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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.

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!

Radical Candor and the Candor Canary at Gem

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

Are you an Absentee Manager, a Micromanager, or a Thought Partner?

In Episode 13 of our podcast we talked about the dreaded micromanager boss and how to work towards a better relationship with them. As a part of that discussion, we briefly talked about a few ‘modes’ a manager might fall into based on how close they are to the team’s work.

We call managers who have low, almost non-existent involvement in their team’s work absentee managers. Those with extremely (maybe excruciatingly) close involvement are micromanagers. And in between those are the thought partners, the ones who empower, enable, and encourage their teams to do the best work of their lives.

How can you determine where you fall on this spectrum and how to move in the right direction? We’ll talk about both absentee and micromanagers — how they come to be and how to recognize the signs — and then offer some tips on how to become the thought partner your team deserves and wants.

The Absentee Manager

Flavors of Absentee Management

Absentee managers come in two flavors. First is the manager who is truly absent. You ever had that manager where everyone wonders where he is for half the day? Ever had that manager who routinely skips your 1:1s? That’s a conscious absentee manager.


A woman that I mentor recently grabbed me to talk career – she was thinking about her next step. We of course framed things up around Career Conversations, but also around the concept of “what you are running from” and “what you are running to.” Often, I believe, people make the mistake of moving too quickly because they are running from a crappy situation but lack clarity on what they want next. She was describing several of the things she is “running from,” and one of them was an absentee manager.

She described having gone weeks without a 1:1 with her boss, and generally inclined to see the good in people, she just assumed the guy was extremely busy and that the lack of 1:1 meetings was an accidental by-product of his jam-packed schedule.

She took on the burden of scheduling and rescheduling via his assistant, and she finally managed to get into his office for a 1:1. She sat down, a meaty agenda in hand, and the first thing her boss said to her was, “How did you get on my calendar?”

What the actual f*%^&!

She was flabbergasted because with that one simple question, he made it clear he’d been actively avoiding her 1:1s for months. This is shameful in my opinion.

She needed to meet with him, and he was actively avoiding her. I’ve learned in my last year of working with companies at Candor that this kind of absentee manager is all too common.


The second flavor of absentee manager is the unconscious absentee manager. These folks are quite different from the conscious ones in that they actually care about their teams and about doing a good job as a leader.

Well-meaning managers accidentally fall into absentee management, too. I certainly have at specific times in my career and with specific employees. The unconscious absentee manager comes from a place of wishing to grant the people on their teams autonomy. So far, so good, but the execution of that autonomy-granting can be highly variable. It’s not enough just to back away from their work. Ever heard someone say, “My philosophy is to hire great people and leave them alone?” That’s the kind of rhetoric / conventional wisdom that can easily land you squarely in the unconscious absentee manager bucket.

It’s worth noting that this “hire great people and then leave them alone” idea doesn’t really happen at the highest levels of any profession. Let’s take an example of professional sports: The National Football League (NFL).

Every spring, the NFL holds the draft, which is a multi-day process in which each team gets approximately 7 turns to choose the best players coming out of college football that year. There are 32 teams, so if you do the math, the NFL in aggregate is drafting approximately 250 fresh players each year. This is a pretty small number, especially when you consider the funnel to get there.

It’s one of the steepest hiring funnels I can think of – each year in the United States approximately 1.25 million kids play youth football, about 1 million play in high school, about 75,000 play in college, and each year about 250 people get drafted into the NFL; this is .02% of the youth football playing population. It has to be one of the most selective employment scenarios in the world.

Thinking about “hire great people and leave them alone,” with a .02% NFL selection rate, we can put a big giant green check mark next to the “hire great people” portion of that idea. What about this “and leave them alone” part, though? There are two really big problems with this.

First, the players need to be developed – the best 250 players should be ready to go, right? Some are, of course, highly productive immediately, but it’s usually a very small number, low double digits in any single draft class. The players need to be developed and they must adapt to the professional game. The experience and expertise of their coaches and teammates enables them to do that. These players spend hours on the practice field, in the weight room, and in the film room learning, studying, training, all under the watchful eyes of their coaches.

