Kim Scott's perennial bestseller “Radical Candor” has created a cultural revolution and took workplaces worldwide by storm. Behind Radical Candor there is a simple idea: to be a good boss, you have to Care Personally at the same time that you Challenge Directly. When you challenge without caring it's obnoxious aggression, when you care without challenging it's ruinous empathy. When you do neither it's manipulative insincerity.
In other words, “Radical Candor” is the idea that bracing honesty is the best way to run a business: no one dances around the truth, and swifter feedback improves performance. But most firms rely on a messier doctrine. People rarely say what they mean, but hope that their meaning is nonetheless clear.
Here are some examples which appeared in the Bartleby column on The Economist, on November 20th, 2021. I could not avoid smiling when I read some of them:
• “Do you have five minutes”- alleged meaning: I have something trivial to say. Actual meaning: You are in deep, deep trouble
• “Let’s discuss this offline” – alleged meaning: We shouldn’t waste other people valuable time. Actual meaning: let’s never speak of this again.
• “I’m just curious” – alleged meaning: I would like to know why you think that... Actual meaning: … because it makes no sense to anyone else
• “We are a platform business” - alleged meaning: We provide an ecosystem in which others can interact. Actual meaning: let’s never speak of this again
• “It’s on the product map” - alleged meaning: It will be done soon. Actual meaning: It won’t be done soon
• “I wanted to keep you on the loop” – alleged meaning: I am informing you of something minor. Actual meaning: I should have told you this weeks ago
• “It’s a legacy tech stack”- alleged meaning: It’s a rat’s nest of old and incompatible systems. Actual meaning: None of this is our fault
In a world of Radical Candor, there would be less need for translating. Although being honest, it’s not so easy to forget, even untrain, years of human finesse exercise and coded communication in order to avoid open conflict.