funding presentation and begin to meet potential investors & make a case for why they should support us;

2) Simultaneously, reaching out to potential key members of a senior team, seeking an agreement to come on board when funding is secured;

3) At the same time, continuing to encourage current fans to spread the word about our games and tell others to buy them.

Conventional entrepreneurial wisdom is all about “faking it ’til you make it”, which is really just a euphemism for lying. I’m not talking about outright financial misrepresentations or the like, even though most advice about that is given with a wink and a nudge. It’s more a matter of how you frame things – “selling the dream”.

I am determined to make this triple-bottom line company work without sacrificing moral integrity.

The challenge is, potential investors & potential team-members (I’m talking to industry veterans who have been “around the block”) actually expect entrepreneurs to lie, exaggerate & gild the lily, so, if you start w the truth, you start w a big disadvantage.

How best to deal with that?

And, wrt one’s public face, how to keep fans close & the media happy without pretending one is rolling in profits and fighting off Google & Apple at every turn?

— David Galiel, Founder and CEO, Elbowfish

David,

Thank you for a GREAT question. One of the most depressing things about our world is that, all too often, bloviating BS (as I call what you describe) really does work, even when everyone knows it’s nonsense. As Harry Frankfurt wrote in his fantastic essay On Bullshit,

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves…The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept.”

In his effort to provide a “theory” of BS, Frankfurt distinguishes it from a lie. He says the essence of BS is that it is: “unconnected to a concern with the truth.” BS exhibits a kind of mindlessness, a disconnection from reality, that is in many ways even more insidious than a lie.

The problem with BS, according to Frankfurt, is that it:

“offers a description of a certain state of affairs without genuinely submitting to the constraints which the endeavor to provide an accurate representation of reality imposes. [The] fault is not that [it] fails to get things right, but that [it] is not even trying.”

Unfortunately, bloviating BS works especially well in a “hot” market where it’s less likely to get challenged.

Bloviating BS is a particular type of Manipulative Insincerity.

bloviating-bs-manipulative-insincerity

“BS” is way on the wrong end of the “challenge directly” axis. It’s not a just about hiding what one thinks or even actually lying about what one thinks, it’s totally unconcerned with what the best answer might be. In the worst cases it simply ignores objective reality.

The fact it’s “bloviating” both worsens its value on the “challenge directly” axis and means it’s way on the wrong end of the “care personally” axis. The people spouting it are more focused on making themselves look good rather than caring personally about the person/people they’re talking to.

In extreme cases, the bloviator is preying on the emotions of the person/people they’re talking to. Bloviating entrepreneurs, for example, are usually preying on greed and the fear of missing out. At its best, bloviating BS (like all cases of Manipulative Insincerity) is harmless. At its worst, it can be very dangerous.

You don’t need bloviating BS.

The good news is that Radical Candor works better than bloviating BS in the long run, even though the long run can seem a long time coming sometimes.

L.J. Rittenhouse, CEO of Rittenhouse Rankings, is the inventor of Candor Analytics. Her financial linguistic research over the past 15 years shows that companies led by CEOs who ranked highest in Candor, significantly outperformed the market and also those ranked lowest in Candor. Her book Investing Between the Lines (McGraw-Hill 2013) was endorsed by Warren Buffett, and it describes the methodology used to score key words, phrases and concepts and identify positive and negative value indicators. A total Candor score reveals the amount of truth and BS in executive communications. Her research is so solid she’s in discussions to create the first ever Candor Investment Fund. It will find companies with leaders who are more candid, more trustworthy and achieve better overall performance.

It can be scary to try Radical Candor when it feels like you’re swimming in a sea of exaggerated nonsense. However, I’ve found that in hiring some truly amazing people, in raising money from shrewd Venture Capitalists for two start ups, and even once working with Seth MacFarlane in Hollywood, Radical Candor won the day. Here are three tips for navigating:

Call BS

If you suspect the last ten people have claimed a market is $10 billion and you believe it to be $100 million, say so. Announce your intention to play a different game.

Be generous with information

Establish your credibility by sharing information the person you’re speaking to may not know. Use this credibility to focus on facts and a quest for the truth than a big story.

Establish a shared human connection

Don’t prey on the insecurities and weakness of the people you’re meeting with. Show that you understand what they care about, and prove that you care about it too — if you really do. Appeal to their better instincts, and don’t be afraid to show your own.

 

Hopefully these tips are helpful and inspire you to stick to your instinct for Radical Candor. Readers, if you have additional tips for David, please share them in the comments!

Soliciting Feedback from Your Boss

What happens when your boss doesn’t give you feedback? At first it will seem like your boss is extremely pleasant to work with, but as time goes by you’ll start to realize that the only feedback you’ve received is “good job” and other vaguely positive comments. You’ll start to get the feeling you’ve done some things wrong, but you’re not sure what, exactly. You’ll never know where you stand, and you won’t be given an opportunity to learn or grow. Eventually, you might stall or get fired.

We received this related question from a reader:

I’ve been in my current position for less than 6 months, and things have been going pretty well. But I find that there are a lot more things that I could be doing but don’t have the time for, and I’m not sure how others think I’m doing in my role. I’ve asked my boss how I’m doing, but I only get positive responses like, “Yeah, you’re doing great. We’re glad you’re here!” I know I’m not doing everything perfectly — how can I get my boss to open up and tell me what I need to do better?

— Doing Great but wanting to improve

Thanks for the question, Doing Great! You’ve identified a key challenge, and it’s great that you’ve caught it early! Here are some thoughts to help.

First, don’t go down a rathole of moral indignation that your boss is not giving you feedback. Bosses are people, too. In all likelihood your boss is not giving you feedback for one simple reason: your boss is human.

speak-no-evil

Do you like giving feedback? If you’re like most people, the answer to that is a resounding NO. Most people dread giving feedback, even if doing so is important for their relationships and a part of their job. Odds are, your boss is like most people, and dreads giving you feedback, even though that feedback will help you get better at your job and help you grow in your career. And the fact that your boss dreads giving you feedback doesn’t necessarily mean that your boss doesn’t care about helping you get better at your job or helping you grow in your career. It’s just that for most of us giving praise feels patronizing and giving criticism feels mean. Almost nobody wants to feel patronizing or mean. So almost everybody avoids giving feedback — even when giving feedback is their job.

Ok, so what should I do to solicit feedback?

