Radical candor, as Kim Scott puts it, is what managers share with employees they care about.
That might seem counter-intuitive, but it rings true over and over in my experience. The sting of radical candor can be painful at first. Then, after the initial sting wears off, candor gives way to clarity and conviction.
Imagine receiving a piece of feedback like this one from Sheryl Sandberg (from the article linked above):
You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.
This could be devastating, especially if you respected the person delivering it. But not nearly as devastating as if it were delivered by a person who cared very little about you. Worst of all would be not hearing the feedback at all.
In fact, most teams, organizations, and relationships suffer from exactly that: a lack of willingness to communicate directly in the name of helping each other improve. Critical feedback might be one of the most vitally important tools for person and professional growth.
Normally, the burden lies with the individual seeking feedback. They have to ask directly and repeatedly in order to hear anything close to critical. Why?
The risk of being the messenger looms large. The potential to hurt someone’s feelings, experience the disappointment in their face, or be subject to their backlash is real. What’s more, my generation has, on average, been raised to believe they are winners no matter their performance. This sentiment steals the joy of grit, improvement, and mastery.
Radical candor, in other words, unlocks a person’s potential when it’s used carefully.
According to Scott, radical candor can only be valuable in an environment where people personally care for their teammates and where they are willing to criticize one another directly. “HHIPP” is the acronym she gives for how that radical candor should be delivered:
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.
Next time you find yourself thinking about all of the feedback you wish you could deliver to your direct report or peer, consider this: if you were him, would you want to hear that feedback from someone who cared about you so that you could grow as a professional?
Could you be the person who cares enough to deliver direct criticism? How could you take the time to incorporate HHIPP into your feedback delivery? Will you master the criticism skills to help your teammates reach their potential?
Being the kind of person who cares enough to create change pays off. It won’t be easy, but it matters.