Second, the players must fit into a team and scheme. The other major reason, besides player development, that the great people hired into the NFL are not “just left alone,” is because they have to fit into a team.

A football team is 11 people, working in a synchronicity that few organizations can achieve. Football plays are pretty complex and require coordination between many, if not all, members of the team. Everyone on the team needs to learn how to do their piece of the play and needs to trust that the other team members will also be executing their piece of the play.


I hope you get the point. This play would be a human train wreck if this team just “hired the best people and left them alone.” The team you are managing, of course, is almost certainly not an NFL offense, but the idea still holds. A team of people needs to be nurtured and developed and also coordinated and deconflicted, and that’s not likely to occur without some focus and effort from the manager.

Top Signs You Might Be an Absentee Manager

Wondering if you might be coming across as an absentee manager to your team? Check yourself against this list to find out, especially if you’ve worked hard not to be a micromanager!

  1. You have missed a 1:1 with one of your reports for more than two weeks.
  2. You recently espoused your brilliant theory about “hiring great people and letting them do their thing.”
  3. You regularly feel out-of-touch with your employees’ work, projects, achievements, and failures.
  4. You are often surprised to learn about things – good or bad – happening in your organization or team.
  5. Your employees are bumping into each other, left hand unsure of what the right hand is doing.
  6. You gravitate more towards managing up, tackling high visibility projects, or focusing on your own success than investing that time in your team’s success.


The Micromanager

Flavors of Micromanagement

As we discussed in Episode 13 of our podcast, the micromanager falls into two broad categories: is too prescriptive about ‘what to do’ and/or too prescriptive about ‘how to do it.’ First, a bit on those who are too prescriptive about ‘what to do.’


Telling people what to do doesn’t work. Of course as a leader of a team, you are responsible for making sure that people are working on things that support the company’s objectives, but it’s just not going to be effective long-term to prescribe exactly what those things should be.

Of course, there could be a need to make a final decision, break a tie, push people toward some discomfort, but saying to a person or group of people, “here are our/your objectives” not only feels awful for those people, but those objectives will not have considered critical perspective from the people closest to the work.

If you find yourself using the phrase, “you need to,” then you might be micromanaging. “You need to do this or do that.”

I once worked for a guy who was extremely prescriptive in the KPIs he wanted my team to pursue. Out of a sense of duty, I brought his input to my team to try to find some merit in the thinking and see if there was something useful we could take. Instead, my team was left wondering if the guy had any idea what we were doing or why we existed. I ended up having to push back very hard on him. For a variety of reasons, including his rather delicate ego, this strained our relationship. So not only did this micromanagement make it more difficult for us to work together, but he also caused me to spend time on work that wasn’t relevant to our business and caused the whole team to feel less motivated towards the right goals.

All of this could have been solved with a more collaborative approach. If he cared enough to prescribe, why not care enough to spend time working directly with me or even my team to think through more relevant objectives?


The second flavor of micromanagement is telling people ‘how to do it.’ This is about telling people how to go about achieving an objective or key result, prescribing an approach to getting something done. It’s worth clarifying that teaching, however, is a pretty good catchall for the kind of “telling people how to do something” that’s entirely appropriate. If you have some experience to share, of course, share it.

With that in mind – and I don’t know a simpler way to say this – prescribing every approach for people can be demoralizing. If you allow people to develop their own courses of action, their own approaches, and you allow them to make mistakes along the way, they will grow into stronger employees capable of far more over time.

By telling people exactly how to do something, you will simultaneously take away their autonomy and also waste their unique context, unique skill, and their creativity that could be used to solve issues or make progress. They don’t grow. They become automatons executing your commands and incapable of operating without you around.

Top Signs You Might Be a Micromanager

If the situations I described above sound like ones you find yourself in, take a close look at this list. If one or more apply, you may be sliding into micromanagement.

  1. You think some version of “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
  2. You believe your team member(s) will fail if you aren’t heavily involved in their work.
  3. You regularly shift priorities on your people and actively direct people’s work day-to-day.
  4. You feel like you don’t fully trust your team to get the job done.
  5. Your team is very regularly producing all kinds of slides and updates for the primary purpose of quenching your thirst for details and informing your context.


