Radical Candor

The single most important thing a boss can do, is focus on guidance: giving it, receiving it, and encouraging it. Guidance, which is fundamentally just praise and criticism, is usually called “feedback,” but feedback is screechy and makes us want to put our hands over our ears.

A simple tool for ensuring that your team gets the right kind of guidance is “radical candor.”

Criticizing your employees when they screw up is not just your job, it’s actually your moral obligation. The source of everything respectable in man, either as an intellectual or as a moral being, is that his errors are corrigible. The whole strength and value of human judgment depends on the one property that it can be set right when it is wrong. You have to tell people when you think they’re wrong or their work isn’t good enough.

Radical candor, then, results from a combination of caring personally and challenging directly. But what does it look like in practice? Radical candor is (HHIPP) humble, it’s helpful, it’s immediate, it’s in person—in private if it’s criticism and in public if it’s praise—and it doesn’t personalize.

The best place to be on the quadrant (Care Personally / Challenge Directly) is Radical Candor – “I care and I will provide direct, challenging feedback.”

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth it, you need only consider the alternatives — the other three quadrants of the graph: When you challenge directly without caring personally, you fall into obnoxious aggression. Which is bad, but better than not challenging directly. In other words, people are better off to have clear, unfiltered feedback over no feedback at all, or even worse, having someone go around the individual’s back and undermine them (manipulative insincerity, the worst possible quadrant). The vast majority of management mistakes happen in the quadrant called ruinous empathy.

Summing-up: Encourage your whole team to be radically candid. Radical candor builds trust.

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