I got my first job fresh out of high school, four years after my parents told me I should have. I was eighteen and exceedingly optimistic. My manager, Jeremy, was “great”, I would tell people, although admittedly, at the time, all I had was a gut feeling. And, to be honest, even today, my definition of great management, and my understanding of how to manage others sometimes feels more like a gut feeling than anything else. That’s a lot of the reason why I attended a SXSW Interactive led by Christa Quarrels and Kim Scott called “Radical Candor: How to Say What You Really Think”.
If you are a woman in tech, curious about how to be a better leader, or just want to get to know some really impressive women, it is worth looking up Scott and Quarrels. Scott is the co-founder of Candor, Inc, a company she started after leading teams at AdSense, YouTube, Google, and Apple University. While Quarrels, CEO of OpenTable, holds a slew of past executive positions in her pocket from companies such as Next-door, Disney, and Stifel Financial.
The general idea of Radical Candor is that being a better boss and co-worker are built off of communicating care and being willing to challenge at the same time, or as Scott would say, “care personally and challenge directly”. While it seems so simple, it’s exceedingly rare, largely due to the fact that in order to care personally, you have to be willing to bring your whole self to work, and they do mean, your whole self, emotions included. Quarrels and Scott presented this idea as a graph with the X-axis being “Challenge Directly” and the Y-axis being “Care Personally”.
However, what was most interesting was learning that throughout our careers as we play the roles of leading others and being led, we will find ourselves in every quadrant at some point, because Radical Candor is a sliding scale.
According to Quarrels, eighty-five percent of mistakes happen in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant. Most people face Ruinous Empathy when they Care Personally, but don’t manage to Challenge Directly. Quarrels told the story of an employee that she cared deeply for, but failed to give feedback to in terms of how he could be a better manager, at least until his year end review where he was not promoted because of his lack of performance. Quarrels made it clear that she had failed as a manager because she failed to speak up and challenge her employee directly.
When you Challenge Directly, but fail to Care Personally, you’ve found yourself in the Obnoxious Aggression quadrant. One of the things to note about Obnoxious Aggression is that it just doesn’t work. Quarrels brought up the phrase “can I give you some feedback” because she sees it as not only ineffective in getting your message across, but also a sure way to “Lizard Brain”, the fear induced state of non-thinking. If you’re familiar with front stabbing and brutal honesty, then you’re familiar with Obnoxious Aggression. These tactics should be avoided because they take you far away from caring personally about the what you are doing and the team that you are doing it with.
Manipulative Insincerity happens when you don’t manage to care or challenge. It often comes across as passive aggression with no attempt to really get anything done. Scott stated that you can avoid Manipulative Insincerity by showing that you care, but never backing off of a challenge or a point you are trying to make.
But, how can you encourage Radical Candor in your workplace? It starts with creating a hierarchy-free environment where people don’t talk badly behind other’s backs. If people are too focused on hierarchy or complaining to others rather than the person directly, creating a candid environment in which people feel free to speak up and create change will be harder than you might think.
It all comes down to the idea that Caring Personally and Challenging Directly is something you owe to everyone, from the high school intern to the CEO. For me, it means no longer having to approach being a better co-worker or manager with only my gut to guide me, but rather having concrete ideas to direct the way that I communicate. Hopefully this also helps you to guide your future conversions to embrace the humanity of the people you work with and communicate directly.