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8 Important Lessons Of Radical Candor For Managers And Workplaces

“Challenging people is often the best way to show that you care when you’re the boss,” argues Kim Malone Scott, leadership coach and author of Radical Candor – a management book and framework for caring personally and challenging directly.

Lessons learned from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s guidance and management practices have been operationalized by management coach Kim (who helped develop manager training at Apple and Twitter) in this book. She starts with emphasizing guidance (or “feedback” — both praise and criticism). People often forget they need to solicit guidance from others, and encourage it between them. When guidance is great, it’s called Radical Candor (pictured above, top right quadrant) and you definitely want a culture of this in your workplace – with your boss, management team, colleagues.

From the time we learn to speak, we’re told that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. While this advice may work for everyday life, this “ruinous empathy” spells disaster when adopted by managers. Being a boss is a job and sometimes people forget to prioritize taking time to care personally due the high-stress professional goals of working. Consciously bringing your authentic self to work and demonstrating some vulnerability (ie. just admitting when you have a bad day) can help create a safe space for others to share common ground.

The Origin of Radical Candor – In the Workplace And In Life!

Kim shares stories from her career — as an entrepreneur, to big companies like Google and Apple. She also shares a terrific story of a stranger who was radically candid when Kim had a dog that she needed to be more strict with her dog (“It’s not mean, it’s clear!”) because the dog was running all over the place and into the street.

She encourages people to bring radical candor into a workplace to create more feedback cycles —  by encouraging people to give feedback to each other. This creates an open, collaborative and inclusive culture at work where it’s safe and welcome to guide each other toward growth, happiness and productivity.

Lesson #1: Importance of Guidance (Both Praise and Feedback)

It’s important to give more praise than criticism — it guides people in the right direction. It encourages people to keep improving. To do this, focus on getting your facts right, and be careful not to personalize the criticism. There’s an example I love in Kim’s book —  instead of saying “you’re sloppy”, you could say “you’ve been working nights and weekends, and it’s starting to take a toll on your ability to catch mistakes in your logic.”

Praise in public what you want more of: high-quality work, mind-boggling innovation, amazing efficiency, selfless teamwork, etc. This came in a section of Kim’s book about not writing company emails about promotions, but instead praising the work a person is doing (not the status they’ve achieved in the company for doing it).

By explicitly describing what was good or what was bad, you can help a person do more of what’s good and less of what’s bad – and to see the difference. Good judgment can be trained.

Lesson #2: Importance of Recognizing Attribution Bias

You can make it clear that the problem is not due to an unfixable personality flaw. To do this, you can share stories when you’ve been criticized for something similar. This is helpful and empathetic guidance for a team member.

To avoid “fundamental attribution error” (that a person is “lazy” or “stupid”) as this is generally inaccurate and personalizing, I learned a framework for giving effective, judgment-free feedback: the SBI model (state the situation, behavior observed, and impact).

Here is an example of guidance: instead of saying, “She is really smart”, try saying, “She just gave the clearest explanation I’ve ever heard of why users don’t like that feature”.

Lesson 3: Importance of Rapid Feedback

Giving guidance in-person as quickly and informally as possible is an essential part of Radical Candor.

Say it in the 2-3 minutes between meetings. By the time the weekly 1:1 or performance review comes around, it is probably too late as guidance has a short half-life.

The “um” story of Sheryl Sandberg pointing out that Kim Scott may want to to improve her presentation skills is exemplary “Radical Candor”.

A common illustration from Kim is the “Bob” story about “Ruinous Empathy”, which we see very often here in America.

Lesson 4: Get Stuff Done

Get Stuff Done is a framework for driving results collaboratively – using the “get stuff done” wheel.

Radical Candor’s second half contain chapters full of great tips on how to structure meetings, decision-making processes, and effective communication skills.

Processes gleaned from Kim’s experience with big companies have had time to perform plenty of experiments. Try separating debate meetings from decision meetings. Try setting a “decide-by date” as a team or “decider” as a person to come back to the team with a decision by a particular date. This allows the team to have a fair mechanism to arrive at a decision without a manager’s unilateral decision.

Lesson 5: Importance of Showing Your Work

The key to persuasion is showing the work (“show, don’t tell”). Kim shares stories of leaders finding and laying out the data points for a strong case for change. For example Steve Jobs at Apple would share how he got to his idea, and show his work to signal that if there was a flaw in his reasoning, he wanted to know about it. Another rigorous workplace, McKinsey, has consciously created an “obligation to dissent” in the workplace to spur productive debate.

To make sure that emotional energy is managed in a sustainable way, you can remind people that the goal is to get the best ideas and answers together as a team. Check egos at the door. Another way to help people search for the best answer is to make them switch roles, Kim suggests.

Lesson 6: Importance of Soliciting Feedback Even If You Succeeded

You should always acknowledge emotions and ask questions, even if you “won”.

Kim shared in a Sheryl Sandberg anecdote where she continued to ask for feedback (and with a smile) until the person came up with one point for improvement (when she aced the meeting anyway) – and then thanked him for his feedback.

Lesson 7: Importance of Asking For Feedback All The Time

You can bring radical candor into your team and workplace! Kim recommends beginning by asking, “Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”

You can also offer guidance to your boss by asking, “Would it be helpful if I told you what I thought about X?”

Lesson 8: Importance of Asking For Feedback All The Time – ESPECIALLY From Men

Kim dedicates a section to “gender and guidance” in her Radical Candor book, because she points out – most men are trained from birth to be “gentler” to women than with men.

She notes a fear of tears, and that men have cried as much or if not more than women in the workplace. There are a number of reasons men may have a fear of engaging with women in the workplace. The Atlantic noted in “The Coddling of the American Mind” that millennials are not accustomed to criticism and may react poorly to feedback: “impulse vindictive protectiveness… it is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.”

For women to succeed in the workplace, we need criticism and feedback to grow and develop. So you may have to solicit your feedback from managers and bosses: “I’m worried you’re so concerned about my feelings that you’re hesitant to give me the feedback I need to improve.” Or, “The thing that I most need from you is to tell me what you really think” and then pause (counting to six in your head). Kim recommends, “Do whatever it takes to drag a candid assessment out of your male colleagues or boss.”

At the end of the day, we may be tempted to practice fundamental attribution errors – writing off a confusing boss as hopeless, a misogynist, a sexist pig or some other epithet. Instead, Kim recommends continuing to challenge directly and show that you care personally until they get it.

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Have a question for the author of Radical Candor? Let us know in the comments!

We will interview her this fall in a Girl Geek Podcast! 🎤