Radical Candor: Part 2 — Breaking it Down

Ellevate Network
4 min readJul 10, 2020

By: Caroline Dowd-Higgins

In my last blog post, I shared the story of Kim Scott’s radical-candor-epiphany while at Google, when her boss at the time, Sheryl Sandberg, pulled her aside and confronted her on a performance issue.

While the experience was not a comfortable one for Scott, Sandberg’s forthrightness helped Scott to improve and grow, and become even more successful in her job and career going forward. Scott so appreciated Sandberg’s straightforward honesty and the positive change it inspired in her that she set out to better understand its value in the workplace.

In her book, Radical Candor: How To Be A Great Boss And A Kick Ass Citizen, Scott says practicing “radical candor” will help you do “the best work of your life,” and, even more, it will help you “build the best relationships of your career” based on a constructive adherence to authenticity and truth.

In her INBOUND BOLD talk on the topic, Scott explains that, when she examined the qualities that enabled Sandberg to be so radically candid with her more closely, she was able to distill it down to two main factors: caring personally and challenging directly. Scott uses two axes on a graph to illustrate these aspects.

Caring personally.

The caring personally aspect of the radical candor graph Scott refers to as the “give a damn” axis. Scott observes that, early on, we’re told we need to be “professional” in our work, and that, somewhere along the line, “professional” has come to mean the need to, as Scott describes it:

…leave your emotions…leave your humanity…leave the very best part of yourself at home.

Scott stresses the importance of going beyond just being “professional” and bringing your “whole self” to the job, which includes “giving a damn”/caring personally. Scott contends:

You’re never going to do the best work of your life if you leave half of yourself…at home. You can’t care personally about someone else with only half of your self.

[Related: Self-Awareness Tips for Leading With Positive Impact]

Challenge directly.

The challenging directly aspect of the radical candor graph Scott refers to as the “willing to piss people off” axis. Scott points out that a key part of being a good leader is being willing to say things that are difficult to hear — things that could make a person feel uncomfortable or upset.

Scott explains, “As a manager, you have to be willing to say what you really think in order for either your thinking to be corrected or your employee’s thinking to be corrected,” which requires “getting real” and not “beating around the bush.”

[Related: Don’t Let Fear of Conflict Keep You From Delivering Essential Performance Feedback]

“Sweet spot.”

The aim, according to Scott, is to move as high up on the “caring personally”/“challenge directly” axes as possible in order to land in “radical candor” territory. Landing in this radical candor “sweet spot” quadrant helps avoid the three quadrants on the lower end of the axes that Scott refers to as “ruinous empathy,” “manipulative insincerity,” and “obnoxious aggression.”

I’ve long been a proponent of straightforward feedback at work — doing my best to be constructively frank with those who report to me, and looking for that same frankness from those to whom I’ve reported.

The radical candor approach involves asking:

How can I help my employees be the best version of themselves?

How can I best let them know how they can improve and move to the next level?

What do they have to share in response?

There’s no question that vulnerabilities can bubble up to the surface whenever radical candor is at play, but Scott makes it clear that addressing issues early on is better than letting them go unchecked — which can lead to far greater pain and misunderstanding.

The radical candor I’ve received over the years has helped me to become a better listener. It has pushed me out of my comfort zone, helped me aim for higher goals, and helped me lead with a more humble confidence. With employees and colleagues alike, I look at radical candor as an opportunity to share two-way feedback in a spirit of good faith and growth. It’s truth-to-power in a safe space.

Scott says radical candor is more than just “part of a job.” She sees it as a “moral obligation” to share the truth as you see it in order to challenge and be challenged in return. While there’s no denying the truth can hurt, the truth can also set both the manager and employee free in terms of improved trust and communication — helping to foster far greater success in the long run.

I encourage you to learn more about how you can give and receive radically candid feedback in the spirit of helping others thrive and becoming the best version of yourself. It will change the way you navigate your life and career.

[Related: Setting Expectations: A Quick Tip for People Managers]

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book “This Is Not the Career I Ordered” and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community College system and contributes to Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, Medium, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. Her online video series about career and life empowerment for women is on YouTube. She hosts the three-time award winning podcast, Your Working Life, on iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Her TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure and defining success on your own terms is available on YouTube.

Originally published at https://www.ellevatenetwork.com.



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