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Keeping it Real

The good news is that the term “Radical Candor” has entered the lexicon. The bad news is that there’s a risk it becomes a meaningless buzzword.

We need your help to fight this. Please let us know which ideas in the book or the podcast you have rolled out with your team. What’s working? What’s not? If you’re willing, we will feature your stories in our blog and email newsletter. If you want it kept confidential, we will honor that and still use what you’ve learned to help others.

Radical Candor on HBO’s Silicon Valley

One of the most amusing but simultaneously painful examples of Radical Candor as meaningless buzzword was the way it was recently featured on the HBO show Silicon Valley (Season 5/Episode 3).

The real moment of Radical Candor on the show came when Jared told Richard, his boss, “If you’re really going to start working with Ben, at least give Dana [Ben’s current boss] the common courtesy of telling him the truth about what you are doing. Because if you don’t tell him, you’re the dog.” But that didn’t get called out as Radical Candor.

Silicon Valley Radical Candor

HBO’s Silicon Valley “Radical Candor”

The Asshole's Journey

“In the spirit of Radical Candor…”

Instead, COO wannabe Ben claims he’s being Radically Candid when actually he’s just acting like a garden variety jerk, kicking down and kissing up. I call this the Asshole’s Journey from Obnoxious Aggression to Manipulative Insincerity. Now I’m being obnoxiously aggressive towards Ben but since he’s a fictional character it’s legitimately instructive :).

This was funny, but it was also painful because I’ve seen it happen in real life. I’ve been in a meeting where someone said, “In the spirit of Radical Candor…” and proceeded to be really cruel.

Also, I recently got this email from one of you: “I gave some feedback – with a specific example – to my boss that the way he is addressing the team (in large team settings) is making them fearful to speak up. A harsh/dismissive tone that shuts a conversation down and often embarrasses the team member that spoke up. Many on the team have shared this sentiment with him already. After the director received this feedback, he responded by saying that he’s using radical candor. I feel this is the wrong application of radical candor, specifically finding your quote that ‘Radical Candor is kind and helpful.’”

Unfortunately, this is a pretty common experience, so I’ll share the articles I suggested this person send to the director to explain the difference between Radical Candor and Obnoxious Aggression.

Are you seeing examples of people confusing Obnoxious Aggression with Radical Candor? Let us know, and thanks for Caring (Personally).

Radical Candor in the Grocery Store

On Sunday I took my 8 year-old daughter to the grocery store after her Little League game to pick up something for dinner. She and I were both a little tired and grouchy, and beginning to snip at each other. She was cold and wanted to make it a quick trip; I shared, and magnified, her impatience. At one point we were in a narrow section between the olive bar and the bananas and my daughter stopped in her tracks, distracted by one of the many thousands of sugar ambushes that make any trip to the grocery store with a child utter hell.

“Will you please move so we can get a move on!” I said, my tone full of irritation, pretty deep in the obnoxious aggression quadrant.

An older lady to my left looked up surprised and moved her cart out of the way.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to my daughter,” I said with a laugh, embarrassed at what must’ve seemed to her an unbearably rude tone if she thought I was talking to her.

“But she looks so cute in her uniform!” the lady said with an understanding smile.

It was a small criticism kindly delivered, but an enormously helpful one. What she was saying, in the gentlest possible way, was, “Why would you use a tone of voice you wouldn’t even use with a stranger with your precious daughter?”

Maybe I was reading too much “Care Personally” into her smile, but her expression said to me pretty clearly, “Who hasn’t been annoyed by their children in the grocery?” She seemed sympathetic with the universal plight of all parents with young children in the grocery store. But her words and maybe a slight sadness in her eyes reminded me to take a step back and look at my child. She really did look cute in her baseball uniform. And the fact the lady speaking to me was older reminded me that my daughter’s childhood is fleeting, and in a few years I’d be alone in the grocery store.

Why in the world would I talk to her with a tone I wouldn’t even use with a stranger? I should use a more, not a less, loving tone with the people I love best.

I’ve been grateful for that lady’s Radical Candor ever since–as has my daughter!