Don’t Despair…

If you find yourself identifying with either the absentee manager or the micromanager, don’t worry! Both of these modes are extremely common — I hear about them all the time when talking with users of the Candor Coach iOS app, listeners of our podcast, and attendees of our workshops. The good news is that knowledge is half the battle! Now that you know where you fall or partially fall, you’ll be more likely to move in the right direction. Plus, I’m of course going to give you some killer tips.


Become a Thought Partner

What does it mean to be a thought partner to the people on your team? Thought partners fall somewhere between micromanagers and absentee managers, but not in a Nebraska sort of way. Thought partners are highly engaged, whereas absentee managers are not engaged. Thought partners enable, empower, encourage, and inspire, whereas micromanagers drive and direct.

  • A thought partner thinks of herself as someone who is alongside her employee listening, advising, helping.
  • A micromanager thinks of himself as someone who is above his employees, saving the day.
  • An absentee manager thinks of herself as someone who is out of the way of her employees, leaving them entirely to their own devices.

I was chatting recently with a friend and colleague, Amarpreet Singh, and he told me a story about his former boss, Francoise Brougher, that for me crystallized what it means to be a thought partner.

First, Amarpreet made it clear that the first thing Francoise did as a manager was “extract the fear.” She made it safe for people to come in vulnerable, confused, and not in possession of all the answers. “That was huge because I never felt like I had to position things, hide, or guard what I said.”

With that as context, Amarpreet described that he would walk into Francoise’s office, maybe in his regular 1:1, and he would say, “I’m not nailing this thing I’m working on, and I need some help.” He would go in with the mindset of improving and learning and not worry about being judged or penalized for not knowing all the answers.

Francoise would metaphorically clear her desk, roll up her sleeves, and say, “OK, let’s dig in.”

He was careful to note that she never wrested control of a decision, never told him what to do. “I will give you my input, but this is your call.” Something she told him quite literally in his first week after he made a decision that went against her advice.

Key Activities of Thought Partners

To become like Francoise, to become a thought partner to your team, think about these goals for yourself:

Extract the Fear

Do you ever say, “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions?” Please stop. The first key to engaging your people as a thought partner is to have them think of you as a thought partner. For sure, if you penalize them for trying to engage you that way – by insisting they bring you solutions to problems only – they will never see you as a thought partner, as someone who they can work through problems with. It needs to be ok for people to come to you dazed and confused. You don’t have to provide all the answers, of course, but what have you done to remove fear and enable your people to be vulnerable? If you have no idea how to do that, well, a great place to start is by asking for feedback.

Help people sharpen their ideas

I love the GE “Ideas Are Scary” commercial because it makes two really important points about a new idea. First, a new idea is fragile, like a baby, and second a new idea is often ugly (like most babies? ;). It’s far easier to shoot down and crush new ideas, and frankly, many ideas ultimately deserve it. But we don’t want to great ideas to suffer the same fate – they must be nurtured into something beautiful and impactful, and this is a role a manager can play on the team. Thought partners nurture the new idea. Micromanagers crush it or steal it. Absentee managers find out about the idea weeks later if at all.

Remove obstacles

Obstacles in the workplace are everywhere, and whether real or perceived, they are real to the people on your team. Also whether real or perceived, you have a role to play to help remove the obstacle. Some obstacles need to be gently pushed aside, like a door that is swinging in your path, and some obstacles need to be blown up like Wile E. Coyote and his ACME gear. As a manager you have to help people through the real and perceived obstacles and help determine whether you need ACME explosives or a gentle nudge in the right direction. A thought partner actively engages to help with obstacle removal. A micromanager tells their employee exactly how to work through or around the obstacle. The absentee manager says implicitly or explicitly “that’s your problem, go figure it out.”

