Radical Candor for individual contributors

I win a lot of contests.

In NHL hockey games, there are 3 periods of play with intermissions between. Often, they’ll choose 2-3 people from the crowd of 20,000 people and ask them to play a funny game to win a prize. I don’t know how, but I’ve been chosen for these dumb games THREE times. I’m incredibly lucky. If you consider getting to dress up in a sumo suit incredibly lucky, that is.

Me dressed in a sumo suit with a hockey stick
Does this outfit make me look fat?

I also won the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott from the Inside Intercom podcast a couple years ago.

This book sat unread until recently because I didn’t think I’d get anything from it.

This is a book for managers. It says it right there on the cover: “be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity”. I’m not a manager. But I’m still glad I read it. There are lots of techniques that you can use even if you’re not a boss. I’ll touch on them here. But first…

What is Radical Candor?

Radical Candor = Caring personally + challenging directly. This means forming meaningful relationships with the people around you. Also, calling their bullshit.

If you don’t care personally but you do challenge directly then it’s called Obnoxious Aggression.

If you care personally but don’t challenge directly, that’s Ruinous Empathy.

If you do neither, then it’s Manipulative Insincerity.

I am guilty of Ruinous Empathy. I avoid criticism in my personal and professional relationships. Growing up, I avoided conflict at all costs. I’ve improved a little at that lately, but I’m still not great. This book has reminded me that challenging others is not something to be afraid of. It’s great, as long as it comes from a genuinely caring place.

You don’t have to be a manager to be radically candid. You don’t even need to have a job. You can apply Radical Candor to any relationship. For me, that means having tough conversations with coworkers, friends, and even family. No more ignoring the elephant in the room.

Soliciting feedback

Another part of this book that I found useful was how to encourage radically candid feedback. The author suggests using a question like this:

Is there anything I can do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?

Kim Scott’s go-to question for soliciting feedback

I love that, because it’s a very open question. There’s no way to get out of it with a one word answer. Again, you don’t need to be a boss to use this technique. In fact, I plan on using it on my boss this week!

Situation, Behavior, Impact

Another great tip in this book is to give feedback immediately. Whether it’s praise or criticism, it’s best to tell the person as soon as it comes up. An effective way to structure the feedback is:

First, describe the situation. What was happening before the feedback-worthy event happened?

Then, describe the behavior. What was the feedback-worthy event? Describe this factually, without any judgement.

Last, explain the impact. What was the result in terms of numbers or even feelings?

I’m often impressed by my coworkers. Often, I’ll think “Wow! She’s doing a great job on this,” or “He did something I wouldn’t have even thought of!” But I rarely speak up because I worry about coming across as patronizing or arrogant. Who am I to judge their work? I’m not their manager. But if I state the situation, their behavior, and the impact, it’s much more objective. The same goes for criticism.

Superstars and Rock Stars

I had an epiphany while reading Radical Candor: stability is important to teams. Promotions and job switches aren’t the only way to reward excellent performance. Kim Scott split excellent performers into two groups: Superstars and Rock Stars.

The excellent performers whose careers are growing rapidly are Superstars. They are filled with ambition and ideas and are always learning and improving.

The excellent performers with gradual career growth are Rock Stars. They are dependable and solid like a rock. They don’t always have their sights set on their next promotion. Instead, they bring value because of their dependability and deep knowledge.

I’ve had steep growth during my career. In about ten years, I’ve moved from Chemical Engineering to Quality Assurance to Software Engineering to User Experience. I’ve never spent more than 2.5 years without switching roles or companies. There have been more lateral moves than promotions, but I take a lot of pride in my breadth of experience.

I’m getting close to that 2.5 year mark in my current role. While I never stop learning, I don’t see myself moving roles soon, in part because I’m about to enter the wild world of parenthood.

I’m switching from Superstardom to a Rock Stardom. If I hadn’t read this book, I would have been ashamed of that. But now I’m going to be a proud Rock Star.

Rock Stars are valuable, too!
Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

I’ll probably be a boss one day too

I don’t have any immediate plans or aspirations to manage people, but chances are, I will one day. Many managers are thrust into the position without much training. If that day comes for me, I’m already (somewhat) prepared.

In the meantime, I can start using these techniques on projects that I lead or even collaborate on.

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