How to Avoid Kicking Up

You may have heard the phrase “kissing up and kicking down,” which refers to the tendency of some people to try to please and flatter their bosses while taking out frustrations on the people who report to them. While this is a common behavior, I’ve found myself more likely to do the opposite. Here’s a reader question I received about this:

In the book, Kim talks about an instance where she “kicked up” with Larry Page. I’d like to think my direct manager at the moment has some more significant gaps in his communication skill set than Larry Page did at the time; but, either way, I find myself “kicking up” a lot lately, and it’s just not acceptable.

I have a very natural and easy time having compassion for peers or anyone that reports to me in any way. I just seem to have a tough time caring personally when leaders’ decision making seems to be hurting a lot of people (and the business). It’s harder for me when leaders don’t seem to listen to the feedback they get from others on their decision-making or communication.

I’ve tried encouraging some of the folks I’m having challenging communications with to check out ‘Radical Candor’, but to no avail.

All of that leads to my question: I really want to own my part of this, and I’m not meeting my own expectations for caring personally and offering feedback in a compassionate, patient way with people I report to. Do you have any advice on how to be better about not “kicking up”?

It’s definitely been the part of ‘Radical Candor’ that’s most challenging for me.

Here’s my answer:

Thank you so much for your note. Here is what I’ve found about “kicking up.”

Don’t Get Caught up with Hierarchy

When I am giving my boss feedback, I feel like I’m punching above my weight, so I am often unnecessarily fierce because I feel I have to be. Letting go of this is a huge help. I try to think about my boss as just another person I’m working with, not someone who is “above” me.

Remember You May Not Have the Full Context

When I’m giving my boss feedback, I have much deeper knowledge of my part of a situation than my boss has, and it’s tempting to dismiss my boss as ignorant or disconnected. However, I remember that though I have deeper knowledge, my boss has broader context that I may be missing. What seemed a no brainer when I was ignorant of that context may seem a lot more nuanced once I become aware of it. So I’ve found it really helpful to take some time to understand my boss’s context and priorities. I’ve also found it helpful to begin not by giving my boss feedback, but by asking for some. And also to take a moment to verbalize the things I appreciate about working for my boss–to give praise without kissing up. Bosses are people too, and need to hear about the good stuff as well as the problems.

Try to Be Part of the Solution

Another thing I find it useful to remember: a number of managers make the mistake of thinking they are supposed to know how to fix every problem that somebody brings to them. So I try to think of ways I can help to fix the problem I’m raising or criticism I have. When I offer criticism I want the other person–whether my boss or my employee–to know I’m there to help.

When I am the boss getting feedback from employees I often feel like I’m a projection screen for everyone’s unresolved authority issues. When it comes time to give feedback to my boss, I find it useful to remember that.

When I take a step back from both roles and try to see everyone I’m working with as other people, and to remove hierarchy from the situation, it all looks and feels much more straightforward.

Do these tips help? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

What to Do When a Peer’s Feedback Annoys You

We recently received a listener question about peer feedback, and it’s one that I come across often in conversations with readers. Russ and I talked about why peer feedback is so important in episode 23 of the podcast. Here, I’ll give some additional advice about how to approach peer feedback.

…this has to do with a part-time job in retail. I am 56 and have a coworker who is 22 or so. She has been there 3 years and I only 6 weeks. I’m still learning and she is often there and expected to train me. She is a horrible communicator. One quick example: A customer did an online order in the store with me and left. A few minutes later the young co-worker approached me and said the customer was back and “you forgot to print a receipt”. She rubs me the wrong way all the time. She needs to be taught to say, “she left without a receipt”, i.e., non accusatory language. So here’s the question: When dealing with a peer, is it my job to teach them better ways of communicating? Or, do I go to the boss and tell them the individual needs coaching in communicating? Thanks!

Thank you for sending in this question! Here are my thoughts:

Give Feedback Directly to Peers, Not to Your Boss

I think it’s always best to talk to somebody directly. When you go to the boss without having talked to the person directly first, it can feel like you are trying to get them into trouble rather than to help them improve. It doesn’t feel Radically Candid — Challenge Directly and Care Personally at the same time — it feels like Manipulative Insincerity, or like back-stabbing. I know that is not the intention you’d have going to your boss. But that is what it would likely feel like to the other person.

