The (humorous) case for radical candor

Andrea Howe
Category : Weekly tips May 29, 2017

This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

A client told me about a new management book the other day. The title got my attention (Radical Candor: Being a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity), though I’ll admit I was still poised to be unimpressed by yet another book on transparency/authenticity/yada yada yada.

Then I watched author Kim Scott’s talk and got inspired by her content, her approach, and many connections to trust-building.

Here’s the content, distilled: In an attempt to operationalize really great feedback that Kim once got from her boss, she created a two-by-two matrix with unique axes: The “give a damn” axis and the “willing to piss people off” axis. Maybe it’s too cutesy for you; it caught my attention and made me laugh. Plus I think what she does with the two-by-two is right-on.

Radical candor sits in the upper right quadrant (high caring and high willingness to challenge people). The feedback she got from her boss that inspired her started as “I really liked these four things about the presentation you just gave, but you said ‘um’ a lot” (abridged version). When Kim dismissed her boss’s offer to hire a speaking coach as not worth her time, her boss persisted, this time saying, “Kim, when you say ‘um’ every third word, it makes you sound stupid.” Kim describes this as “the kindest thing she could have done.” (It’s important to note that past evidence of the boss’s caring made the message palatable, rather than injurious.)

The three other quadrants are considerably less desirable, like “obnoxious aggression,” “manipulative insincerity,” and “ruinous empathy.” That last one, which Kim defines as being too nice, is where she asserts the vast majority of management mistakes happen, including a big one of her own.

Here are three trust-building connections that jumped out at me:

  • Candor with caring as a differentiator. Trusted advisorship = tough love.
  • Humor is a surprising credibility-builder, according to Wharton research.
  • Failure-sharing. Kim shares a lot of her own management failures in her talk, which builds credibility through both honesty and proven experience.

While Kim’s focus is on managing people, the lessons apply to any relationship that requires candor to be successful … otherwise known as every relationship.

Make It Real

This week, list three to five work relationships that matter to you and that you’ve had for at least three months. Draw Kim’s two-by-two matrix. Then write each person’s name in the quadrant that best describes how you typically approach her/him. What do you learn?

Learn More

TAfieldbook

Discover four specific actions to take to immediately improve your own radical candor (at 13:47), or brush up on how to use caveats to show you care in Chapter 9 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).

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