Chances are that at some point, whether in school or at work, you’ve been on the giving or receiving end of the good ol’ Feedback Sandwich. Don’t get us wrong, sandwiches are delicious, but we all know (sorry carb lovers) that it’s what’s on the inside of that feedback that we really need to hear.
Thanks to long-time executive and entrepreneur Kim Scott, creator of Radical Candor, leading companies and the folks working for them are realizing that, contrary to the long gone days of the sandwich, we don’t need to be lulled into accepting criticism by surrounding it with compliments.
Radical Candor is a new school of thought and management style that believes we’re all capable of hearing straight talk on what we need to do to improve — and that getting to the point in the right way actually helps us get better faster.
While a leading exec at Google, Scott’s life changed after a surprisingly straightforward meeting with her former boss, current Facebook COO and Lean In founder Sheryl Sandberg.
As Scott told NBC News, “Sheryl started the conversation by telling me about the things that had gone well in the meeting. But of course, all I wanted to hear about was what I had done wrong. And eventually she said, "You said 'um' a lot in there. Were you aware of it?’"
Scott says she initially dismissed Sandberg’s criticism with a simple gesture, but the future Facebook exec leaned in.
“She stopped. She looked right at me, and she said, ‘I can see when you do that thing with your hand that I'm gonna’ have to be a lot more direct with you. When you say 'um' every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’”
Taken aback by how valuable the advice was while also wondering why nobody had bothered to tell her before, that interaction planted the seed for Scott to write Radical Candor: Be A Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.
At its heart, Radical Candor is a combo approach to leadership, humanity and directness that aims to empower individuals to be better at their own jobs while also being better bosses and leaders.
Whether you’re new to a company or an entrepreneur leading a team for the first time, this philosophy is meant to break down traditional hierarchies of feedback and make sure that when we take the time to give or receive honest advice it will resonate, matter and make a difference.
Before the concept of Radical Candor can really be effective, we need to first look at the notions of “toxic professionalism” that lead to outdated and even harmful business relationships. As Scott says on her site, eliminate the words “don’t take it personally” from your vocabulary. Our careers and performance are important to us, and so when it comes to how we can improve we should take it personally because it’s deeply personal.
A balance needs to be found to make sure we can be radically candid in an effective way. Scott’s formula to find that balance forms the basis of Radical Candor in two parts:
One of the core tenets of of Radical Candor is that it makes it easier for a person to bring their whole self to work. We hear this a lot around inclusion and how it relates to facets of diversity, but Scott means for it to be taken here more broadly.
It’s the belief that we need to have a more realistic understanding that our profession is personal. While there are rules for behaviour and treating others with respect that need to be show in the office, part of truly respecting someone is knowing how to respect them as a whole person.
When we peel back outdated norms around professional courtesy, we can see more clearly that in each of our colleagues is an individual just like us — complex, flawed, and with dreams of their own.
When we genuinely care about another we can see we have the power to help them be better. The first step is to brave enough to be direct in our feedback and address them as a multifaceted human being and not a one-dimensional office mate.
To create communal success, we need to put conditions in place that make us comfortable enough to be willing to say the things that might upset a person but that they need to hear.
“Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.” - Colin Powell
The essence of Radical Candor is that if you really care about someone personally, you’ll be willing to tell them the truth even when it’s difficult.
By balancing praise and constructive criticism in this way we can create an understanding together on how to give and get direct feedback. We start by acknowledging that while our desire to care is natural our ability or willingness to be direct with our feedback generally isn’t.
The Three Danger Zones
There’s obviously a fine line to walk between caring personally and challenging directly. When we’re not conscientious of how we’re using Radical Candor in actual practice then we’re at risk of doing more harm than good and falling into one of Scott’s three danger zones.
When we’re so focused on fixing a problem that we don’t take into account the needs of the other person then there won’t be a level of understanding that leads to a real conversation. We need to approach others from a clear place of caring about their wellbeing and success as much as our own.
This is the worst case scenario when a person isn’t caring personally or challenging directly. It comes off as dishonest and even passive aggressive. When another person can tell that we really only care about what affects ourselves in the short-term — and not at all about helping the greater good in the long-term — it unfortunately leads to private dissatisfaction for this type of individual and mistrust from their teams.
Scott says the most common danger zone, with more than 85% of us falling into it at some point, is paradoxically the most well-intended. There is such a thing as being too nice. When you care so much that you become inactive, either reluctant or unwilling to give a direct challenge, then you are doing more harm than good.
Whether at work or at home, if we’re so concerned about someone’s reactions that we’re unwilling to tell them the truth, even if it’s something that could be fixed easily, then we’re actually hindering their success and denying them the chance to really connect with us.
An integral part of caring personally is being brave ourselves and believing that others are strong enough to handle feedback. By bowing to extreme politeness we can become apathetic and avoid difficult conversations, even if they could have a long-term positive impact, because we’d rather avoid or own short-term discomfort.
In the end, the power of Radical Candor is that It’s about putting someone else before ourselves.
The idea that true empathy is when you’ll put another person’s potential to improve to ahead of your personal need to feel comfortable or be liked is at the core of Radical Candor. Like many good things, it’s about looking forward and mindfully knowing that bold actions that can inspire long-term growth and personal connection are worth it.
Get radically candid and Prosper.