Let Your Emotions Cool Off First

One thing you may be struggling with right now is that you feel so annoyed by your coworker’s communication that it’s pretty hard to go into a conversation in a Radically Candid way. When you’re really annoyed it’s hard to Care Personally. Try to take some time to let your annoyance cool off before having the conversation, and remember to go into it with the intention to be helpful.

Treat Criticism as a Gift

Also remember that when you get feedback from a coworker, it’s really important not to criticize the criticism. Even if you don’t like the way she told you, she did tell you that you made a mistake. Start by simply trying to feel glad she let you know. Aren’t you glad she didn’t go to your boss and tell your boss instead of telling you?? If you are, tell her that.

Ask for Feedback

Next, try to imagine what you might be doing that could be contributing to her poor communication. Try asking her to give you feedback. “Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?” But only ask this question when you’re ready to hear some feedback. And buckle your seatbelt because you probably won’t like the way she says whatever is on her mind. Your goal is to model how to receive feedback well: to listen with the intent to understand, and then to reward (not punish) the candor.

Focus on the Good Stuff

Before you launch into criticism of your peer, try to think of what you do like about working with her. Often, by the time we’ve decided to give somebody criticism, we are so annoyed that we shift into “you’re a horrible human being” mode without meaning to. If you take a moment to think about the things you like about your peer, to see her as another human being who you basically care about it will help. If you can give voice to some of the things you like — if you can offer a bit of sincere praise — so much the better. But don’t mingle the praise with the criticism or your message will get muddled, and you risk sounding insincere.

Share Your Perspective

Now, hopefully, you’ve shown her that you appreciate feedback, that you care about her personally, and you care about your working relationship. Now it’s safe to offer some criticism.

Try telling her, “Sometimes, when you tell me I’ve screwed up, it’s hard for me to hear. May I explain why?” And then explain to her that you feel she’s accusing you rather than trying to help you when she tells you about mistakes you’ve made.

Does that make sense? Let me know how else I can help with giving feedback to your peers.

Send Your Boss Radical Candor

We often hear from fans of Radical Candor:

“Gosh, I wish my boss would read this!”

Or:

“How can I tell my boss about Radical Candor without implying I think she’s bad at it?”

We’ve said before that it can be risky to Challenge your boss Directly, even when you show you Care Personally. We’ve shared some tips on our podcast for giving feedback to your boss, but it’s definitely a tricky situation. Not everyone feels comfortable starting out this conversation, especially if the boss hasn’t been particularly open to feedback.

Buy Radical Candor for your boss

We’re here to help! We’ve set up a new site with our friends at BookPal to help you give the gift of Radical Candor. At sendyourbossabook.com, you can purchase a copy of Radical Candor, and we’ll take care of sending it directly to your boss. If you feel comfortable sending it openly, we’ll let them know it’s from you, but if not, we’ll send it anonymously!

What your boss will get

When you buy a copy of Radical Candor from sendyourbossabook.com, we’ll send:

  • A signed copy of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
  • A letter from Kim Scott to your boss
  • A reading guide to help your boss and to provide ideas for rolling out Radical Candor to your whole team

Wait, doesn’t it seem counter-Radical Candor to send the book anonymously?

It’s a fair point that sending the book anonymously could seem passive aggressive — you’re not Challenging Directly. But you are showing that you care by doing something to try to help your boss. And if you’re familiar with the book, you’ll know about Kim’s Orange Box story: to get a culture of feedback started, it sometimes helps to start with anonymous feedback and build trust so that people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts openly.

Kim’s letter to your boss will acknowledge these points, that speaking truth to power is hard, and she’ll provide some advice for where to start with the book.

We’d love to know what you think of this program! Let us know in the comments below, or reach out at BuyYourBossABook@radicalcandor.com.