Help syndicate ideas and initiatives

Colonel Boggs, a Marine Colonel I used to work for, used to say to his officers “What do you know and who are you telling?” This was meant to inspire you to realize you have information that likely others need, and you need to constantly remind yourself to share that information. Important and impactful ideas and initiatives will usually require cross-team coordination and buy-in. As a thought partner, you can help your team identify and gain the attention of the people they need to talk to in order to advance impactful ideas. Thought partners work hard to make sure that everyone has the same information they have. A micromanager (whether for selfish reasons or possibly thinking they are providing a service) hoards information, doesn’t share regularly, “pinch hits”, and takes on syndication his/herself. An absentee manager leaves an employee to their own devices to build consensus and syndicate ideas across teams.

As a thought partner, you can help your team identify and gain the attention of the people they need to talk to in order to advance impactful ideas.

With those goals in mind, realize that you have a lot going for you that can help you achieve these for your team. Leverage these assets to become a thought partner:

Your context

As a boss, you almost certainly have more context than your employees. They will likely have more details, but you will likely have more, or at least different, context. Abide by Colonel Boggs’ rule here and help inform your employees’ context.

Your experience

Your experience is valuable in helping people sharpen ideas and in helping them find their way around obstacles and other big time wasters. Share your experiences when relevant, helpful, and welcome. Sometimes, you will not have as much experience as others. That’s ok. Surely you must have some experience to bring to the table, and if not, focus on and emphasize the other assets listed here.

Your clarification skills

Asking people to expose their logic can be enormously helpful to both of you. Often, something feels much clearer in someone’s head than it is in reality. By having someone explain ‘why’ he is thinking a certain way, you can help him sharpen his ideas. It can also help you get comfortable that he is thinking through things in a lot of detail.

Your boss’ context

Your boss will have questions, which, by the way, are often a function of your boss’ unique context! If you know your boss well, sometimes you can anticipate what your boss will ask and help your employee by sharing your boss’ perspective, too. Though be careful not to over-rotate on the boss’ perspective or questions. This is a great way to thrash your team. Just be aware that your people probably wouldn’t readily have your boss’ context.

Understand Your Risk Areas

I think it’s important to be thoughtful and self-aware enough to understand your tendencies — do you naturally trend toward micromanager or absentee manager? Are there certain circumstances in which you might trend towards micromanagement or towards absentee management? For example, in a high stress situation, do you start barking orders and surge toward micromanagement or do you retreat to your safe space and trend toward absentee management?

When you identify tendencies like this, flag them for your team. Just let them know that you have a inclination in that area — this will help set their expectations and give you a chance to invite their feedback.

If you have trouble identifying these proclivities for yourself, I took a crack at articulating in the below 2×2 where I’m more likely to to be a thought partner, more likely to be a micromanager and so on. But it’s worth noting that this is my 2×2, and it may not be yours. The most important thing is to become conscious about your tendencies and be able to recognize when you are in danger of sliding away from thought partner and towards one of the other modes.

The axes describe areas in which you, the manager, have high skill/low skill and high interest/low interest.

This thinking works for me – I know that if I’m not super interested in the content area, I will struggle to invest the right amount of mental energy to be a quality thought partner. I also know that if it’s an area that I have a lot of skill in that I am more likely to be prescriptive with my directs and manifest for them as a micromanager. This doesn’t mean that high skill = micromanagement. It simply means that I’d be more at risk of micromanaging and would want to guard against it. Your results might vary, of course, but I’d encourage you to think a little bit about what will bring out the best and worst in you.

You can also think about this when hiring and putting together your team. Like any normal human being, there are things that I’m good at and things that I’m bad at. It’s not a crazy idea to try to construct a team that gives you the best shot of being a good thought partner. I’ve tried, for example, to hire people that could be pretty autonomous, who could figure out and articulate what they need from me, and who valued being able to run their business with a lot of autonomy. These are qualities that set me up well to be a thought partner. There may be another set of qualities that work best for you.

Let Your Team Tell You How You Are Doing

When talking about feedback specifically, we say all the time that it is not measured at the speaker’s mouth, but at the listener’s ear. This means that no matter how clear you think you are… no matter how Radically Candid you think you are… it doesn’t matter, really, at all. What matters far more is how clear your direct report found you because the purpose of feedback is to help people have more success, and the only way someone can have more success is if they fully understood your feedback.

