In my early thirties, I was part of an executive team where the next youngest member was ten years older. For a period of time, there were two other women on it. Then just one other. Everyone was professional with each other, but there were constant underlying tensions. Adding to them, the core print advertising business was shrinking, the digital side not gaining enough ground fast enough, layoffs were somewhat regular, and union negotiations difficult. In the midst of this, I did a 360 feedback exercise. It was what I expected from my team and manager. But from peers, I heard words like “sharp elbowed” and “overly critical.” It prompted me to hire a coach, make significant changes, and cemented my belief in the power of feedback to improve performance.
However, I really wish Radical Candor had been available then. Kim Scott’s simple two by two framework where the top right box is the intersection of “Care Personally” and “Challenge Directly” makes that entire situation make so much more sense now. I was very good at the challenge directly portion with my peers. I was not very good with the care personally part. Which meant I landed in the “Obnoxious Aggressive” quadrant far too often.
The irony is that in my personal life, I tend to flip the other way. I tend to care personally a lot and in doing so avoid conflict and challenging people directly. That lands me into the “Ruinous Empathy” box, something I’ve realized is just as toxic.
I’m grateful that my comfort level in most situations for “challenging directly” keeps me out of the “Manipulative Insincerity” box, where you neither care personally nor say anything. Since that box is the birthplace of most corporate backstabbing, it also explains why I gravitate towards environments without Game of Thrones level politics.
We recently put all of Team WeSpire through six weeks of Radical Candor training. Even though I had read the book, one of the most important reminders for me was the power of praise. As Kim writes,
“We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, more from criticism than from praise. Why, then, is it important to give more praise than criticism? Several reasons. First, 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. Second, it encourages people to keep improving. In other words, the best praise does a lot more than just make people feel good. It can actually challenge them directly.”
Do I praise people regularly? Not regularly enough. In fact, I’m thoroughly guilty of having told a number of people in the past, “If I don’t say anything, that means you are doing a great job.”
So I’m trying to be more intentional with praise, without people thinking that an invasion of the body snatchers has occurred. It’s harder than it sounds. You need to be mindful when a positive thought occurs in your head and remember to get it out in that moment. When you get it out, it needs to be specific, not “great job” – my go to “lazy praise” statement. But when you do it well, it’s a delight to see the look that comes over a kid, a spouse or a teammate’s face.
I am hopeful that arming our team with this framework will help increase psychological safety because when challenged directly, we know it comes from a place of caring for each other. I’m hopeful it keeps out the politics and insincerities, the obnoxiousness, and the ruinous silences as we grow. I hope it helps our team spend more time in that top quadrant in their personal lives as well.
Can you imagine what it would be like if we could live in a radically candid world? What we could accomplish if we didn’t spend so much time tearing others down, undermining with insincerity or avoiding difficult conversations? If people knew we really cared about each other?
That world starts with us. So let’s get radically candid.
Quote of the Week: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”George Bernard Shaw