It’s important to let your co-workers know when they’re screwing up and when they’re doing great. But it rarely happens. Radical Candor teaches you how to have those conversations and — better yet — how they can have impact. 

Do you have trouble giving praise? How about criticism? While communicating these ideas seems easy enough, the truth is that most of us are pretty bad at it. Despite the best of intentions, we’re not usually clear or helpful with the information we want to convey. Without that clarity, the praise we give can feel patronizing. The criticism can feel downright mean

It’s not our fault, really. In North America, we’re conditioned from a young age not to give honest feedback. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. In a similar vein, outdated notions of professionalism mean that we’re actively discouraged from bringing emotions into our jobs. All of that in tandem makes for lousy communication.

At NorthOne, we’ve tried to create an office environment where people can be transparent about their feelings, ideas, and intentions in the day-to-day of their work. We’ve based that culture on Kim Scott and her book Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want By Saying What You Mean.  Scott — an advisor with heavy hitters like Twitter, Apple, and Google — uses the book to walk readers through insightful advice and practical suggestions on how to be a better leader, regardless of your role at work. At the heart of the book is Radical Candor as a communication style.

Radical Candor is giving feedback that directly challenges a person’s position, while also showing you respect and value them as a team member. 

In Radical Candor, Scott breaks down the concept using a four-quadrant graph looking at different strategies for giving feedback. A veritable D & D Alignment Chart for business-minded folks. Below we break down the chart with examples you may have experienced on the job. 

Kim Scott’s Radical Candor
Graph Image via Kim Scott’s Twitter.

Ruinous Empathy

What is Ruinous Empathy: Ruinous Empathy is when you avoid giving a person an honest opinion because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Examples of Ruinous Empathy: 

  • Giving praise to someone for the sake of saying something nice. If the person’s work is subpar — or even bad — offering praise gives them a false sense of accomplishment. It also undercuts actual praise in the future. 
  • Engaging (or encouraging) in complaints about work without attempts to solve the problem. Everyone needs to blow off steam from time to time. But if people are consistently complaining without addressing problems the environment gets toxic. 
  • Constantly picking up the slack for people who aren’t pulling their weight. It’s okay to help people, but repeatedly doing work to make up for people’s shortcomings only breeds resentment towards that co-worker.   

Most people want to avoid creating tension in the workplace. But avoiding that tension for too long creates a workplace where being kind is put above doing excellent work. Worse, the kindness is based on a false premise. Because no one is actually telling the truth.  

Obnoxious Aggression

What is Obnoxious Aggression: Obnoxious Aggression is when you criticize someone without showing them that you care.

Examples of Obnoxious Aggression

  • Giving belittling compliments. Often when people give belittling compliments they don’t even know they’re doing it. But comments like Greg is great at doing the dirty work or Sarah is performing way above her pay grade can make people feel insecure.   
  • Insulting people to mask poor performance. When we’re taking risks with our businesses, there are times our output won’t live up to our expectations. This can be frustrating, but it isn’t an opportunity to act like a jerk. 

It’s important to learn how to give feedback without coming across like an asshole. People need to know when they’re not living up to expectations, but they also need to know that criticism of their work isn’t criticism of them as a person or their abilities in general.  

Manipulative Insecurity 

What is Manipulative Insecurity: Manipulative Insecurity is when you don’t respect a person enough to challenge them directly. 

Examples of  Manipulative Insecurity: 

  • Apologizing when you don’t mean it. When you say sorry for something without actually feeling sorry for that action, it’s disrespectful to the person you’re apologizing to. You’d rather avoid confrontation than get to the heart of the problem. Also, most people can tell when you’re being insincere.  

It’s okay to disagree. It’s important to challenge ideas if you want those ideas to get better. People might use manipulative insecurity in the hopes of making a situation better, but it actually has the opposite effect.

Radical Candor

What is Radical Candor: As stated above, Radical Candor is giving feedback that directly challenges a person, while also showing that you respect and value them as a team member.

Examples of Radical Candor: 

  • Balancing praise with criticism. By letting people know what they’re doing well and simultaneously letting them know where they can improve, it shows you’re deeply invested in their work 
  • Asking for and expecting criticism from your peers. Showing that you’re open to having your own work critiqued creates a culture where people know that honest feedback is expected and important 

These concepts seem intuitive, but implementing Radical Candor in your everyday interactions can be hard. It takes a conscious effort to break down learned behavior we’ve developed after years of repetition. Still, practicing the idea in your small business — and even in your personal life — can make a huge difference. Echoing the book’s subtitle: by saying what you really mean, you get what you really want. 

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