In Kim Scott’s introduction to her book, Radical Candor, she describes a frantic time at work where she was confronted with back to back, high emotion, high stress demands and interruptions. She called her coach and complained, “Is my job to build a great company, or am I really just some sort of emotional babysitter?” Her coach’s response is the most honest and difficult thing that a coach has to say, “This is not babysitting…It’s called management, and it is your job!”
IT IS YOUR JOB!!
Managing people is the hardest and MOST Important part of the work we do. In almost all work environments the cost of “human capital” is the largest part of the budget and yet we prefer to skirt the techniques that produce optimal results. We make sure the automobile fleet gets oil changes, brake checks and lube jobs on schedule, we change the air conditioning filters regularly and schedule a repair call as soon as we hear a funny noise. But when it comes to people, we postpone performance conversations and avoid or couch feedback that would improve an employee’s results because we don’t have the time.
The truth is, even with the myriad of management books, training programs and seminars on the market, we avoid dealing with our employees because of the emotional toll it takes – and the more we avoid addressing issues, the harder it gets.
What I appreciate about Kim Scott’s book is she clarifies the types of responses we make to employees on two axes – “caring personally” and “challenging directly,” and allows us to reflect on the outcomes of each of these approaches.
When we combine caring personally and challenging directly we have radical candor – which is telling people what they need to know in a way that is kind, compassionate and above all, clear.
When we challenge directly without caring personally, we move into obnoxious aggression. I think about folks who pride themselves on “telling it like it is,” or “brutal honestly.” The truth is more important than you or your feelings. Now the plus side of this approach is that at least you know where you stand and what’s going on. However, as you can imagine, it does not create an environment of trust and safety. If you need to be ready for the two by four to the back of the head at any moment, you will be keeping energy in reserve that could be better used for creative, productive oriented work.
On the other hand, if we care personally but do not challenge directly, Scott describes a way of engaging she calls ruinous empathy. In this case, I am so worried about your feelings (or perhaps concerned about my own discomfort?) that I only share positives, hedge about any issues or concerns, and never tell you what I really think or what is really needed. Scott shares a story of having to terminate an employee who was producing poor quality work over ten months. During the termination interview he asked, “but why didn’t you tell me?” How much do we invest in failed hires that could have been saved with more clarity early on?
What is significant about ruinous empathy is how much damage it does under the guise of being nice: loss of trust, loss of relationship, loss of quality work, loss of time, loss of employee morale. There is nothing nice about it.
And finally, in the fourth quadrant we have manipulative insincerity, engagement where the individual doesn’t care and doesn’t challenge. They avoid the truth, say what needs to be said to get through the moment and move on without any relationship or feedback at all. At least with ruinous empathy there is a sense that the person actually cares and is just stuck in “nice” mode. Here we’ve got nothing.
Scott challenges us to assess our own actions and responses whether as a manager or a colleague. Few of us get it right all of the time, but by being cognizant of what we are doing and the impact our actions are likely to have, we have the opportunity to change and improve.
And that is where the book gets even more interesting! Because in amongst the stories and examples, Scott provides useful recommendations on how to begin to implement radical candor in the workplace. It is solid people-management best-practice!
She discusses strategies for both formal and just-in-time performance feedback, team development, addressing bias, structuring meetings and getting results. And, she provides time frames and time lines to address the anxiety about how to do all that and “my real job!”
Ultimately, it is about creating an environment where employees can “bring their best selves to work.”
Check out her book and go to her website: radicalcandor.com
 Scott, Kim. (2017) Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. New York: St. Martins Press.