What is radical candour?
Kim Scott, who’s led teams at Apple and Google, advocates delivering honest feedback directly, in person, immediately and privately.
Isn’t that kind of obvious?
Scott, speaking to anyone raised in a “if you can’t say anything nice...” family, argues that failing to candidly address a direct report’s weakness or openly challenge a workplace issue is usually about avoiding unpleasantness for oneself rather than true regard for the employee (or their colleagues). She also has her eye on bullies.
So it’s the same as being brutally honest?
No. The radical-not-brutal aspect of this workplace truth telling is that it’s done with compassion. In the Silicon Valley parlance of “bringing your whole self to work”, Scott urges bosses to care personally about their team and to find time to talk about things that are important to them. Scott recommends applying radical candour “down” and “sideways”. And if the practice doesn’t also work “up”, she says, leave the company.
How does it differ from Ray Dalio’s “radical transparency” or Brad Blanton’s 1994 book, Radical Honesty?
As Dalio explains in a 2017 TED talk, he and his Bridgewater Associates staff give each other constant, explicit and public feedback at every meeting. They use an app called the Dot Collector to rate whoever is speaking according to attributes such as commonsense and higher-level thinking.
The billionaire investor says airing and comparing criticisms “eliminates what I believe to be one of the greatest tragedies of mankind and that is people arrogantly, naively holding opinions in their minds that are wrong”. Blanton, who is a psychotherapist, writes that little white lies undermine relationships. If you think it, he says, you should say it – no matter how awful. Scott argues that straight talking is a blunt instrument that, in the absence of caring, is “obnoxious aggression”, which she regards as the second-best practice to radical candour. But, she adds, “at least people know where you stand so your team can achieve results.”
Want to know more about radical candour?
In Radical Candor: Be a Kick-ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin’s Press), Kim Scott relates the moment Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg told her that saying “um” too frequently during an otherwise successful talk “makes you sound stupid”.
Organisational psychologist Adam Grant interviews Scott and Ray Dalio in his WorkLife podcast, How To Love Criticism. In it, Scott warns against the feedback sandwich, arguing that lodging a tough truth between compliments risks it not being heard. Besides, even a 10-year-old doubts the sincerity of any praise followed by a “but”.
Granted, it was filmed on someone’s deck but Why “Don’t Take it Personally” Doesn’t Work on Candor Inc.’s YouTube channel is instructive, excruciating viewing for anyone who’s had a conversation spiral downwards after offering constructive criticism.
In Say What You Really Think, a BuzzFeed reporter spends a week in an office that interprets Scott’s ideas with an open email policy (all sent mail appears in every inbox in the company) and meetings in which team members share negative feedback. When asked for his thoughts, the author is only able to serve his criticism between two thin layers of praise.