A Great Start to a Radical Candor Journey

A few weeks ago, we received an amazing email from Samir Sagar, Director at Manubhai Jewellers. He had shared some of our blog posts and videos with his team several weeks prior, and on the day of the email to us, had held a meeting with his five direct reports to ask for feedback.

I told my team that I am at fault for not creating an atmosphere in which they can bring their honest feedback …and that I never intended it to be that way. I asked them to tell me – to my face – whatever they think of my suggestions/ideas/opinions – anything. I would appreciate that.

In this meeting, his team began to open up and give him feedback. Hearing from them and opening this line of communication had a strong impact on Samir.

Honestly, about 6 to 7 hours after that conversation, I am still dazed.

This is going to be a great journey.

My heartfelt thanks to Kim, Russ, and the entire Candor team. The intense feeling that I am feeling right now cannot be expressed in words.

We were inspired by Samir’s email and immediately wanted to hear more of his story. I talked with him and one of his team members to learn how it all came about. Check out both sides of the story!

Samir’s Story

Samir’s company, Manubhai Jewellers, is a family-owned business in Mumbai. Samir joined the company straight out of school at 17 years old. He says, because it was a family-owned business, “No one challenges you. You get the notion that everything you do is right.” This continued for many years, and suddenly about five years ago, something changed. He began to notice the tone in the office and realized that he had mostly been behaving rudely as a manager, that he had been yelling at people. When he realized this, he thought, “This is not correct.” Samir started looking at management books and got a coach. He became more self-aware and started making changes.

Looking back now, Samir describes the changes he made. “I stopped yelling and being angry with people to their face, but I didn’t get better at empathy. I think the last 2 years has been a lot of Manipulative Insincerity.”

Several months ago, Samir thought again, “There’s something wrong.” Around that same time, he came across Radical Candor and started reading the blog, listening to the podcast, and reading the book. He started to try to be more open and get to know his team members a little more, but he wanted to learn all he could about the topic and not rush into things as he had done in the past.

When he was partway through reading Radical Candor, Samir decided to share Kim’s First Round video and some of the blog posts with his team. He said, “Let’s meet after you look at them.”

Starting By Soliciting Criticism

The team got together for this first conversation, the meeting that prompted Samir’s email to Candor, Inc. The meeting started on a different note, but as the topic wrapped up Samir asked if the team had watched the video. They had.

He said, “I’m sorry for creating an environment that is kind of authoritarian.” He acknowledged where he knew he had made mistakes and talked about his journey over the last couple of years. He told the team that he wants to do better, to create a culture of Radical Candor and give people the chance to tell him when he’s wrong.

After opening up about his mistakes and reassuring the team that he really wanted to hear their thoughts, Samir invited them to bring their views to the table. They were a bit hesitant at first, but they eventually opened up. “Since we are being Radically Candid,” they started, and so began a 30-40 minute open discussion with the team. They told him what bothered them, what made it harder for them to do their jobs, and where they thought things could improve.

Samir listened, acknowledged their opinions, and thanked them for sharing what they thought. He let them know what he planned to work on as a result of their conversation and encouraged them to keep telling him their thoughts. He acknowledged that he would sometimes have an immediate defensive reaction, but reiterated that he really did appreciate the challenge. “Tell me, ‘Samir you cannot do this to me.’ Tell me whatever way it works for you.”

I asked Samir how he felt during and after the meeting. Was it hard? Hearing all that feedback at once must have been difficult. He said, “It was completely surreal. It wasn’t hard, it was liberating. A big, big burden off my chest.”

Transformed Relationships

When Samir and I talked, three days had passed since that meeting, and Samir was experiencing a visible difference in the way the team interacted with him. He told me about one of his reports coming to him to talk about her goals and how she would fit into the organization in the future. Samir said, “She wouldn’t have come to me with that kind of conversation before. We would have only talked about the business questions.”

He gave another example of a report asking to extend their weekly meeting and diving into some topics close to her heart.

With another report, Samir was offering a Direct Challenge. In the past, Samir would have expected a defensive reaction. This time, the reaction was inquisitive instead. “Could you explain more? What is your expectation?”

