• Terry Buchanan

Dr. Bill's Tips - Radical Candor

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

“Don’t avoid me, just tell me no. I can take it. I respect directness, and will give you back nothing less.” -Unknown

For those of you who I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting, there are a couple of things that might be helpful to know about me. First, I am a marriage and family therapist by training and I still do a few hours of therapy a week, mostly with high conflict parents who have issues around child custody. Second, is that I also do a good deal of clinical supervision. I am an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Approved Supervisor, I have a supervision group that meets twice a month (of which many of the members of the group are Connections staff), and I supervise a number of interns and therapists. I share this because one of the qualities that I believe serves me well in both therapy and supervision is being direct, often times very direct. In fact, my supervises are often surprised at how direct I am with both them and clients. It is not uncommon for them to ask, "Would you really say that to a client????

As you might imagine, what I refer to as direct some other people might experience differently and on more than a few occasions people have characterized my directness quite differently. Some people have found me to be downright mean--you can imagine what types of expressions they might have been used—some less than acceptable in polite company. I have frequently wondered why my approach came across as rude, aggressive, or obnoxious and I recently came across a book that helps explain why this might be happening. Kim Scott has written the book Radical Candor. Scott has been a CEO coach to the leaders of Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and other Silicon Valley firms. In addition she developed the course "Managing at Apple" and was a leader at both YouTube and Google.  

What I learned from Kim Scott is that being direct is necessary in giving feedback to people, but it is only part of the equation if I want people to be able to hear the feedback that I have to offer. The second part, which is equally important and where I may at times lack, is what Scott calls "Giving a Damn" or Care Personally

It got me thinking, if someone gives me direct feedback, even if that feedback might be hard for me to hear, if I believe the person is giving the feedback because she cares and wants me to succeed it is going to be easier for me to accept the feedback. As the  matrix below indicates, the combination of directness and caring create Radical Candor, but if either or both components are missing you get very different kinds of messages. My hunch is that people might not have experienced my feedback as caring so I came across with Obnoxious Aggression--maybe that is why some people might have thought I was an a-hole?

It took me years of practice to be direct--believe it or not--I'm sure like many of you I was told by my parents, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all." So what we get from people who take that to heart is the first quadrant, Ruinous Empathy. According to Scott, Ruinous Empathy "is what happens when you care but don’t challenge. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good or criticism that is sugarcoated and unclear." I hear this kind feedback from new family therapists frequently. They really do care about their clients, but the lack of directness does not provide sufficient feedback to help their clients change. They think, like many of us do, we always have to be nice with our feedback--or worse the new therapists want to be liked by their clients--so they are unable to say the things that need to be said because it may be hard to say and/or be heard. 

One aspect of Scott's Radical Candor I really like is how we assess it. Scott says that we measure our feedback not at our mouths, but at the other person's ears. That is, what is said is less important than how it is heard. I like how the focus on how the message is received is given more value than the intention so as a speaker it is important for me to make sure that the person to whom I'm speaking appreciates both my directness and the care for her. 

The last quadrant is feedback that lacks both caring and directness--Manipulative Insincerity. Scott explains that Manipulative Insincerity is "...what happens when you neither care nor challenge. It’s praise that is nonspecific and insincere or criticism that is neither clear nor kind." I'm sure we have all experienced this. People who "blow smoke," kiss butt, or are just trying to get over on us. Some of the more iconic examples of suck-ups from TV include Smithers and Martin from the Simpsons, Dwight Schrute from the Office, Annie Edison from Community, Amy Santiago from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and my favorite Starscream from the Transformers

Personally I'm going to try to make sure that when I give either criticism or praise that I'm going to not only be direct, but make sure that the person to whom I am giving feedback understands that I am doing so because I care. I think often times we think of praise as a way to show we care, but Scott suggests that both praise and criticism can be vehicles to demonstrate caring. I believe that we all want the people with whom we work to be successful (I know I do) and if we can offer feedback that can help our colleagues do their job better we are all better off. So this week try to Care Personally, Challenge Directly and Ask Questions to Understand!

If you want to learn more about Radical Candor check out Kim Scott’s web site.

#empathy #candor #DrBill

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