Make it EASY for your boss to give you feedback. There’s nothing inherently hierarchical about giving feedback, so many of the tips we recently posted for bosses on getting feedback from their teams are also applicable for you! Specifically, check out tips 1-4 in that article:

Here are some additional techniques we’ve seen work to get the conversation flowing from the employee’s side:

Ask for specific feedback at the right time

The easiest time for your boss to share feedback with you is when it is top of mind and the details are fresh. If you are wrapping up a big project or have just presented an idea to your boss, take the opportunity to ask for feedback on the work that has just been done. Your 1:1 with your boss is a great time to ask for this feedback — make it a distinct item on your agenda! Your boss will be able to say what’s on their mind much more easily for a specific, recent occurrence, rather than trying to come up with feedback if you ask more broadly about how you’re doing.

Propose your own feedback for confirmation

Take some time to reflect on areas that you want to improve. Think of some criticism for yourself and mention it to your boss. Ask if they agree and then give them time to respond and elaborate. Your prompting may help them share more of their thoughts on both the subject you raised as well as others.

Keep a tally

How many times each week does your boss criticize/praise you? If it’s all praise and no criticism, beware! You need to work harder to get the criticism. Try talking to your boss about the idea of Radical Candor. Tell them you’d welcome Radical Candor, but you’d prefer Obnoxious Aggression to silence. Print out the Radical Candor framework, and when you’re having a conversation and you feel like your boss is pulling their punches, point to Radical Candor and ask them to go there.

Soliciting feedback - Keep a tally

Ask your peers or your boss’s peers

If you’re still having a lot of trouble getting feedback from your boss, think about all the other people that you work well with. You undoubtedly work closely on projects with a number of peers. Ask if they have any feedback for you. If there are other managers or executives at the company who have seen your work closely, ask them for feedback as well!

Don’t overdo it

When you do get some feedback, work on addressing the issue before asking for more. And make sure you don’t act like this guy :)  — start watching at 1:57.

 

We hope these tips are helpful for soliciting feedback. Let us know how it goes, and share any other techniques that work for you!

Wrong Job

How Can I Stop My Ruinous Empathy?

For those of you who are familiar with our Radical Candor framework, you’ll remember that Ruinous Empathy is in the upper left. High Care Personally, low Challenge Directly. It categorizes behavior in which someone is trying to be “nice” in an effort to spare people’s feelings — by not saying what needs to be said, by lying, or by just offering a verbal pat on the back. People whose behaviors fall in this quadrant often recognize it right away when they learn about the framework. Here’s a question a reader recently asked:

I’m looking for advice on Ruinous Empathy. I am new to an HR-ish role at a small web development company. (There are 11 people on the team.) After reading about the 4 quadrants, I know that I fall in the bucket of being ruinously empathetic with my team members. I struggle with giving feedback in order to spare a team member’s feelings. I’m already seeing the repercussions of hanging out in this quadrant. Do you have any advice on how to come back from a moment of Ruinous Empathy? And do you have any tips on how to move from Ruinous Empathy to Radical Candor? Thanks in advance for your time and insight.
-Tori

2x2-ruinous-empathyTori, thanks so much for reaching out. Your question is applicable to many of our readers.

First off – don’t despair :) You are not even remotely alone in your Ruinously Empathetic tendencies! It’s our belief that >75% of feedback mistakes get made in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant.

Second thing – Just identifying that you have this tendency and starting to think about how to make progress puts you halfway down the path to victory!

Here are some thoughts for how you can avoid Ruinous Empathy and move towards Radical Candor:

Reconsider Your Mindset

You mentioned that you know you struggle with giving feedback because you want to spare people’s feelings. Let’s dig into that thinking.

Can I control someone’s feelings?

More likely than “sparing someone’s feelings,” what one is really trying to do is to avoid dealing with the other person’s emotion. Even the most carefully crafted feedback will usually elicit an emotional response. People take their work personally, and they will at times react with emotion. This is reality and is not something to avoid. Let’s embrace the discomfort here, and recognize that this is life in the office.

But let’s take your statement at face value, that you really are just trying to spare the other person’s feelings. Ask yourself, “Can I control someone’s feelings?” The answer is no. So even the attempt at trying to control someone’s feelings – whether pulling a punch on criticism or offering false praise – is somewhat of an impossible endeavor. You, like me, are no Master of the Universe, so let’s stop wasting mental and emotional energy on these things we cannot control!

criticism_ruinousempathy

What’s your priority?

And even if it were possible to spare someone’s feelings, is that really the right priority for your business and for that person? Check out our video that uses the trite example of “spinach in your teeth” to make the point that in an effort to spare someone embarrassment, you do them a great disservice. In this example, a person acting with Ruinous Empathy might say to themselves, “oh, how embarrassing it must be for Tammy to have that giant piece of spinach in her teeth – poor thing. Well, I’m certainly not going to embarrass her further by pointing it out. She’ll go to the bathroom soon and see it – can’t miss it, and she’ll be fine.” Of course, Tammy then goes to 5 meetings in a row with no bio break. 5 meetings of embarrassment!

Does ‘sparing feelings’ enhance your relationship?

Finally, think about whether this idea of sparing someone’s feelings actually improves a relationship. In the case above, how is Tammy going to feel about us after having attended all those meetings and realizing none of us told her about the giant piece of spinach in her teeth? Will she trust us? She might even think we did it on purpose to intentionally embarrass her. At a minimum, she probably won’t feel like we have her back.

All of this to say that the instinct to try to spare someone’s feeling is all wrong – it comes from a good place, but is a misplaced and misguided effort.

Get Ready to Just Say It

Knowing that sparing someone’s feelings isn’t the mindset you want to have, now you need to get into the mindset of Radical Candor. How are you going to break your “nice” habit and Challenge Directly?

First, before giving feedback, consider, articulate, and possibly even write down your objectives for the feedback. This is a crucial step. Once you’re clear in your mind that you are trying to be helpful and not trying to kick someone in the shins, you’ll be able to deliver your message with your good intentions even if the recipient of the feedback reacts emotionally.

Second, know that Challenging Directly is going to be a stretch for you. Your tendency is still going to be to soften the blow of your Direct Challenge, which can lead to it being unclear or not even heard. To avoid this, you might even aim for Obnoxious Aggression. Because you have strong tendencies towards Ruinous Empathy, you probably won’t get all the way to Obnoxious Aggression, but your challenge will be much stronger and hopefully clearer.

Now Say It the Right Way

With the right mindset and preparation, you’re now ready for the tactics of giving good Radically Candid feedback. We say to use the HIP approach.