It seems a miraculous turnaround, and Samir himself said that it feels unreal that so much change could happen from one conversation. Of course not everyone can expect this kind of immediate and significant change from introducing Radical Candor, and as you’ll learn further on in this story, maybe Samir’s turnaround wasn’t as miraculous as he perceived. (And that’s ok! These things take time.)

Samir has enormous hope for future changes in the company. In the past, the family has made most of the business decisions, but Samir now sees that he can empower others to have more ownership. “The people in this company are talented. The value they can bring by taking decisions themselves and running their departments individually will make it possible for us to grow to a second location, to scale the company.”

Janice’s Story

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and we often encourage managers to check how a conversation felt for the other person. In this case, when I finished talking with Samir, he said, “Would you like to talk with one of my team members as well?” He was already thinking about the different perspectives on this experience.

Samir connected me with one of his team, Janice Godinho, Brand and Communications Manager at Manubhai Jewelers. Janice has been with the company for close to six years, and has worked closely with Samir. When I asked her how she would describe the atmosphere of the company before the last few months, she said, “The culture has always been warm and friendly. Of course there have been issues here and there, but it hasn’t been a toxic environment, and the fact that most of us here have been with the organization for 5 years and above shows that.”

But she says that as a traditionally run family business, there has always been a very top-down approach. Team members could share their ideas, but they were mostly limited to smaller parts of the larger projects and tasks the Directors assigned.

Janice started to see a change in that dynamic over the past year (around the time when Samir was thinking again that something wasn’t right). She has seen more junior team members taking more responsibility and wanting to learn more; senior team leaders have been accountable for their teams more often. She thinks the Directors are providing more criticism to help people grow as well, and that has made it so that more deadlines are being met and the staff is having more fun at work. “However, I still feel there is a long way to go.”

Opening the Lines of Communication

The feedback session that Samir initiated with the team was different in that it encouraged a more open discussion than Janice had seen previously. She told me that there had been confusion about why certain projects had been prioritized, a feeling of achievements with large impact being ignored, and frustrating, unexplained changes in late stages of projects. “For a while, we were confused about what we were doing wrong or if we were actually doing something right.” It had felt like there wasn’t an open flow of communication between the Directors and the teams.

When Samir opened up in the meeting about some of the things that had been going on, it helped everyone get a better sense for why things were the way they were. And when Samir asked for their thoughts, and gave them the chance to share their perspectives on the right way to approach the projects, the team felt the tension lift and opened up.

Janice says the team members had gotten used to not questioning their managers about why they were working on specific projects. “We just stopped asking, as long as nothing went wrong and we didn’t get reprimanded, it was all good.” And Janice thinks that same issues that she and her peers experienced with the Directors then spread to their own direct reports as well. “We don’t appreciate work done within deadlines or small achievements, nor do we stop and advise them on what went wrong. And invariably as team leaders we end up doing their work instead of taking out the time to correct them on their mistakes or offer a positive reinforcement of a good job done.”

The feedback session that Samir initiated reminded everyone that the communication between managers and direct reports needed to go both ways — they needed to be questioning decisions and ideas and providing feedback when something was great or needed improvement. “It was a lovely session. I am hoping we can do this across teams and team leaders as well.”

Hopes for the Future

Since that conversation, Janice has noticed that more discussions are taking place — teams are sharing their thoughts with each other.

For Janice, the overall culture change hasn’t felt drastic. She thinks things have been improving for a while, and relationships have been growing stronger. This was another step in the right direction, and an accelerator, even, in the progress she’s been seeing. She’s careful to acknowledge that there is still a long way to go — she doesn’t see this one session as a magic moment that will set everything on a path to success. There is still more work to do, but she’s optimistic. “Since we spend most of our waking hours at work and with colleagues, I am hoping for [the move towards Radical Candor] to create an open atmosphere for everyone to share what they think without hesitation. I hope to see all of us working as a cohesive unit, trying to contribute actively to the growth of the company. I know it seems idealistic :) but it’s something I hope for.”

 

Thank you so much to Samir and Janice for sharing their stories with us!

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 :)

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