This thinking applies well beyond feedback. Whether you are achieving ‘thought partner’ status with each of your directs is not really something that you can or should assess on your own. You should ask.

What matters is how much your direct reports think of you as a thought partner.

Why not, for example, share this article, and say, “I want to be a thought partner with you, and I want to avoid absentee manager/micromanager status. How am I doing along those lines?” This is a good “Solicit feedback” moment, and in collaboration with your direct reports, you can get on a path to being a quality thought partner with each of them.

Good luck! And let us know how it goes…write in with your stories and challenges in the comments below, on Twitter, or here.

Are You An Interrupter?

We talked about one of the most frustrating meeting habits in episode 12 of our podcast — interrupting! Kim and I gave some tips about how to handle being interrupted in meetings, and Kim explained some of the reasons that cause people to interrupt. Several listeners wrote in to commiserate about being interrupters and asked for our advice on how to stop.

I just listened to Episode 12 of the podcast, and it really struck a chord. I have been working on my bad interruption habit for years, and I still leave conversations feeling guilty about potentially having railroaded a more soft-spoken colleague or friend. I would love any tips you can give me to help me to keep my enthusiasm in check!
— Enthusiastic interrupter

Enthusiastic, thanks a lot for reaching out and for listening!

I think it’s great that you have this focus on improving yourself. Well done — you will get there.

You can’t change the interrupting behavior overnight, but saying “Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off,” is actually a critical first step. By doing that, you are signaling that you recognize the bad habit and want to improve the behavior.

If you start by catching yourself after you interrupt, it is only a matter of time before you start to catch yourself beforehand and build a better habit.

Kim had this idea years ago to wear a rubber band on her wrist and ask people to snap it on her wrist every time she interrupted. I personally couldn’t do it — it felt too mean — but it’s a great way to bring up your consciousness around interruption. She says some other folks were happy to snap it. :)

As Kim mentioned in the podcast, she also realized that her reason for interrupting was her enthusiasm for what people are saying. While this isn’t an excuse that makes interrupting suddenly ok, or even necessarily the reason most people interrupt, it may be helpful to hear how she acted on that realization. Once she was aware that her enthusiasm manifested in ways that shut down the other person, she looked for alternate means of expressing that enthusiasm. Instead of quickly responding with “Yeah! …” or “Right! …”, she looked for nonverbal ways to show her agreement. She smiled and nodded in agreement or otherwise showed her enthusiasm through her body language, instead of jumping to speak. So instead of thinking about how to keep your enthusiasm in check, think about other ways you can express it.

If enthusiasm for the conversation isn’t the reason you interrupt, think about why you’re doing it and if there are other, less frustrating ways to manifest that.

As with anything, though, the first step is awareness/consciousness of the tendency, and then correcting in the moment… after awhile, you will start to make the corrections before the transgression instead of after. Promise.

6 Tips for Taking Feedback Well

Have you ever noticed that when it rains, everyone shows up to work talking about how everyone else can’t drive in the rain? Have you noticed that no one is showing up saying they themselves can’t drive in the rain? I gotta believe that some of those complaining about others’ poor driving, must also be driving poorly and the target of others’ complaints.

Well, here at Candor’s Global Headquarters we get asked a lot some version of “how do you talk to people about accepting feedback better?” It reminds me a lot of people driving in the rain – they can see clearly when others are messing it up, but it’s sometimes a little bit harder to see it in ourselves.

Personally, I’m terrible at taking feedback in some circumstances and really good at it in others.

For example, if someone is junior to me or if I ask for feedback from anyone, I am very excited to get it. I love it. I don’t care how harsh or how scathing. The praise doesn’t go to my head and the criticism doesn’t get me down. I can hear the feedback so clearly, am super interested in it, and it somehow feels like a problem solving session – a discussion taking place in my prefrontal cortex, which is the problem-solving part of the brain.