  • Be Humble – Recognize that you do not possess the only interpretation of the facts, and recognize that the other party also holds an important interpretation of the facts. Neither of you possesses the full truth. So, be humble and open to a reciprocal challenge on your feedback.
  • Be Helpful – Don’t forget the objectives you wrote down, and don’t forget to signal to the recipient that you intend to be helpful.
  • Give Immediate Feedback – Feedback has a short half-life. We lose details and resolve as time wears on. Give your feedback right away.
  • Give Feedback In Person – So much of communication is nonverbal, which means so much is lost in email or even on the telephone. Try your best to do it in person to make sure everything is being communicated.
  • Praise in Public, Criticize in Private – It’s hard enough for people to hear criticism – be sure to grant them the courtesy of delivering it in private. Praise in public both for recognition and learning.
  • Don’t Personalize – Be careful not to give feedback about unchangeable attributes, such as intelligence. Give feedback on behaviors and results instead of using phrases such as “You’re a genius!” or “You’re wrong.”

Here’s how this might play out:

“Alaina, I have some feedback for you that I I’d like to give in an effort to be helpful. Would you like to hear that feedback?”

“Yes.” (if they say no, that’s a whole ‘nother thing :-) )

“Cool. Well, here’s what I think and I’d be interested to hear what you think. I think that when you did behavior x, y, z, it affected the team in a, b, c (negative) ways. Here’s my rationale: reason 1, 2, 3.

What do you think about that?”

…and then shut up and listen with the intent to understand, not to interrupt or cross-examine. Alaina might react emotionally. She might come back at you with “well, what about your big misstep?”

At this point, you have to manage your own emotions and just listen. Check for understanding and make a note so you don’t forget, but then you need to get the conversation back on point “OK, Alaina, I hear that you think I made this big error. I want to hear more about that, and I promise we’ll talk that through – but for the moment I’d like to hear your thoughts on my original point about x, y, z impacting team in a, b, c ways. Do you have thoughts on that?”

Assuming Alaina gives you an interpretation of the facts, once again, you check for understanding, “So Alaina, I hear you saying that you think that behaviors x and y were the right call for d, e, and f reasons, but you agree that z was suboptimal? Do I have that right? What would you change?”

Next, focus on “how do you think we avoid z in the future?” Again, listen with the intent to understand and not to interrupt or cross-examine. This puts you and Alaina on a joint problem-solving path and hopefully helps to move her out of her emotional reaction.

Then, don’t forget to circle back and let Alaina give you her feedback that you wrote down earlier. :)
I covered a lot of ground here, and I hope this helps!

Good luck and keep me posted on when you put this into practice.

Cheers,
Coach Russ

Self-Awareness and the Candor Gauge

A question from one of our readers:

I was facilitating an internal assertiveness workshop, and one of the dynamics I noticed was that, while everyone was engaged, and I think took away some useful insights, there was a thread of lack of personal awareness that seemed to stop some folks. People said things like, “I’m already pretty assertive, but I could see how this could be helpful.” This isn’t a new phenomenon in my experience. I’ve been doing workshops and teaching adults for over a decade. But as we wrapped up, I thought, in what ways can we provoke and help facilitate self-awareness from the inside out? Then I thought, radical candor may be a key insight.

The difference I’m trying to tease out here is between: 1. My boss shared a keen, helpful insight with me (even if it was hard to hear) which is important and valuable and 2. I’m doing the work of investigation myself, truth-testing with others of course, but some sort of “personal radical candor”.

Any insights?

– Craig

Craig, thanks for the great question. You really just nailed a very hard part of Radical Candor: how can we be Radically Candid with ourselves?

Truth-testing with others is key to “personal Radical Candor.” Radical Candor is not like a Myers-Briggs personality test. It’s best used not to judge yourself or somebody else, but as an assessment of how something you said landed for somebody else, or for a group of people.

How can we understand how we are perceived generally, and also by specific individuals? After all, if I say the same thing to two different people, one may think it was Radically Candid, but the other may find it Obnoxiously Aggressive. How can we adjust our style to work with different cultures? I was raised in the South — I sometimes joke I was born and bred for Manipulative Insincerity. When I was working for an Israeli start-up, I had to adopt a very different style.

Since Radical Candor gets measured at the listener’s ear not the speaker’s mouth, and since we often have very little idea of what’s going on in another person’s mind, knowing whether one has been Radically Candid requires not just self-awareness but also relational-awareness and cultural-awareness.

Self-awareness

Being Radically Candid with yourself requires self-awareness. You can build this Radical Candor “self-awareness” by understanding how most people perceive your feedback, how your feedback lands in general. If you give feedback to 10 people, maybe 7 of them would gauge your feedback in roughly the same way. Let’s say they found your feedback Radically Candid. So overall, as a self-aware person, you know your feedback is generally Radically Candid. That is super-important to know. And hard.

To give Radically Candid feedback — to be aware of how our feedback lands — we need feedback on our feedback. Very meta :)  But having a meta conversation every week could make giving feedback harder than it already is. That is why we’re developing the Candor Gauge: to quickly and painlessly give you an indication of what is happening at the listener’s ear, in their minds, and even in their hearts.

Here’s how it works: if you give feedback to people every week, you can send them an app version of the Radical Candor framework and ask them to tap the quadrant(s) where your praise and criticism landed that week. We aggregate the results for you each week and give you a window into how your feedback lands overall. It takes them ~30 seconds to gauge your feedback, and you just a quick moment to see where you stand and get a quick tip for improving.

For example, here are ratings I might get in my Gauge:

ratings-self-awareness

 

In this case, I might think I’m being assertive, or Radically Candid, but learn that I’m showing up as Obnoxiously Aggressive when I offer criticism. This is a report where some people chose to gauge me anonymously, so it helps with self-awareness but not with more specific relational-awareness of how my praise/criticism landed differently for different individuals. I have two tasks ahead of me (probably not unrelated): learning to show I Care Personally when giving criticism, and also building trust so that people quit gauging me anonymously.

Relational-awareness

General self-awareness will move things in the right direction for me, but it won’t solve an issue that I may be having communicating with a specific person.

In the case where 7 of 10 people gauged my feedback as Radically Candid–well, that’s good. But, what about those other 3 people? The plot thickens…To improve there, I need relational-awareness.

General self-awareness might even trip me up when it comes to relational awareness in a specific relationship. For example, I might in general give feedback that is Radically Candid, but when I work with a particular person who’s really sensitive, my Radical Candor lands as Obnoxious Aggression. And when I work with a person who is so super confident that they’re practically deaf to criticism, my Radical Candor might turn to Ruinous Empathy. But because I am self-aware, I consider myself to be a “Radically Candid” person–and this view of myself, not inaccurate in aggregate, might cause me to totally miss the signals from these 3 people who do not experience my feedback as Radically Candid. I might have high self-awareness–I’m right that most people see experience my feedback as Radically Candid. But that self-awareness might blind me to how these specific people find me. My high self-awareness might contribute to my low relational-awareness.

