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According to Kim Scott, Radical Candor happens at the intersection of Care Personally and Challenge Directly. It’s about being brutally honest, but always aiming for improvement.
When I was growing up, my parents used to say that I was “really honest” when I was really just being rude.
From my perspective, I wasn’t hurting anyone. I genuinely thought I was helping people by telling them the brutal, unadulterated truth.
This behavior stayed pretty much the same through college. I truly thought I was just being honest…and that’s a good thing, right?
Six months after I was hired, my boss asked me for a one-on-one meeting after a feedback session with my co-workers. I was so nervous. I knew that the meeting wasn’t going to go well…all I had to do was look at my co-workers’ faces. I absolutely thought my ass was toast. But when I entered his office, my boss stood up and smiled:
I started to be more conscious about my feedback and the words and language I chose during meetings. I was still very direct, but my comments were now constructive and improvement-oriented. But I still felt like I wasn’t quite getting it right.
Last year I started a new job in a foreign country (spoiler alert: the job was Movement Coordinator at the Fuckup Nights HQ in Mexico City). As time passed, I developed a friendship with my boss (Global Movement Coordinator Ricardo Castañeda). He was the person who first introduced me to the concept of Radical Candor:
That’s when I understood the importance of being direct and honest while also respecting and caring for other people’s feelings.
According to author Kim Scott, ‘Radical Candor’ is based on the idea that it is possible to both care personally about someone—truly caring about the other person, not about whether you are winning a popularity contest— while also challenging them directly—sharing your perspective and inviting the other person to do the same. It’s about being honest, but always being empathetic and aiming for improvement.
It is important to recognize that Radical Candor, based on empathy and constructiveness, is not the same as brutal honesty, which Scott also refers to as ‘Obnoxious aggression.’ And although obnoxious aggression isn’t ideal, it is often better than nothing, as it still encourages conversation and transparency.
However, ‘Ruinous empathy’ is even more damaging than obnoxious aggression. According to Scott, “Ruinous empathy is ‘nice’ but ultimately unhelpful or even damaging. It’s seeing somebody with their fly down, but, not wanting to embarrass them, saying nothing, with the result that 15 more people see them with their fly down — more embarrassing for them.”
‘Manipulative insincerity’ is the worst approach of all and is neither caring nor challenging. Managers that use a manipulative insecurity approach are focused on always being right and are neither empathetic nor constructive.
One of the things that really made an impression on me as I was reading Scotts’ Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity is how clear she is that caring personally is all about common human decency and doesn’t necessarily require a deep and intense personal relationship as your starting point. This is when I truly understood how beautiful and powerful this mindset can be: it’s not about being loved or accepted, it’s about caring about others, helping them be the best they can be, and learning to develop good communication skills.
I’m realizing that I’ve pretty much been an asshole my whole life—a caring asshole, but an asshole nonetheless. And it’s been a big challenge for me to adjust my habits to show people that I really do care personally and that I’m coming from a place of love when I share my opinions or feedback. But I’m grateful for Ricardo’s radical candor, which has allowed me to be radically candid with myself and realize how my obnoxious aggression was limiting both my team and myself.
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