What leadership and organizational behaviors would you like to change?
I had the great good fortune in 2010 to spend a week with the Dalia Lama on his tour, supporting him behind the scenes as he interacted with thousands of people. One of the things he likes to say is “recognition is liberation.” When we see, when we recognize, when we increase our self-awareness and awareness of others, then we are liberated — we are free to take a new path. Thanks to Kim Scott’s work, Radical Candor is a tool that enables us to offer feedback and empower behavior changes in all our interactions.
Some people find the word radical a little scary. Yet radical means you take the leap and have the courage to say the stuff that you were thinking anyway. And you say it within a framework that is emotionally sensitive and considerate.
What Is Radical Candor?
• The opposite of conflict avoidance! Conflict avoidance is not dealing with what is right there in front of us. Have you ever avoided something because you thought it was going to be unpleasant, but the act of avoidance resulted in a brain-dominating background process? That background process drained so much energy that you couldn’t focus on the things that you really wanted to create. But what would happen if you just sat down and dealt with the problem? In my clients’ experience, one of the most common things they say is “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” or “This was so much more painful in my mind than it was in reality!”
• The ability to give feedback that challenges the receiver directly while showing you care about them personally. We have to have both sides. We are challenging and we are caring.
• Immediate impromptu guidance. We want to do things immediately, we don’t want to let things stew.
• A leadership stance of Humble and Helpful.
The more we start to realize that life is one big collaboration and we all need each other to get stuff done, the more positive outcomes we will experience, on a personal and organizational level. There’s very little that we can do alone.
•Private if negative
•Public if positive
Radical Candor Benefits
• Makes back-stabbing impossible — either they work it out or you help them
• Makes it easier to speak truth to whomever is in power
• Will help you and your team do the best work of your careers
• Will improve the depth and quality of your relationships
Let’s dive into the quadrants of radical candor. Start to think about where you default, especially when you are in Critter State. Please note that these quadrants describe behavior, they’re not a judgment of who someone is as a person.
Obnoxious Aggression Quadrant: The person is willing to challenge directly but they don’t care personally. We’ve all encountered someone like this. Their feedback is harsh and it’s not aimed at a collaborative positive outcome. Does this make the recipient want to change their behavior? Nope. It’s easy to challenge people without caring, but ineffective in creating change.
Manipulative Insincerity Quadrant: The person isn’t willing to challenge you directly and they really don’t care about you. We have all experienced this. Imagine a visit to the DMV where they aren’t willing to help you, they hand you a pile of paperwork with a false smile and you feel stuck in a bureaucratic swamp. What experience does this behavior generate? Does it make you angry? Disgusted? Frustrated? Not helpful.
Ruinous Empathy Quadrant: The person really cares but they aren’t willing to challenge you. This is the quadrant of excessive empathy. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin did some interesting research regarding the differences between empathy and compassion. Empathy means we are stepping into their shoes, in neuroscience we call it switching, we are actually switching into them. If someone is upset, then we become upset and start to own their emotions. Empathy is tough because we lose our ability to be resourceful. We’re as stuck as the other person. We aren’t witnessing their experience, which allows us to bring resources or at least hold space for them to have their experience. Compassion, on the other hand, is the ability to hold space and go “wow, that must be really hard” and use our resources to help them.
Radical Candor Quadrant: The person is caring personally and they are willing to challenge us directly. This is the desired quadrant.
Two CEOs, Two Choices
A few months ago I was working with an executive team at a retreat. The executives were practicing radical candor and gave some feedback on a behavior they’d like to see the CEO change. He had a tendency to bully but was not eager to admit this. After a while he finally copped to it, saying “ok, this is something I need to work on. I commit to do so.” I was really proud of him. His executive team was really proud too… until the next day, when he railed at everyone again and said he wasn’t going to do this “ridiculous radical candor” and dismissed all the great work we had done the prior day.
His executive team is now discouraged. They reach out to me now and then expressing their disappointment in the CEO. But I cannot help — he isn’t willing to look into his blind spots and do the work to grow. So he’s not coachable.
A month later I was working with another executive team. In this case the CEO stood up and said “hey! I get it! I am too hard on you all! I need to change this.” And he is now doing the work. His executives are super proud of him, inspired, motivated, raising the bar on their own performance, and the company is soaring.
How To Establish Rapport & Shift Quadrants
What can shift these behaviors? When someone’s behavior is in one of the three challenging quadrants, what can you bring them that will establish rapport and why? Our good friends Safety, Belonging, Mattering.
What can you bring: belonging and mattering. First, they need to be reminded that you’re in this together (belonging) and they may be having a hard day but you know they care, that’s the kind of person they are, they are bigger than this (mattering) . Bring them back to their humanity and the caring will flow.
What can you bring: mattering first and belonging second — they need to be seen and appreciated (mattering) and asked for help. Connect to them on a human level (belonging) with a personal comment so they see you aren’t a number, you’re a human like they are. Then you’ll likely get the win-win result you want.
What can you bring: safety in order to challenge, then belonging and mattering. Here you’ll want to show them you have their back (safety), you are in this together (belonging), and you see they care enough (mattering) to speak their truth.
As you look at these four quadrants, when you go into Critter State, what’s your default? Where do you go and what story do you tell yourself? Remember, human beings are meaning making machines. When something happens, we make meaning. Our power is that we have the choice to decide if that meaning is empowering or disempowering.