Conversely, I am not good at hearing feedback when I get surprised. This morning, Kim, my co-founder, approached me while I was reviewing one of our podcast episodes to give me some feedback. For a variety of reasons, none of them good in hindsight, I felt my defenses surge. The feedback was actually not even particularly critical, but the circumstances – the interruption, the fact that I wasn’t in that moment thinking about that particular thing, and the fact that I had already reached a similar conclusion – all somehow conspired to set off my internal alarm bells. I didn’t let on that I was having a defensive reaction, and used a simple technique (label and re-appraise – see below) to move out of threat response and into critical thinking. Crisis averted, but it doesn’t change the fact that my threat response went off first and I had to work to suppress it and engage in the conversation.

So what can we learn from this? Am I just some super defensive guy, or am I pretty normal?

I’m going to guess that it’s much more normal for people to manifest a threat response to critical feedback than it is not to. Otherwise, critical feedback wouldn’t be so hard. So, I’ll say “normal,” and we’re all in this together. I want to share a few tips to help you take feedback better so that you can be the change you want to see in the world.

Tip 1: Prepare Your Mind and Ask for It (Alternate “Buckle Up”)

For starters, ask for feedback much more often. Funny thing… I talk to many, many companies every week, and they all communicate some version of their leaders not giving enough feedback and giving almost no critical feedback. It’s no mystery that giving feedback is hard. Imagine how much easier it would become if everyone just started asking for it?

We wrote a blog post awhile back on how to ask for feedback. I won’t rehash that article here because I want to focus more here on the mindset of receiving feedback versus the tactics of asking for it.

When you ask for feedback, you get to set the terms – timing, mindset, even content. You can get your mind right and ready to hear tough stuff. So much of hearing feedback well is preparing yourself to hear it. Say to yourself, “buckle up, you’re about to get some criticism, and feedback is a gift so let’s go.” If it helps, you can even use your best Stuart Smalley voice, because doggone it, people like you.

Also, I promise, the more you ask for feedback, the better you get at taking it. My son is a competitive gymnast. Gymnastics is an extraordinary sport with many attributes, but one way to describe gymnastics is that you fail 100s of times at something before you finally succeed, and everyone one of those 100s of attempt will include a brief piece of corrective feedback. The gymnasts are not explicitly asking for the feedback, but they do expect it after every repetition. They gymnasts nod and try to incorporate on the next attempt. Like anything, they practice getting feedback and then get good at it.

When you ask, you communicate two things: 1) you want the feedback and 2) you are ready to hear it. Two massive obstacles that feedback givers tend to stress over.

Most important, though, the act of asking allows you to be proactive/puts you on the front foot and allows/forces you to prepare your mind, which in my opinion is the highest leverage activity available to help you hear feedback well. Imagine if in my example with Kim, I proactively grabbed her to talk about this topic that she hit me with. I go into that conversation saying “what do you think?” ready to hear her, ready with my own theory, ready to solve a problem rather than allowing myself to be surprised.

Of course, it’s impossible to never get surprised by feedback, and we must all work on getting ourselves into a mode when feedback is offered, but I think that starting to more frequently ask for feedback helps you get the feedback you need and helps you get it with the right mindset to be able to truly hear it and take it on board.

Tip 2: Don’t Get Mad Get Curious

In our article about how to get feedback, we talk about listening with the intent to understand and not respond… or cross-examine. How you react in the split second someone starts to give you critical feedback is a crucial moment. Fly off the handle and you will set your relationship back months. Calmly listen and manifest as curious, and you can advance your relationship by weeks! Yes, I do believe there is more damage inflicted by a defensive reaction than upside realized from a good one. There’s one simple phrase that if repeated (I mean this literally) in your brain over and over, you can help yourself to react well to the feedback.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Curious, a handy little phrase coined by Fred Kofman in Conscious Business. Just keep saying that in your head.

Don’t get mad, get curious.

What does this mean? If you get deeply curious about the feedback you are receiving, it starts to feel more like a problem to solve. Humans like solving problems. Bonus: this is a problem to solve where the subject is something else humans love: themselves. Sentiments that can really help:

  • “Ooo. That is interesting. Tell me more about that.”
  • “Ak! I didn’t realize that by saying that thing that way that I was upsetting the other team? How can we tidy things up there?”
  • “Oh my gosh, that is so interesting that is how I’m showing up. Of course I don’t mean to, but am I understanding correctly that you see X, Y, and Z?”