For example, I may think that I’ve been crystal clear, but the other person hasn’t understood me at all. Let’s say I just had a conversation with Alex. I criticized Alex and am worried about having been a jerk. But, unbeknownst to me, Alex still isn’t even aware of the problem that I raised. I was worried that the criticism was so harsh it was Obnoxiously Aggressive. But Alex didn’t hear any criticism at all.

Or, I may think I’ve been kind, but the other person feels I’ve just stomped all over them. Now let’s imagine that I’m now having a conversation with Margaret. I think very highly of Margaret and make sure to say so, but also make one tiny suggestion for how Margaret could have done better. Margaret walks away utterly demoralized and thinking I am a total asshole. Others on the team don’t see me that way. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters for my relationship with Margaret is how Margaret feels. I have to find a way to get through to her.

rating-margaret-criticism-600

Cultural-awareness

And of course it’s not just self-awareness and relational-awareness, but there’s also cultural-awareness to consider as well. I might finally figure things out with a team of 10 here in California. And then I might move to Tel Aviv, where people in general would experience my feedback as passive aggressive. 7 out of 10 people on my new Israeli team might find my feedback Manipulatively Insincere. This would blow my mind at first because it would run so counter to my perception of who I am and who I want to be. If I have good relational-awareness, it will help me more than good self-awareness to make the necessary adjustments. I know I’m not a chameleon. I know that I need to do different things with different people and in different cultures to show I care and to challenge people directly. And I’m willing to adapt my style because I hold those ideals–caring and challenging–as important at an absolute level. That will help a lot if I move from Tel Aviv to Tokyo. It will also help me if I move from a company with one strong culture to a company with a very different kind of culture.

Self-Correction

Both relational-awareness and cultural-awareness explain why Radical Candor is not a personality type. Nobody is always in just one quadrant with everybody all the time. The Gauge is not a personality test. Instead, it offers a way to describe a specific interaction between two people.

Since every person is different, and everyone they are speaking to is different, we quickly get into an N to N problem that might at first seem impossibly complicated to describe, or to give advice on. If this sounds impossibly complicated, do not despair. It’s not actually as complex as it sounds. You can get a snapshot of how your feedback is landing without spending hours of conversation soliciting feedback on your feedback.

The Candor Gauge offers you self-awareness, relational-awareness, and cultural-awareness. That small glimpse into what others are thinking about your feedback will helps you self-correct. We send tips to help you improve and stories to help you feel less alone — but you’ll probably get better automatically, and that’s what really feels good.

Try it out and let us know what you think.

Video Tip: How Often Should I Give Feedback?

Speaking earlier this year at Slack, who is also one of our investors, I got a question about the frequency of feedback:

I feel like I don’t find that many opportunities where I can give someone constructive feedback. Am I just ignoring things? How often should one be doing this?

There is one rule of thumb that applies to criticism in general, but is especially good advice when you’re really busy and nerves are frayed. It’s best summed up by advice a friend’s godfather gave her at her wedding. “If it’s brown flush it down. If it’s yellow let it mellow.” She got married on an island with a poor septic system, and this was a sign by all the toilets. But as her godfather said, “These are words to live by. If there’s a big stinking problem talk about it before it fouls your relationship. But if it’s a small thing, let it go.”

You don’t need to nitpick every little thing, but if you see something that matters, tell the person.

If you want to set a specific goal, try praising someone 3-4 times a week and giving them 1 piece of criticism. And remind yourself not to repress feedback – give it immediately.

Here’s my full answer to this question:

 

How to Give Humble Feedback

Here’s a question that I get pretty often:

“How can I be more humble?”

The first time a person in a class I was teaching asked this, I sat there with my mouth hanging open. It was all I could do not to break into the song from the 70’s show HeeHaw. “Oh lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way!”

How can you answer a question like that?? I didn’t take it seriously until about the 20th time somebody asked me. Finally, I realized it was a legitimate question and I needed to give a serious answer.

The ability to be humble is important for achieving Radical Candor, and it’s one of the tenets of our HIP Approach. You can’t Care Personally or Challenge Directly if you’re not humble. It’s really hard to care at a personal level about somebody if you think you’re superior. And you can’t Challenge Directly and be open to the reciprocal challenge if you’re not humble enough to realize you may be wrong.

The importance of being wrong

Andy Grove once told me, over a cup of Jamocha Almond Fudge ice cream at Baskin Robbins in Los Altos, “Fucking Steve [Jobs] always gets it right.”

“Nobody’s always right,” I said.

“I didn’t say Steve IS always right. I said he always GETS it right. Like anyone, he is wrong all the time, but he insists, and not gently either, that people tell him when he’s wrong, so he always gets it right in the end.”

I thought a lot about this conversation over the next couple of years. I think Andy was exactly right: a big part of Steve Jobs’s genius came from his willingness to be proven wrong. Here’s how he described it in his own words:

Jobs: I don’t mind being wrong. And I’ll admit that I’m wrong a lot. It doesn’t really matter to me too much. What matters to me is that we do the right thing.

Watch the video

In other words, you don’t have to grovel or pretend to be worse than you are. You just need to accept the possibility that whatever you’re saying may be wrong. Don’t be arrogant. Be curious.

Who are you to say?

The thing that makes it tough is that giving criticism and praise does feel arrogant. How can you be humble and tell somebody their work isn’t good enough at the same time? It can feel equally arrogant to tell people when their work is great.

Don’t let the fear of arrogance stop you from giving the feedback people need. Here are some techniques and reminders for being Humble when offering praise and criticism.

Situation, Behavior, Impact

The Center for Creative Leadership developed a technique called Situation, Behavior, Impact that ensures guidance is humble rather than judgmental. The idea is simple. It forces you to describe what you saw a person do and what impact you saw as a result. This prevents you from passing judgments or making assertions that seem arrogant or fall prey to the “fundamental attribution error.” Instead of yelling, “You asshole” when somebody grabs your parking space, you say, “I’ve been waiting for that spot here for five minutes, and you just zipped in front of me and took it. Now I’m going to be late.” If you say this, you give the person a chance to say, “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t realize, let me move.” (Of course, the person might also just flip you off or say, “Tough shit.” Then you can yell with more justification, “You asshole!”)

