If someone has approached you and said, “In the spirit of Radical Candor …” and then proceeded to act like a total jerk, you’ve experienced how some people use Radical Candor to justify being their worst selves. This behavior is not Radical Candor; it’s what we call Obnoxious Aggression. On this episode of the Radical Candor podcast, Kim, Jason and Amy agree that nobody should have to pay the asshole tax or work for a seagull swoop-and-poop boss. They also explain why “Radical” Candor is actually Compassionate Candor versus a license to act like a jerk.
Listen to the episode:
Opt-Out of Obnoxious Aggression
The whole point of Radical Candor is that it really is possible to Care Personally and Challenge Directly at the same time. We can break free of a false dichotomy that leaves too many people feeling they have to choose between being a jerk and being incompetent.
That’s a terrible choice, and nobody has to make it. In fact, if you really care personally about somebody, you will tell them if you think they are making a mistake — and when they are doing something great.
Radical Candor happens at the intersection of Care Personally and Challenge Directly. Care Personally means that you care about the other person, not about whether you are winning a popularity contest. Challenge Directly means that you share your perspective and invite the other person to do the same.
Radical Candor is actually Compassionate Candor. It engages the heart (Care Personally) and the mind (Challenge Directly). Unfortunately, the phrase “Radical Candor” doesn’t communicate that to everyone. (You can read more about Compassionate Candor in the fully revised and updated edition of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.)
It’s important to know that there is a world of difference between Radical Candor and brutal honesty, or as we call it, Obnoxious Aggression.
Obnoxious Aggression is what happens when you challenge someone directly, but don’t care about them personally. It’s being clear, but not kind; praise that doesn’t feel sincere or criticism that isn’t delivered kindly. Obnoxious Aggression is also called “brutal honesty” or “front stabbing.” This is often how the seagull swoop-and-poop boss behaves. They barge in, crap all over everything.
Challenging Directly Without Caring Personally is Obnoxious Aggression
- Challenging Directly does NOT mean you can assume that whatever you think is “the truth” and therefore should be shoved down people’s throats.
- Challenging Directly does NOT mean you are right. You may be wrong. In fact, you should expect and welcome a reciprocal challenge.
- The “direct” in “Challenge Directly” does NOT mean to be brutal. Radical Candor is not brutal honesty. It means to share your (humble) opinions directly, rather than talking badly about people behind their backs.
- Challenge Directly does NOT mean just saying whatever nutty thing pops into your head.
Helpful framing for productive feedback conversations is the Center for Creative Leadership’s SBI Model.
- Situation: context or a specific situation in which a behavior manifested
- Behavior: the behavior you are seeing that is not ideal (in this case) or the behavior you are seeing that is leading to success (in the case of praise)
- Impact: the articulation of the Impact of the behavior
Radical Candor Podcast Checklist
- Saying “In the spirit of Radical Candor” is not a get out of jail free card. If you’re not caring about the person you’re talking to, it’s Obnoxious Aggression, not Radical Candor.
- One of the most important things you can do is if you have power, lay it down. Nothing is more corrupting to humility than formal power. Part of what gives bosses trouble with humility is that they have a little bit of power. Don’t let it go to your head…remember, being a boss is a job, not a value judgement.
- Try using a “you” statement. If you are encountering somebody who is approaching you in an obnoxious way, as opposed to focusing on your feelings, it can be helpful to structure that in a sort of Situation, Behavior, Impact type of way. When you do this, it has this effect.
- Remember that we can always create a little space between the stimulus and the response, even when we’re feeling bullied by someone. If you feel like someone is acting obnoxiously with you, focus on the agency that you do have in that moment. And it might mean not making a response and retreating to care for yourself. Put your own oxygen mask on first.
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