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Radical Candor: Part 1 – Getting Real

Radical Candor: Part 1 – Getting Real

It’s performance review season for many organizations, despite the pandemic, and that can mean difficult conversations. Managers are giving evaluations that can be hard to deliver, as well as hard for those on the receiving end to hear.

In her book Radical Candor: How To Be A Great Boss And A Kick Ass Citizen, author, coach, and former tech exec Kim Scott advises that the more straightforward and honest those conversations can be, the better – not only during the review process, but as a matter of course throughout the year.

In her INBOUND BOLD talk based on her book, Scott drives home the case for straightforward honesty, explaining that while the truth can hurt, holding back the truth in a work situation is doing a disservice to your employees in the long run.

Scott’s radical candor epiphany came during her tenure at Google when, after knocking a presentation to CEO Eric Schmidt out of the park, Scott’s boss at the time, Sheryl Sandberg, asked her to meet.

[Related: 10 Things I Learned from Sheryl Sandberg's New Class About Resiliency]

Scott assumed Sandberg would be singing her praises (after all, her sales were beyond impressive), however, Sandberg pulled Scott aside for another reason. After some complimentary words, Sandberg let Scott know she’d been consistently interjecting “um”s throughout her presentation, and went so far as to offer her a speech coach to help.

Scott was completely flummoxed by this. She’d given hundreds of presentations over the course of her career and nobody had ever mentioned the “um”s. When Scott brushed the observation off as just an inconsequential “verbal tic,” Sandberg realized she needed to be far more direct:

When you say ‘um’ every third word, it makes you sound stupid and insecure.

Needless to say, this brought Scott to a full stop.

Sandberg now had Scott’s attention, and, needless to say, Scott went on to get the coaching that helped her eliminate “um”s from her presentations. While it pulled Scott up short at the time, she appreciated the fact that Sandberg “got real” with her – helping her to up her game tremendously going forward.

[Related: Leading Yourself Before Becoming a Leader at Work]

“Getting real” with an employee and putting radical candor into practice can be daunting. Those difficult conversations, as a manager or as an employee on the receiving end, can involve discussing “um”s in presentations or far more serious issues. However, if the straightforward truth is employed using the best of intentions to support and build up an employee, rather than tear them down, it builds a strong foundation of trust.

It’s where the “Be A Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” part of Scott’s title comes into play. It’s about caring for your employees.

A key element of the exchange between Sandberg and Scott was trust. Sandberg had regularly demonstrated that she truly cared about Scott (and their entire team) and that she wanted the best for her, so there was already an established trust when Sandberg pulled Scott aside.

Whatever our level in an organization, if we’re lucky enough to have a boss or a colleague who cares – who is willing to let us know how we can improve our performance with straightforwardness, honesty, and positive intentions – it can help us grow professionally, as well as personally, even though it may be hard to hear in the moment.

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of radical candor, Kim Scott reminds us that it’s:

…something that will help you do the very best work of your life, but, more importantly…something that will help you build the very best relationships of your career.

[Related: Getting More Women in the Boardroom — Starting with You]

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Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community College system and contributes to Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, Medium, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. Her online video series about career and life empowerment for women is on YouTube. Caroline hosts the three-time award winning podcast, Your Working Life, on iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Her TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure and defining success on your own terms is available on YouTube.


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