SBI-for-twitter

 

Here’s how to do this at work. Describe the situation, the person’s behavior, and the impact the behavior had. All those descriptions don’t have to add up to a novel. They just provide the specifics of what actually happened. In other words, don’t just say, “You’re aggressive.” Better to say, “In the meeting we just had when you and Zan got in an argument (situation), putting your face three inches from Zan’s and yelling ‘Fuck You’ (behavior) was too aggressive.” Here you are describing the situation and the behavior, but you didn’t describe the impact. Best to say, “In the meeting we just had when you and Zan got in an argument (situation), putting your face three inches from Zan’s and yelling ‘Fuck You’ (behavior) could result in his bringing a lawsuit against the company for allowing a hostile work environment (impact).”

Situation, behavior, impact applies to praise as well as to criticism. Praise can feel just as arrogant as criticism. A great way to offer praise that is helpful is to share the situation, the behavior, and the impact so that it’s clear why the work was important. I often bristle at praise because it sounds insincere or patronizing or somehow belittling. When somebody says to me, “I’m so proud of you!” I think, “Who are you to be proud of me?” I’d rather hear, “In the presentation you just gave (situation), I think what you said about A, B, C (behavior) was a persuasive because x, y, z (impact).” It’s the fear of sounding arrogant that sometimes makes me hesitate to give praise to people properly. Using situation, behavior, impact helps.

Left Hand Column

Chris Argyris and Donald Schon developed a method called the Left Hand Column exercise, which can be useful for keeping oneself humble. The idea is to create two columns on a piece of paper. In the right hand column, you write down how a particular conversation went, as closely as you can remember it. In the left hand column, you write down what you were thinking and feeling. While this helps identify thoughts you aren’t expressing and should, it can also help you see if arrogant thoughts from the left hand column are leaking out into what you say. If you can be more conscious of what you’re thinking, and can adjust it, you can probably find a productive way to address it. For example, if you are thinking, “So-and-so is lazy and sloppy and doesn’t care about the team’s results,” you’re not likely to be humble when you criticize the typos you saw in so-and-so’s last ten presentations.

left-hand-column

The point is that even though you didn’t choose the wrong words to say, your tone of voice and body language is likely to betray what you really think. it’s not just about fixing the words you use or using a situation, behavior, impact formula, you need to address your thinking.

Ontological Humility

Fred Kofman wrote a great chapter called Ontological Humility in his book Conscious Business. Here’s an excerpt:

“Ontological humility is the acknowledgement that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth and, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration. This attitude is opposed to ontological arrogance, which is the claim that your truth is the only truth. Even though it may make sense intellectually that people have different perspectives, most people do not naturally act from this understanding, especially in the midst of disagreement or conflict.”

When you remember your criticism may be wrong, you’ll offer it more humbly. You will challenge others in a way that invites a reciprocal challenge, and you’ll be more likely to see things from the other person’s point of view.

Power corrupts

Nothing is more corrupting to humility than formal power. Part of what gives bosses trouble with humility is that they have a little bit of power. Don’t let it go to your head…Remember, being a boss is a job, not a value judgement.

Manager, manage thyself!

Most people find it harder to be humble when they’re mad, hungry, or tired. If I focus on managing my emotions it’s easier for me to prevent my ego from getting the better of me. Ask yourself what you need to stay centered, and make sure to do those things to take care of yourself. Remember, you can’t give a damn about others if you don’t give a damn about yourself. I cover this topic in even more depth in my book.

 

How do YOU show humility when giving feedback? Do you have tips to share?

How to Introduce Radical Candor in Your Organization

When we talk about Radical Candor at companies or with individuals, we see a lot of heads nodding in agreement. People understand that Radical Candor can improve performance, reduce politics and make work more fun. But how do you make sure that these ideas that resonate in the moment actually get implemented, rather than forgotten? Here’s a question from one of our readers:

As a CEO who hasn’t been practicing Radical Candor, is it advisable to transition into the practice immediately or slowly introduce it into the company’s culture?

My advice is to start right away but understand that it will take continuous practice to make a lasting change. Here are some steps you can take to ensure a successful transition.

Create a Shared Vocabulary

Start by explaining the idea of Radical Candor and the 2×2 to your company in your own words. It is important to establish the shared vocabulary so that everyone can understand the goal and feel comfortable changing their behavior.

Radical Candor 2x2

Lead by Example

Tell your company that you think you have not been Radically Candid enough, and that you’re going to try to make a big change. By communicating that you want to improve, you’ll show your team that you’re serious about the cultural shift. Prove that you mean it by asking for their help. Ask them to rate your feedback — to tell you when they feel you are veering into one of the other three quadrants. Remind them, these are not labels for people, they are labels for behavior.

By building a collaborative process, you’ll improve your own impromptu feedback quicker, and you’ll help your team see first-hand the impact of Radical Candor. When they see the improvements, they’ll also be encouraged to make the change themselves.

Commit to the Journey

You won’t become Radically Candid overnight, and it’s almost impossible to be Radically Candid 100% of the time. My experience with changing behavior is that I generally have to overshoot. In other words, if I’m convinced that my behavior is consistently Ruinously Empathetic, I’m probably going to have to feel like I’m being a real jerk before I get to Radical Candor. That is really uncomfortable. But if you’ve communicated to your team why you’re changing and asked them to rate your feedback, they’ll understand and help you improve.

The important thing is that you explain to your organization that you are going to start saying what you think a lot more clearly, and that you’re not doing it to be a jerk, or to hurt anyone’s feelings, you are doing it because you care about each person you work with personally, and you want to help them do the best work of their careers. And then walk the walk on that.

In short, go all-in yourself and continually involve your team. And remember that Radical Candor is HIP (Humble, Helpful, Immediate, In person, Private criticism/Public praise, not Personalized).

I was asked a similar question at Betterworks Goal Summit 2016. Here’s my response:

Please let me know what you think of this advice in the comments below. I’m sure I got some stuff wrong and would love any guidance readers have to offer!

Do you have a question or tricky management situation? Ask us for advice!

3 Steps for Offering Radical Candor to Executives

DILEMMA: Providing criticism to senior executives can be a daunting undertaking. How do you practice Radical Candor with executives, especially if you know they haven’t been receptive to criticism in the past?

We received this question from one of our readers:

How do you solve the problem of senior executives who tend to shut down and adopt an Obnoxious Aggressive position when faced with criticism?

I’ve found that the Obnoxious Aggressive ones are often challenged internally by feelings of embarrassment and/or shame. Over the course of their career they have been incredibly successful. And then they finally meet a situation that forces them into a place of realizing they have little or no skills and experience to solve an interpersonal management problem. All too often they bury the problem, and then they bury the fact that they have buried the problem making it really hard to bring to the surface without a total nuclear blow up.

