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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!

A good woman decides to become a boss!!

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

Hi Kim and Russ,

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

N

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!

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