Tip 3: Label and Reappraise

I love David Rock’s book, Your Brain at Work. He covers a lot of ground in the book, but the central theme is the SCARF model, a set of social threats (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) you are likely to experience in the workplace, or even in life. Those threats of course are far less dangerous than, say, being chased by a lion, but to your brain, they feel about the same.

One of the coping mechanisms he tees up is Label and Reappraise. As you start to feel an emotion, or threat, label that threat (give it a name) and then reappraise it (assess it again in a different way). This is a way to actively “switch” your mind out of emotion and threat and into problem solving and critical thinking. As Rock describes, your limbic system (the system that deals with threat response and emotion) and pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain that is involved with thinking and problem solving) do not actually work together. These two systems compete for resources, for glucose and oxygen. The biggest problem is that it’s been an evolutionary necessity for much longer to have an excellent threat response than to have great problem solving skills. So the limbic system is in the largest, oldest, most efficient part of the brain, and it easily dominates the competition for resources. This is why it’s so hard to think when you’re scared, for example.

So when you label a threat or emotion, you put yourself in a problem-solving activity. You have to search for the right way to describe this emotion you’re having. In the case of my conversation with Kim this morning, it was simple: defensive. “You’re being, defensive, Russ” – step 1 achieved. The reappraisal step was similarly simple, but not easy. “She’s got your back, like she’s had for a decade, and this is actually a topic we both care about deeply. She’s just trying to be helpful.”

I don’t mean to make this sound magical, but this is all exactly true. Within seconds we were laughing about this topic, violently agreeing with each other on the things we’re going to change to achieve the results we want. A simple action plan hatched, collaboration achieved.

Tip 4: Don’t Rely on Being Your Own Worst Critic

“I’m my own worst critic.” You hear this a lot, don’t you? Maybe even in your own head? It’s some version of “I don’t really need much feedback because I’m my own worst critic.” If I’m being honest, this is actually something that runs through my head a ton, but it’s wrong. Here are some of the common phrases that folks think and say:

  • No one is tougher on me than me.
  • No one has a higher standard for me than I do.
  • I am extremely self-aware.
  • I am likely to see my mistakes long before anyone else does

There are a bunch of problems with this mentality, even if some of those things seem true.

Let’s start with this. Rory McIlroy is, at the time of this writing, the #2 golfer in the world. I chose Rory because among the top 10 PGA Tour golfers in the world, he’s the closest thing to a household name.

Rory McIlroy has at least 2 coaches, a swing coach and a putting coach. Don’t you think Rory McIlroy is hard on himself? Can’t he videotape himself and analyze his own swing? Isn’t it likely that to have become the #2 golfer in the world, he has much higher standards for himself than 99% of humans?

But he still needs a coach. Said differently, HE PAYS PEOPLE TO GIVE HIM CRITICISM despite his standing as the second best golfer in the world.

You’re a pretty good employee, but almost certainly not the #2 employee in the world. No offense, it’s just statistically unlikely. Would it ever cross your mind to pay someone to criticize you?

Great news. You don’t have to. Your company does that already. They pay your manager and your peers and your team to criticize you.

I think the insight here is that how we show up at work is complex. Our own version of that might be very accurate because of our high standards and high self-awareness, but it’s almost certainly not entirely accurate, and more likely, a lot less accurate than we think.

You have to believe that getting feedback from people around you can advance your thinking, add texture, add depth, make you just a little bit better. Use those high standards you have for yourself to say, “they are so high, I even want the tiny little things that only the people around me can add.” Here’s a way to enable this thinking:

Write down in a private notebook, the names of the people you work most closely with each week. Maybe 5-10 people at most. For each person, write down three things that you theorize they might be able to help you with. You don’t have to act on this just yet; mostly, you are embarking on a process to convince yourself that the folks around you really do have something to offer.

For example, my teammate, Elisse, is a very structured and clear thinker. I have filed away in my brain that I can always count on her to help me structure and clarify my thinking and my writing. My list might look like this:

Tip 5: Stop Trying to “Get an A”

Related to the mindset that “I’m my own worst critic” is the idea that when you are receiving feedback, you are trying to get an A.

