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How To Be Radically Candid with Kim Scott

How do you give difficult, impactful feedback in your workplace without offending anyone or being misconstrued?

“Pause, right now, and think about that moment in your career when someone told you something that stung a bit at the time, but stood you in good stead for the next 10 years. That is radical candour.”

If you just do one thing this week, listen to Kim Scott, co-creator of an executive education company and workplace comedy series based on her best-selling book Radical Candor – Be A Kick Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

Kim led AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick teams at Google and then joined Apple University to develop and teach “Managing at Apple.” She’s also been a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and several other tech companies. Kim knows what she’s talking about. 

In this latest episode she talks about why it’s so difficult to be frank with people, how to be better at being candid, where you should start and more importantly, how to be radically candid in today’s workplace – i.e. how to give feedback when you’re not face to face. 

“If you’re doing it right, if you’re doing routine radical candour maintenance, it’s more like brushing and flossing. It’s not a root canal, it’s a two minute conversation.”

This is one podcast episode you don’t want to miss. We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did!

On today’s podcast:

  • The impetus to write the book 
  • What radical candour means and looks like
  • How to deliver radically candid feedback
  • How to solicit radical candour
  • Delivering feedback via video
  • Radical candour is culturally relative

Links:

Kim Scott’s Tips For How To Be Radically Candid

Kim Scott wrote Radical Candor – Be A Kick Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity because she realised that one of the biggest barriers to success is struggling to tell people when they were screwing up, but also when they were doing great things. In fact, we just aren’t great at providing feedback in general. 

“It is so instinctive to withhold, not to tell someone something because you think it might hurt their feelings. I think for most people, that’s a deeply ingrained instinct.”

For Kim, things came to a head one day when 10 people in her software company sent her the same article about how people would rather have a boss who’s really competent, but kind of an asshole, than one who’s incompetent, but really nice. She didn’t know which one she was. 

“I think we all are so locked in this dichotomy that we have to choose. It’s a false dichotomy that we have to choose between being good and kind people and being successful.”

The fact of the matter is, says Kim, is that you can be both successful and good and great at the same time. 

“Very often people think they have to be a jerk in order to be successful.”

Radical candour

“Radical candour just means care personally and challenge directly at the same time. When you can do both at the same time, it’s radical candour. When you challenge directly but you forget to show that you care personally, that is obnoxious aggression.”

If you’re struggling to see how this can be applied in real life, Kim has this suggestion:

“Pause, right now, and think about that moment in your career when someone told you something that stung a bit at the time, but stood you in good stead for the next 10 years. That is radical candour.”

Her advice for how to deliver radically candid feedback? Do it fast, like ripping off a plaster. 

Delivering radical candour requires enormous emotional discipline. It can be hard to get yourself in the moment to say it. So change your habits of communication, says Kim, and start by soliciting feedback, rather than always giving it. You want to make sure you understand how the other person is experiencing you before you give them feedback. 

How to solicit radical candour

  1. Think about the question you’re going to ask to solicit feedback. Kim cautions against keeping it simple like ‘have you got any feedback for me?’ She says it needs to be an open ended question, not something that warrants a yes or a no answer. 
  2. Your question needs to do two things to show that you really want to hear their answer:
    1. It needs to give an indication that you understand the person you’re asking feedback from. 
    2. It needs to be as much about them as it is about you. 
  3. Kim’s preferred question is: ‘what could I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?’

Radical candour maintenance

Being radically candid doesn’t mean always delivering criticism, it is about praising too. So, says Kim, make sure you’re focussing on the good stuff the person is doing too. 

But when you’re ready to offer criticism:

“If you’re doing it right, if you’re doing routine radical candour maintenance, it’s more like brushing and flossing. It’s not a root canal, it’s a two minute conversation.”

Radical candour is best had in the moment, in private if you need to address something problematic, and make sure you’re being humble, because you could be wrong about what you’re saying. 

“The reason why I call it candour and not truth is to me candour implies ‘here’s what I see’.”

Being candid on camera

“In the pre-COVID world, I would have said, have this conversation in person. But that’s not possible right now. And in fact, I’ve learned a lot about giving this kind of feedback over video.”

And do give this feedback over video, not in a phone call or an email, or something where you can’t see the other person. You need to be able to see their facial expression and their body language. You want to hear their voice and yes, you can do this over the phone, but video is better. And never do it over a text message or through a ‘feedback tool’. 

“The whole point of radical candour is take your phone, put it down, look the person in the eye or look at the little green light in your camera in your computer and and talk, have a real human conversation.”

Also, says Kim, don’t offer feedback on someone’s fundamental personality attributes because it’s very hard to change these, instead, only give feedback about things people can change. 

“Radical candour is really about love and truth at the same time. And there’s not a culture in the world that doesn’t value love and truth.”

How to begin being radically candid

  • Begin by soliciting feedback and reward the candor. 
  • Ask the question and embrace the discomfort. 
  • Shut your mouth and count to six.
  • Listen with intent to understand not to respond. 
  • Reward the candour whether it was positive or negative. 
  • Don’t ignore the small stuff.
  • When you get feedback, over correct otherwise nobody will notice you made a change. 

Book recommendations

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