Pushing Through the Awkward: How Radical Candor Helps You Be More Direct
April 29, 2018
If honesty is the best policy, then why is it so hard?
I’m talking about when your boss asks your opinion and you hem and haw, not wanting to offend, or when your intern messes something up and you’d rather fix it yourself than explain what she did wrong.
Or, maybe it’s something as simple as trying to decide on a dinner spot with your friend—they want Chinese, you’re dying for pizza, but you don’t want to speak your mind.
Or your sister does something that irks you, but instead of acknowledging it, you say nothing.
Maybe it’s because you grew up in an uber polite environment. Maybe you’re worried about being seen as “aggressive.” Maybe you’re a Libra and avoid conflict like the plague. (Just me?)
We’re trained from a young age that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all, which is why we often fear giving critical feedback. Our solution: just avoid it.
But just imagine how different our relationships could be if we were radically candid with one another.
Imagine how different our relationships could be if we were radically candid with one another.
That’s the mission of Kim Scott, whose book Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity offers brilliant workplace management advice that can also be applied to personal lives as well. The former Google and Apple executive now coaches Silicon Valley CEOs—but you don’t have to be a startup founder to benefit from her wisdom.
Radical Candor is about being honest without patronizing and being direct without being aggressive. This sweet spot of praise and criticism can strengthen your relationships with the people around you.
Radical Candor is about being honest without patronizing and being direct without being aggressive.
To celebrate April 30, aka National Honesty Day (which isn’t as delicious but is equally as important as National Pi Day), here are some ways to adopt Radical Candor at home and at work—and rest easy, this feedback won’t implode your life.
1. Be Humble and Helpful
If you’re trying to be candid with someone, a spoonful of sugar—aka humility—will help the medicine go down.
“Two principles hold for any relationship: love, or at least human decency, and truth are really important,” Scott tells Shine. “The problem with the word ‘truth’ is it implies a certain level of arrogance. If I say, ‘I’m going to tell you the truth,’ I’m kind of implying I have a pipeline to God, and that’s not a great way to start a conversation.”
That’s why Scott calls her approach candor and not honesty. Whereas honesty is more closely conencted to "telling the truth," candor is simply the quality of being open, sincere, and straightforward.
When you’re trying to give someone else feedback, don’t pretend you’re on a high horse or that you know better. Think of it like you’re telling someone they have spinach in their teeth or their zipper is down—you’re trying to help!
2. Know the Opposite of Radical Candor
What can help you master Radical Candor is knowing what it doesn’t look like. In her book, Scott coins other names for guidance that don’t work as well.
Obnoxious Aggression is the Devil Wears Prada approach—being overly critical without showing someone you care. (You might have experienced a boss or two like this.)
Ruinous Empathy is when you’re overly concerned about appearing nice and want to avoid creating tension, so you praise what shouldn’t be praised—and get annoyed when nothing changes.
Ruinous Empathy is when you’re overly concerned about appearing nice.
Or, sometimes we fall down a well of Manipulative Insecurity. “When you’re overly worried about how people will perceive you, you’re less willing to say what needs to be said,” Scott writes.
I know this one well. Years ago, when I was an editor at a magazine, one of my writers turned in a draft that needed some work. Did I offer feedback and return it to the writer to give them a second chance? Nope. I rewrote the entire piece and—what’s worse—sent it back with an email that said “Great job on this.” Totally insincere! Of course, it backfired.
I was too worried about being seen as the “bad guy,” but then created much more conflict and drama in the end. Lesson learned.
Radical Candor is the antidote to all of these—you show that you care about the outcome, while directly challenging what needs to be challenged.
3. You Must Care Personally
Radical candor goes down much smoother if the other person knows you care about them already. Whether it’s a friend or a co-worker, make sure you’re taking time to show you’re invested in their growth.
Try talking about your hopes and goals, and ask about theirs as well. Getting deeper on the reg will lay the groundwork for more honest conversations in the future. The next time you share candid feedback, that person can draw on your supportive relationship—and that can build an even stronger connection.
“If somebody tells you you’re making a mistake in a way that shows they care about you and your growth, not only does it help you grow professionally, but it helps builds trust with that person,” Scott says.
4. Praise in Public, Criticize in Private
Giving more praise than criticism is crucial, writes Scott, as it guides people in the right direction. "It's just as important to let people know what to do more of as what to do less of," she writes, and it encourages people to keep improving. The best praise does a lot more than just make people feel good, she explains—it gets specific.
Giving more praise than criticism is crucial.
“A big part of what leaders do for organizations is to show them what success looks like, and radically candid praise shows people what is good with great specificity," Scott says. “[A leader] explains why it’s good and offers additional context.”
5. Be Quick About It
Rip off that Band-Aid. Being candid with both positive and negative praise is best done ASAP and in person. There’s a reason the saying “don’t go to bed angry” has kicked around for decades. It’s always better to deal with an issue as it happens instead of letting it boil over.
6. Don’t Critique Personality
This means whatever you’re critiquing isn’t about them exactly, but about how something could be improved—and that you’re showing your intention is good. You must care personally, but not personalize. That’s the difference between saying “that idea isn’t smart” and “you’re not smart.”
You must care personally, but not personalize.
“The most important thing to remember is Radical Candor is measured not at your mouth but at the other person’s ear,” Scott says. “What’s radically candid for me might be brutal for my sister. Everybody’s different. The important thing is to start off in a neutral way and gauge the reaction of the other person.”
7. Finally, Just Say What You Think
Most people have filters that prevent them from speaking their truth, but sometimes you need to just say it. And now, hopefully, armed with some of these tools like praising often, embracing your humility, and making it quick—you can.
Read next: How to Speak Up, Even When It Feels Awkward