What can make this harder is if there is a corporate culture of behaviors designed to avoid shame and embarrassment. These behaviors take the form of policies or actions which prevent individuals, groups, and organizations from experiencing embarrassment or threat. Moreover, as I mentioned above, these defensive routines are “self-sealing.” Because if an action that helps to reduce embarrassment is made public, it would be ineffective. Therefore, it must also be hidden.

For an individual executive do you just put on your body armor and just do it? Or do you have another way? When it’s systemically a part of the corporate culture, what then?

–L

L,

This is a GREAT question, and a hard one. Here are my thoughts.

Step 1: Tread with caution

Somebody recently tweeted at me “Tried Radical Candor with my boss. Got fired.” I offered to help the person get a new job, but he had already found one, happily. But when I say it’s not just your job but your moral obligation to offer Radical Candor, I’m speaking to people who are the boss, or who are in a position of authority. When it comes to being Radically Candid with your boss, it’s OK to proceed with a little more caution.

Step 2: Build a culture of self-criticism on your team, with your direct reports

It’s a lot easier to lead by example than it is to change other people’s behavior. Here are some specific things you can do to achieve this:

  • Criticize yourself publicly.
    i-was-wrong-trophyI once bought a 3 foot tall “you were right, I was wrong” statue and gave it to somebody each week. If that’s too corny for you, find some other way to show people when you know you’re wrong and that you appreciate being told so.
  • Explain to your team why you are criticizing yourself.
    To help explain why being open to one’s own mistakes is so vital for long-term success, one of the executives at Apple whom I worked with bought a copy of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset for all 3,000 people on his team. Maybe do the same for your team?
  • Make it easier and safer for the people on your team to admit to mistakes.
    I have used a simple technique, “Whoops the Monkey,” to do this. Basically, I just bought a stuffed monkey and put it in front of me at every all-hands meeting. I asked people to nominate themselves for “Whoops.” In exchange for confessing to some mistake, they would be granted instant forgiveness and help prevent others on the team from making the same mistake. I would always come prepared with my own story. And for the first few weeks I had to put $20 on Whoops’s head to get others to share their stories. It wasn’t really that they wanted the money, but the cash gave them “plausible deniability” for playing along. Tom Tunguz, who was on the AdSense team I led, wrote a post describing why he felt this technique was effective.

Step 3: Describe what you’re doing to your boss and to your peers

Show the executive why being open to criticism works better than shutting it down. In an environment that is culturally unaccepting of criticism, people will probably think you’re crazy when you criticize yourself publicly, so be prepared.

  • Tell some stories that show leaders who admit it when they are wrong are STRONGER than those who don’t. Too many execs fail to see how petty bullying makes them look ridiculous. Somehow, they think they are supposed to shut down criticism instead of being open to it. Take some of the stories out of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Or, take a look at Steve Jobs’s reaction to antennagate. You could argue that the song at the beginning was maybe a little Obnoxiously Aggressive or defensive, but it was just so funny I’ll give it a pass. But, when he starts talking, the first thing he says is “We’re not perfect.” Another example is CEO James Burke’s handling of the Tylenol poisonings.
  • To demonstrate the benefits of being open to criticism from your own team, come in with some stories of what happened when you started driving a culture of self-criticism on your own team.

And, as you say, keep your body armor on!

I hope this helps. I wish you the very best in your efforts to change the culture and am here any time for follow-up questions. Do let me know how it’s going.

Radical Candor in Kabul

I received a great question from a reader recently that I wanted to share.

I’ve been sending your article to all the leaders I know. One of them asked this:

In your discussions with Ms. Scott, did she discuss avoiding the perception that you are in the Obnoxious Aggression quad when your intent is Radical Candor?  With perception so often complicating reality, a supervisor utilizing Radical Candor might find themselves chatting with the HR department for being “aggressive”.  Military leaders often aren’t afforded the time to demonstrate how much they care about Airmen before they are required to give feedback. Particularly in times of crisis or war. If you haven’t built trust with your subordinates, can you still effectively use Radical Candor? If so, how?

I thought it was a good question.  I know he, and I, would appreciate your thoughts when you have time.

– A Reader

This is not just a great question, it is THE central question of Radical Candor, because it taps into the reason why Radical Candor is so rare.

Before I give you my thoughts, a caveat: I’ve never led people in life or death situations, so you should run my answer by those who have…. The leadership training you are getting in the military definitely translates to business–some of the very best people I worked with at Google and Apple were from the armed forces. However, I can’t say for sure if the leadership training I got at Google/Apple translates to military operations, so please run my thoughts by others who might be able tell you/me where I’m wrong.

1. You don’t need me to tell you what you think or who you are. You already know these things… express them!

Radical Candor is just “basic maintenance,” like brushing your teeth. There are times when things have gone so badly wrong that to get to Radical Candor you have to do something big and painful like a root canal–or a conversation with HR :) But don’t let the fear of needing a root canal prevent you from brushing your teeth. It’s not brushing your teeth that required you to get a root canal…and it’s not Radical Candor that lands you in that conversation with HR, though it often seems like it did, just as it’s true that if you brush too hard, you can damage your enamel or gums… but that doesn’t mean you should stop brushing your teeth!

Radical Candor doesn’t take a ton of time or require detailed instructions. Mostly, it just requires awareness. And while I’ve written a whole book on the subject and am about to give you a very long answer to your question, my most important message is that you already know how to do this. You already know how to tell somebody when they have spinach in their teeth. You already know how to show common decency, even to a stranger whose name you don’t know, and also to build a deep relationship with a person.You just have to apply these skills to leadership.

Radical Candor is mostly expressed the two minute conversation you have with somebody when you see they’ve done something wrong, or something exceptionally well. Saying these things is hard, but it doesn’t require a ton of time nor does it benefit from a “formula.”

It’s hard because we’ve been taught to be professional at work, and too often we take that to mean being something less than human. So we throw everything we know about ordinary human decency and the basics of human relationships out the window at work. That’s a terrible mistake. It’s also hard because we’ve been taught some version of  “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all” since we learned to speak. Now it’s your job to say it.

So, “just say it,” and be much more than just professional–be your whole self.  You don’t need me to tell you what you think or who you are. You already know these things…express them!

2. The problems with perception

If you are worried that you’re perceived as “Obnoxiously Aggressive” when you are trying to be “Radically Candid,” don’t just try to to be “nice.”  The problem with all the “how to say it nicely” advice out there is that it addresses the symptom, not the root cause of the problem. And it can make you sound insincere.  It can push you to a place that is far worse than Obnoxious Aggression: Manipulative Insincerity.