When I was in the Marines and attended The Basic School with 250 fellow 2nd Lieutenants, we had a pejorative term for the over-participators. We called them “spring-butts”. The basic insight is that when you answered a question in class, you were expected to stand up, introduce yourself, and then ask the question. Out of the 250 lieutenants, there were some guys who just couldn’t help themselves, spring-butts to the core, and it felt like they were “trying to get an A” even though that interaction had nothing really to do with your evaluation in school.

When you are self-aware, be mindful that while you’re receiving feedback, you are at risk of over-participating and manifesting like the person who is “trying to get an A.” Curious, engaged, writing things down — all great behavior. On the other hand, interrupting, and even nodding in anticipation of the next sentence can make it seem like you are not really listening. You run a risk of of showing up like “you’re telling me stuff I already know.”

This one is a little bit counterintuitive, because I know when I’ve been in this mode, I’ve been thinking in my head, “Yep, got it. Agree. Agree. Agree. I am so damn self-aware, check me out.” All of this is a form of affirmation bias – “I already see this thing this way, and this feedback affirms it,” when the opportunity is to listen and advance your thinking rather than affirming it.

So, instead of just agreeing with the feedback giver, interrupting them with your “yeps” and “totallys” or seemingly impatiently anticipating each new sentence, try to advance your thinking by just listening quietly. When they sound done, as always, check for understanding. “So, what I think I hear you saying is that if I were to change A and B, you think it would help me in X & Y ways? Do I have that right?”

Simple. But not easy.

Look, I’m with you. I will often have given myself the feedback weeks before someone else would even think to. Let’s agree this self-awareness is generally a strength, but it becomes a weakness – and frankly an arrogance – when we allow our belief in our ability to self-assess to get in the way of hearing new assessment from those around us.

Tip 6: Follow up

I would argue that the definition of taking feedback well is showing that you understood the feedback and that you plan to do something about it.

Take a moment in the conversation to communicate a couple things:

  1. I heard you. This is achieved not by using the actual phrase “I heard you,” but by repeating back what you think you heard. Something like, “OK, lemme recap what I think you’re saying…”
  2. Here’s what I will do. It need not always be the case that you will take the feedback on board. But it should ALWAYS be the case that you will take some action, even if it’s just to think about the feedback and follow up in a week with an action plan. Communicate your intentions. “Well, thanks – you’ve given me a lot to think about here, and I appreciate that. Do you mind if I take a week to digest this and come back to you with how I’m thinking about taking action?”

I’d like to highlight that in the conversation it’s only natural for you to be mentally assessing the quality of the feedback and the quality of the delivery. Let’s acknowledge two things: 1) feedback and delivery quality will be highly uneven and 2) you are probably more primed to reject the feedback than to hear it. Try with all your might to hold your feet to the fire that your objective in this moment is not to assess the feedback or the quality, but simply to understand it. You can evaluate it later when you have some time to reflect.

After the conversation, of course, you must follow up. Proactively put that topic on the agenda for your next meeting with that person and discuss your insights and some things you are planning to do to improve. Heck, it might even be the case that you’re planning to do nothing. In some cases, that might be the most appropriate thing, but taking the time to say “I really thought about this, and I’m not sure there’s a lot of action for me to take right now. Will you just help me keep an eye on this and I’ll check back with you in two months?” Then you darn well better follow up in 2 months.

The point is simple – most people find giving critical feedback hard. No one really loves doing it, and we’re definitely not doing it for our health. It’s important to give the feedback giver some kind of payoff or else you’re likely to stop getting feedback.

Remember: the purpose of criticism is to help people improve. To improve your work and improve your behaviors. If you improve your work and your behaviors, you will find more success. It’s in your best interest to get as much of this as possible, not to avoid it or cut it off.

Aggressively ask for feedback, treat the feedback like a problem to solve around your favorite topic (you), and proactively follow up on the feedback. Be the change you want to see in the world. You can be the one to catalyze a culture of feedback.

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.


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:



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.


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.



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.


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.

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