Direct Reports And Radical Candor: 5 Tips For Giving Guidance And Feedback

Radical Candor

What is Radical Candor?

Radical Candor is about more than just “being professional.” It’s about giving a damn about the people you work with, sharing more than just your work self, and encouraging everyone who reports to you to do the same.

I’m listening to you because I want to develop the skills and the team I’ll need to succeed.”

Of course, it is, but most people struggle with doing these things. Challenging people generally pisses them off, and at first, that doesn’t seem like a good way to build a relationship or to show that you “Care Personally.” And yet challenging people is often the best way to show them that you care when you’re the boss. This dimension I call “Challenge Directly.”

Radical Candor

1. Get Feedback From Your Direct Reports Before You Give It

While some bosses consider themselves beyond reproach, this kind of one-way-street thinking won’t help you build trust with your direct reports. The best way to make your team more receptive to receiving feedback is to ask them to give it to you first. Being the boss doesn’t mean you automatically get respect from people, but the authority does have an automatic impact on what people will say to you. Unfortunately, people are primed to mistrust you based on all the preconceived notions against bosses.

Be persistent

Convince your team you really do want to hear what they really think. Show them that your requests for criticism are genuine and that you sincerely appreciate it when they say what they think. Keep asking for criticism regularly. Try different approaches, venues, and situations. Whatever you do, don’t accept an environment where you aren’t getting the feedback you need to be successful.

Reward the candor

It’s not enough to appreciate critique from your team, or not to get defensive. You have to reward the candor. People need to see and feel that there is a benefit to criticizing you. While it may take time for people to build up enough courage to give difficult feedback, reward small wins along the way.

2. Remember: Radical Candor is HIP

Once you’re ready to offer feedback to others, it’s important to remember that radically candid feedback is specific and sincere, and kind and clear. The best way to ensure you’re delivering this type of feedback is to remember that Radical Candor is HIP: Humble, Helpful, Immediate, In person, Private criticism / Public praise, and Not about Personality.

Humble

Don’t be arrogant. Be curious. Deliver your feedback firmly and with supporting rationale, but be open to push-back. Listen with true intent to understand so that you get full command of both perspectives before agreeing or disagreeing.

Helpful

You don’t have to have all the answers. Simply exposing your intent to be helpful offers clarity to the other person about your intentions. Most people will want to hear whatever it is you’re going to say.

Immediate

Feedback has a short half-life. When you give feedback while the details are all fresh in your mind, you can be much more specific. You also give the person a better chance to improve immediately.

In Person

The clarity of your feedback gets measured not at your mouth, but the other person’s ear. The majority of communication is non-verbal, and you won’t really know if the other person understood what you were saying if you can’t see the reaction. When talking in person, you can make adjustments based on their body language and emotions. If you work with a remote team, opt for a video call so you can still communicate face to face.

Private Criticism / Public Praise

A good rule for feedback is praise in public, criticize in private. Public criticism tends to trigger a defensive reaction and make it much harder for a person to accept they’ve made a mistake and learn from it. Public praise tends to make the recipient feel great, and it encourages others to emulate whatever they did that was great.

Not About Personality

Make your feedback about the work the person has done, rather than about the person. “I think that’s wrong” is more effective than “You’re wrong.” And “That was a great presentation because X, Y, Z” is more beneficial than “You’re great at presentations!”

Radical Candor

3. Think Before You Speak

Before you offer praise or criticism, do these three things. Get clear in your own mind about how you intend to help, share your intention to be helpful, and offer helpful context.

  • Once you know what you want to say and why state your intention to be helpful. Perhaps the simplest advice I have to give here is for you to tell the person that you are trying to be helpful. Try a little preamble for hard criticism. For example, try saying, in words that feel like you, “I’m going to tell you something because if I were in your shoes I’d want to know so I could fix it.” Simply exposing your intent to be helpful offers clarity to the other person about your intentions. Most people will want to hear whatever it is you’re going to say.
  • Show, don’t tell, is the best advice I’ve ever gotten for writing good fiction — but it also applies to feedback. The more clearly you show what is good or bad, the more helpful your feedback will be. Often you’ll be tempted not to describe the details because they are so painful. You want to spare the person the pain and yourself the awkwardness of uttering the words out loud.

I’m going to tell you something because if I were in your shoes I’d want to know so I could fix it.”

Being precise can feel awkward. For example, I once had to say, “When we were in that meeting and you passed a note to Catherine that said ‘Check out Elliot picking his nose–I think he just nicked his brain,’ Elliot wound up seeing it. It pissed him off unnecessarily, made it harder for you to work together, and was the single biggest contributing factor to our being late on this project.”

4. Manage Your Emotions, Not Those Your Direct Report

When you’re delivering difficult feedback, even in a caring way, people are likely to get emotional. That’s OK. While you might be tempted to deliver feedback you know will elicit strong emotions in email, chat, or on the phone to avoid awkwardness, in-person conversations are best for two big reasons. (If your team is remote, video is the next best option to an in-person conversation.)

  • Most communication is nonverbal. When you see a person’s body language and facial expression, you can adjust how you are delivering the message so they can best hear it. The best way to tell if the other person understands you clearly is to look into their eyes, notice if they are fidgeting, folding their arms, etc.
Radical Candor

5. Have Regular Career and Professional Development Conversations With Direct Reports

Each person is on their own growth trajectory. And as a boss, it’s a mistake to push everyone in the same direction. To be successful, you need to balance growth and stability, and the only way to do this is to take the time to establish real relationships with the people who report to you and have regular career and performance development conversations.

I’m telling you this because I want to help you develop the skills you need to succeed and because it’s not fair to your peers if I don’t tell you.”

The atomic building block of Radical Candor is the two-minute impromptu development conversation. The motivation to solicit guidance and to act on it is the desire to improve, to grow, to do good work, and then make it better, to build strong relationships, and then make them stronger.

Need more help practicing Radical Candor?

You need The Feedback Loop (think Groundhog Day meets The Office), a 5-episode workplace comedy series starring David Alan Grier that brings to life Radical Candor’s simple framework for navigating candid conversations.

Kim Scott’s New Book, Just Work, is Available for Pre-Order

Just Work Kim Scott

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