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Would Radical Candor Improve Your Workplace – or Start the Cubicle Wars?

Topics: Work Culture
The way we work is changing. Globalization and technological advances have altered industries and the job market itself. Workers have changed, too. Their values and priorities are different. Today’s worker values autonomy, inspiration, and having an impact, often setting these priorities above everything else, even salary. Perhaps because of these changes, there’s a new workplace trend that you should know about. The concept is called radical candor, and it’s already shaking up offices that are adopting the practice. Let’s take a closer look.
coworkers discussing
Image Credit: gradyreese/Getty Images
  1. Radical candor = bold, blunt, direct honesty.

In the last few years, more offices have been embracing a new, bold method of communication. Radical candor, as it’s been dubbed, is meant to improve individual performance and relationships among workers. The intention is also to challenge a workplace culture that some have started to view as overly nice. The concern is that, if workers are too careful not to hurt their colleagues’ feelings, productivity and collaboration will suffer. A “culture of candor” does away with all that. Instead, coworkers are asked, encouraged even, to be radically honest with their criticisms. The hope is that this will improve relationships within the company as well, because problems won’t fester below the surface, and there will be less negative gossip.

“None of these companies want people to be mean, per se. They just think it’s better to err on the side of honesty,” said Rachel Feintzeig, management reporter for The Wall Street Journal, in a video interview at the site. “One CEO told me it’s actually more bighearted to just get things out in the open rather than talking about someone at the water cooler.”

  1. Good guidance goes a long way.

Kim Scott, executive coach and former director at Google, is one of the professionals helping to pioneer this radical approach to communication. As co-founder of Candor Inc., she now advises companies in the methods she’s distilled and honed throughout her career. Good guidance she says, is the key to success. Managers especially need to become skilled at giving it, getting it, and encouraging it in others.

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But, good guidance is not just honest. It’s also caring. Scott illustrates the method using a basic graph divided into four quadrants. The vertical access is labeled “caring personally” and the horizontal “challenge directly.” When actions fall into that top right quadrant, hitting both marks, you’re practicing radical honesty the way Scott intended. She explains how to do this more specifically using the acronym HHIPP, and through sharing a story about a time a boss shared some helpful criticism with her.

“Radical candor is 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,” Scott told First Round Review. “My boss didn’t say, ‘You’re stupid.’ She said, ‘You sounded stupid when you said um.’ There’s a big difference between the two.”

  1. Can we find that balance?

Proponents of this philosophy and practice are wise to advise that a caring and helpful attitude should go hand in hand with the brutal honesty practice. It’s logical that there is a lot of value to honest feedback. But, research has found that kindness pays, too.

It also seems logical that people respond to these methods in a wide variety of ways. As you might guess, some enjoy this practice more than others. And, some managers, and coworkers, are better at delivering the feedback than others.

It’s a method that takes time and practice to hone. There is value to this approach, but it may be best to proceed with some degree of caution. Managers and workers would benefit from receiving real training in these methods before attempting to adopt them. This is the kind of practice that can be wonderful when done well, or just the opposite.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you feel radical candor practices would go over at your workplace? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Mark Zale

This is a practice that needs to be adopted by so many organizations. Far too much time is spent in crafting communication in just the right way as to ensure that every box is checked; nobody’s feeling become hurt; every day has sunshine; you tried your best, cultural sensitivities. This is far overdue but is not new. American organizational structures were built through a communicative process characterized, largely, as civil discourse. Brava!

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