Even though it’s hard not to worry about your own reputation, especially when people are calling you an asshole, or worse, and when HR is breathing down your neck. But in order to be genuinely kind instead of merely nice, you have to let the fear go. Let go of perception and focus for just a moment on the other person in front of you. You don’t need to know intimate details of a person’s life, or even to know a person’s name, to react to the person with ordinary human decency.

Amarpreet Singh, a sales leader at Square whom I admire, has a good technique for helping the managers who work for him shift into a compassionate mindset fast.  When confronted with an employee whom you need to criticize, simply imagine the face of a person you love in your mind’s eye for just a moment.

Andy Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel, and perhaps the most Radically Candid person I ever met, once told me a story. A journalist was writing an article about mentorship and had talked to a man who said that advice Andy once gave him changed his life. How had Andy done it? Andy had to laugh. The truth was, he barely remembered the man or the advice he’d given him. Two decades ago, they’d once shared a cab from the airport to the office, and the man had asked him a question. Even though Andy was busy and had a lot on his mind, he was able to focus just for a few moment on the person beside him in the cab. He listened to the question, asked for some details, and then told the man what he really thought. Probably what he said was expressed with extreme clarity, and a bit critical, without sugar coating. But Andy’s ability to focus momentarily on that man and his question was enough to show he cared. Even though what Andy said in the moment probably stung a bit, the man was still grateful 20 years later.

I’m pretty sure Andy didn’t use Amarpreet’s technique. His early ambition was to write fiction, so he had a natural curiosity about people that served him well as a leader. Tap into whatever resources are available to you so that you can see a person in front of you as a human being rather than an obstacle on your way to success.

In other words,  “just say it” but take a moment to explain why you are saying it–because you’re trying to help. And to say it humbly. Words matter. That’s why I avoid words like subordinate. I know that’s the word used all the time. I don’t blame you for using it. But make sure the word doesn’t make you unconscious of the fundamental human equality between the two of you. Put hierarchy in its place.  Finally, having said it, use what you already know about how to connect to people to make it ok once you’ve said it.

3. Radical Candor builds trust: don’t let criticism “go critical”

Leaders sometimes make the mistake of thinking that if they hang out in either the Ruinous Empathy or the Manipulative Insincerity quadrants, they can “build a relationship” with their employees and then move over to Radical Candor.  So they’re extremely pleasant, but a year goes by and employees start to realize that the only guidance they’ve received is “good job” and other vaguely positive comments.  They know they’ve done some things wrong, but they’re not sure what, exactly. Employees of a boss who uses this strategy will never know where they stand, and they won’t have an opportunity to learn or grow. They often stall…or get fired.  Needless to say, this strategy does not actually build trust.

Furthermore, when leaders let fear of hurt feelings or fear that others will perceive them as jerks or criticism from HR silence them when they should speak up, the silence is more likely to result in real Obnoxious Aggression than just saying it would. When people don’t tell people what they really think, when they bottle up criticism, they start to get frustrated. The frustration piles up inside like nuclear waste. It starts to leak toxicity and eventually it goes critical and blows up like a dirty bomb, spewing stuff that’s seriously hard to clean up all over the landscape. Don’t let that happen!

4. To quote Colin Powell, “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.”

People will often misconstrue Radical Candor as Obnoxious Aggression. I have found the leading a team means I have to endure a lot of “willing to be hated” moments. This is really, seriously hard because so many of our instincts as social beings are to avoid being hated. Miracle is a great movie about the coach of the US hockey team whose willingness to Challenge his team Directly and hard pays off in the end–but the team certainly does not love him in the beginning. And he had to endure a couple of “HR” conversations with people who didn’t understand his methods.

Part of the reason that I call it “Radical Candor” is that it’s rare. But the other reason is that one often has to resort to extreme language or actions to Challenge people Directly enough to get through to them. In the lost interview, Steve Jobs was asked why he sometimes told people, “Your work is shit,” a statement that most people would put in the “asshole” box at first blush. Here’s what he replied, and why I wind up putting that statement in the “Radical Candor” box: “The most important thing I think you can do for somebody who’s really good and who’s really being counted on is to point out to them when they’re not–when their work isn’t good enough.  And to do it very clearly and to articulate why … and to get them back on track. [Y]ou need to do that in a way that does not call into question your confidence in their abilities but leaves not too much room for interpretation… and that’s a hard thing to do.”

An employee at Facebook recently described an experience to me that illustrates the same sort of thing. Facebook had acquired his company and the transition from entrepreneur to employee at a much bigger company was difficult, and he adopted an arrogant, cynical attitude that was probably going to get him fired if he kept it up. After a particularly bad conversation with one executive he returned to his desk to an email from her entitled, “Don’t be a dick.” She took a risk with the email–it was likely to make him mad, and to land her in trouble with HR. However, she wanted to get through to him, and fast. Happily for both of them, it worked.

When the stakes are higher than building a computer or losing a job, people often have to resort to more dramatic acts of Radical Candor. I read an article about the head of security, a Vietnam vet, at a firm whose offices were in the world trade center. After the first plane hit, the building protocol was for people to stay put, so most employees at the firm went back to their work. The head of security knew they should evacuate, but was having a hard time getting their attention, so he jumped up on a desk and dropped his pants…he got everyone except, tragically, himself out.

The fact of the matter is, sometimes you just have to put on your thick skin suit and endure the misperception of the people who you are leading and the “HR” team. This is hard and it is risky. Here are some things you can do the mitigate the risk and change perception faster.

5. In calm moments, take just a moment to explain why you are about to challenge somebody so hard.

This really only needs to take a moment. This is not about remembering people’s names, their birthdays, their kids names, their pets, or making idle chit chat. You don’t have to have had dinners together to do this. It can be as fast as saying, “I want to make something really clear because it may save your life one day.”

In fact, the origin story of Radical Candor was comes from a time when a perfect stranger on a street corner in the East Village of NYC criticized me. I still have no idea who he is, but I am enormously grateful to him because he changed my whole life while waiting for a light to change.

I was standing there with my puppy, Belvedere, whom I adored and who was absolutely untrained and undisciplined.  I was a ruinously empathetic pet owner. As I was standing there, she tugged at the leash and almost wound up under the tires of a taxi roaring by. I pulled her back at the last moment, head over heels.

