Radical Candor Masterclass with Jonny Camara
Jonny Camara remembers a story of radical candor from his early years as a freelancer. He told our Radical Candor masterclass that he had taken the lead on a client project with another, more senior freelancer called Liz. Ten days out Jonny still hadn’t finished the pitch deck but come the day of the project, it was complete, and the client was happy.
However, Liz wasn’t. “Jonny, I know that went well, but we were underprepared,” she said. “This has happened to me once before and so I feel obliged to name it. You didn’t leave me time to do my preparation properly.”
Radical Candor = Specific, Honest
Jonny, now a Candor Coach at Radical Candor, told our masterclass participants he felt shocked and defensive.* On reflection, however, he realised Liz was speaking from a place of genuine care. This is key to giving feedback to team members and colleagues.
As well, Liz’s feedback was specific, and she articulated the impact it had on her. She then followed her feedback with an honest conversation about how they could work better together.
“I felt seen and supported, and we built one of the most successful business partnerships of my career,” says Jonny.
Care personally, challenge directly
Liz had nailed the essence of radical candor detailed in Liz Scott’s book of the same name; CARE PERSONALLY, CHALLENGE DIRECTLY.
Care Personally is about real, human relationships at work. Jonny says that when we first get a job someone will invariably say to us “Be more professional” so we learn to leave our human side at home.
At its worst, “being professional” can translate into apathy and dehumanisation (seeing people at work as “other”). Just as “Trillion Dollar Coach” Bill Campbell was fond of saying: Get to know people. Bring love into the workplace.
Challenge Directly is being “willing to piss people off,” says Jonny. He says “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all” is drilled into us in childhood he says.
However, the Radical Candor coach says that telling others the difficult truth is part of your job, and your obligation, as a leader and manager.
What radical candor is not
Radical candor is not:
Obnoxious aggression. Jonny recalled how he’d once barked “Stop being lazy and hit the damn phones” at a direct report called Chris who wasn’t hitting his targets. Jonny quickly realised he’d behaved like a “jerk” by challenging directly but not caring personally.
Manipulative insincerity. Jonny says he knew he’d gone over the top with Chris and was fearful of being seen as a bad leader. So, the next time he saw Chris he said: “Listen, forget what I said. You were working really hard and that’s good.” Jonny offered insincere praise and backed off any challenge because he didn’t care enough about Chris but cared too much about his own likeability.
Ruinous empathy. Jonny shared a time when he headed up a small startup and hired a new team member whom everyone liked. However, he just wasn’t working out, and they all knew it. Yet, they persisted: “Maybe he needs a bit more time” and to him “How might we improve your output?” Jonny says the leadership team should have told him that his job was at risk and his performance was not up to standard. When the new hire was eventually fired, he was rightly shocked. The leaders had prioritised being nice at the expense of being honest.
Reducing status threats when giving feedback
“In most people the question ‘Can I offer you some feedback?’ generates a similar response to hearing fast footsteps behind you at night.” - Dr David Rock.
Telling someone you want to give then feedback is a “status threat” that triggers your flight or fight response.
So, move from “Can I give feedback?” to “I want to hear……”
“I want to hear what you thought of that meeting?”
In 1:1 meetings, ask people to share their feedback on their own work as a way of reducing the status threat.
How to get feedback, how to give it
Start with a growth mindset. Realise that you can only improve and grow from practising and receiving radical candor. If you get feedback, reward the candor!
· Get it – solicit feedback from your team especially if you’re a boss. Show you want it. Show you can take it! Use “go-to” questions that are open (can’t be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’), clear, in your own voice, and takes the listener’s communication style into account. An example might be: “What I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”
· Give it – humbly, helpfully, immediately. Make it about the situation or results (use the CORE acronym: Context, Observation, Result, nExt Steps). Do it in person, if you can (in private when criticising, in public when praising). Give more praise than criticism.
· Gauge it – measure it at the listener’s ear. Was this landing as I intended? You may need to dial up the care personally or dial up the challenge directly if they’re angry, upset, or deaf to your feedback. Eliminate “Don’t take it personally” from your vocabulary. Find out what you can do that’s helpful right now for them.
· Encourage it – by doing this yourself, by bringing this to your team. This is your real leverage. Lead by example, start asking for feedback using your “go-to” questions. Be vulnerable. Share your stories of a time when you received feedback.
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*For consistency with the Radical Candor group, I've used the American spelling of candour throughout this article.