“If you don’t teach that dog to sit, she’s going to die!” said the tall bearded man in blue jeans standing next to me. He pointed at the ground, bent down to get in Belvedere’s face, and bellowed at her, “SIT!!”  To my astonishment, Belvy sat. She didn’t just sit, she pounded her butt into the pavement, and looked up at the man wagging her tail.

The man was in my face now. “See? It’s not mean, it’s clear.” The light changed, and the man strode across the street, leaving me with words to live by.

The man didn’t have to have me over for dinner, remember my birthday, or even know my name. He hadn’t earned my trust. He showed he cared by aligning us on something that was really important to me: the survival of my puppy. That was all he needed to do to show he Cared Personally. Then he offered some help–he showed me how to get her to sit. And then he walked off.

That stranger helped me be a better dog owner, a better manager, and a better person in two minutes flat by being radically candid. It didn’t require a huge time investment from him. He just said what he thought when he didn’t have anything else to do while waiting for the light to change…

6. In calm moments, give people context and build a shared vocabulary so they take Radical Candor in the spirit with which it’s meant

I think one of the most important things you are doing is to talk to your team about feedback, and finding a way to explain to them why you are challenging them as hard as you are, and why you want them to challenge each other. When people understand that the criticism they are getting will help them get better at their jobs, achieve their ambitions, and may actually save their lives, they will be more open to it. They may even insist on getting more of it.

At Apple we developed a framework (slightly different than the Radical Candor framework I later developed) to remind leaders of the importance of being really clear with both criticism and praise. A designer who’d won dozens of awards and been nominated for a Pulitzer for a photo she’d shot worked on the icons we used; Greg Christie, who was responsible for iOS design, collaborated with her, meeting with me several times to perfect the look and feel for this class. Then we printed the framework on beautiful cardstock at great expense. I was delighted at this level of help but frankly it felt a little bit like overkill to me. At Google I would have just done it myself and it would have been sort of ugly; at best I would have printed it off, probably on the closest black and white printer.  But, because the design was so good and the quality of cards so high, people tended to leave them out on their desks. Which caused them to explain them to employees. And, in the next meeting, employees would actually ask their managers for criticism, understanding that it was going to be helpful and be offered because their boss did care. So the design work and the heavy cardstock paid off.

The main reason why I spent several months of my life debating different terms for Radical Candor (at first I called it brutal honesty) and Ruinous Empathy (at first I called it cruel empathy) and Care Personally (at first I called it give a damn) and Challenge Directly (at first I called it “clear) and so on and so forth is to provide a context for the praise and criticism that needs to happen to move things forward. I am glad you shared the Radical Candor framework with your squadron, and I hope that it will help you share context and build a shared vocabulary.  I also hope you’ll tell me where it falls short so I can continue to improve it.

7. After intense moments, if you did indeed dip into Obnoxious Aggression, forgive yourself and then apologize to show you care, not to back down from the challenge

There are moments in life when there’s just no time to show you care. I imagine that in combat situations those moments are more intense than just about any other. But even ordinary life offers plenty of those moments. I’ll never forget a moment when I had to get my two year old son in the car to get to the pharmacy to pick up medicine for his twin sister who was sick before it closed. I was trying to get his pants on and he was resisting. The minutes were ticking by and I finally exploded, “Put your fucking pants on!” He didn’t know the word, but he understood my tone perfectly and burst into tears. And we were out of time for the hugs that I usually would have used to soothe the hurt I’d inflicted. Not my best parenting moment…But, when we got home from the pharmacy (still with no pants on), I did make sure to apologize for my tone of voice (happily the word went in one ear and out the other), but I also explained to him, calmly now, that there times when we just need to hurry up and put our pants on quickly.

You told me recently about a time when you were really seriously angry and reacted in a way that you felt really was Obnoxiously Aggressive. That is OK. Nobody is Radically Candid all the time. When the dust settled, you did the right thing. You talked to everyone. You apologized in a way that showed you do care, but without ceasing to challenge people. I think you did the right thing.

However, you were worried about the apology. An apology like the one you gave–one that shows you care but doesn’t back down from the challenge you laid out–moves you towards Radical Candor and is a source of strength. It cleans a wound in a relationship. An apology that simply backs down from a challenge just for the sake of peace moves you towards manipulative insincerity and is a source of weakness. It makes a wound in a relationship fester.

Radical Candor with Strangers

A number of people have asked this question recently:

I can see how Radical Candor works when I already have a relationship… but what about with people I barely know. Isn’t it too risky?

I won’t pretend it isn’t risky. It is. But not being Radically Candid is also risky. And the rewards of being Radically Candid for you and for the other person can be enormous.

In fact, the idea of Radical Candor was born for me when a perfect stranger on a street corner in the East Village of NYC criticized something I was doing. I still have no idea who he is, but I am enormously grateful to him because he changed my whole life in two minutes flat.

It was shortly after 9/11, and I was standing at a red light with my new Golden Retriever puppy, Belvedere. Getting Belvedere was the thing I had done to comfort myself and the people I worked with after 9/11. Belvedere was also where I most often turned for comfort, taking long walks with me and serving as an endlessly absorbent kleenex, as I was getting out of a bad relationship that had been consuming me for seven years. It’s impossible to exaggerate how much I adored–and depended on–that little fluff of reddish fur. And there’s nothing like emotional bondage to create the conditions for Ruinous Empathy. I never said a cross word to Belvedere, and she was absolutely untrained and undisciplined. As I was standing there, she tugged at the leash and almost wound up under the tires of a taxi roaring by. I pulled her back at the last moment, head over heels.

“If you don’t teach that dog to sit, she’s going to die!” said the tall bearded man in blue jeans standing next to me. He pointed at the ground, bent down to get in Belvy’s face, and bellowed at her, “SIT!!”  To my astonishment, Belvy sat. She didn’t just sit, she pounded her butt into the pavement, and looked up at the man wagging her tail.

The man was in my face now. “See? It’s not mean, it’s clear.” The light changed, and the man strode across the street, leaving me with words to live by.

The man didn’t have to have me over for dinner, remember my birthday, or even know my name. He showed he cared by aligning us on something that was really important to me: the survival of my puppy. Belvy was my emotional life raft, and I wasn’t sure I would have survived her death at that moment in my life. But the man didn’t have to know any of those details. He could see I loved the dog. Talking about how to help Belvy survive was all he needed to do to show he cared personally. Then he offered some help–he showed me how to get her to sit. And then he walked off.

That stranger helped me be a better dog owner, a better manager, and a better person in two minutes flat by being radically candid. It didn’t require a huge time investment from him. He just said what he thought when he didn’t have anything else to do while waiting for the light to change….

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