by Kim Malone Scott
I received the following question from one of our readers:
I was facilitating an internal assertiveness workshop, and one of the dynamics I noticed was that, while everyone was engaged, and I think took away some useful insights, there was a thread of lack of personal awareness that seemed to stop some folks. People said things like, “I’m already pretty assertive, but I could see how this could be helpful.” This isn’t a new phenomenon in my experience. I’ve been doing workshops and teaching adults for over a decade. But as we wrapped up, I thought, in what ways can we provoke and help facilitate self-awareness from the inside out? Then I thought, radical candor may be a key insight.
The difference I’m trying to tease out here is between: 1. My boss shared a keen, helpful insight with me (even if it was hard to hear) which is important and valuable and 2. I’m doing the work of investigation myself, truth-testing with others of course, but some sort of “personal radical candor”.
Craig, thanks for the great question. You really just nailed a very hard part of Radical Candor: how can we be Radically Candid with ourselves?
Truth-testing with others is key to “personal Radical Candor.” Radical Candor is not like a Myers-Briggs personality test. It’s best used not to judge yourself or somebody else, but as an assessment of how something you said landed for somebody else, or for a group of people.
How can we understand how we are perceived generally, and also by specific individuals? After all, if I say the same thing to two different people, one may think it was Radically Candid, but the other may find it Obnoxiously Aggressive. How can we adjust our style to work with different cultures? I was raised in the South — I sometimes joke I was born and bred for Manipulative Insincerity. When I was working for an Israeli start-up, I had to adopt a very different style.
Since Radical Candor gets measured at the listener’s ear not the speaker’s mouth, and since we often have very little idea of what’s going on in another person’s mind, knowing whether one has been Radically Candid requires not just self-awareness but also relational-awareness and cultural-awareness.
Being Radically Candid with yourself requires self-awareness. You can build this Radical Candor “self-awareness” by understanding how most people perceive your feedback, how your feedback lands in general. If you give feedback to 10 people, maybe 7 of them would gauge your feedback in roughly the same way. Let’s say they found your feedback Radically Candid. So overall, as a self-aware person, you know your feedback is generally Radically Candid. That is super-important to know. And hard.
To give Radically Candid feedback — to be aware of how our feedback lands — we need feedback on our feedback. Very meta 🙂 But having a meta conversation every week could make giving feedback harder than it already is. That is why we’re developing the Candor Gauge: to quickly and painlessly give you an indication of what is happening at the listener’s ear, in their minds, and even in their hearts.
Here’s how it works: if you give feedback to people every week, you can send them an app version of the Radical Candor framework and ask them to tap the quadrant(s) where your praise and criticism landed that week. We aggregate the results for you each week and give you a window into how your feedback lands overall. It takes them ~30 seconds to gauge your feedback, and you just a quick moment to see where you stand and get a quick tip for improving.
For example, here are ratings I might get in my Gauge:
In this case, I might think I’m being assertive, or Radically Candid, but learn that I’m showing up as Obnoxiously Aggressive when I offer criticism. This is a report where some people chose to gauge me anonymously, so it helps with self-awareness but not with more specific relational-awareness of how my praise/criticism landed differently for different individuals. I have two tasks ahead of me (probably not unrelated): learning to show I Care Personally when giving criticism, and also building trust so that people quit gauging me anonymously.
General self-awareness will move things in the right direction for me, but it won’t solve an issue that I may be having communicating with a specific person.
In the case where 7 of 10 people gauged my feedback as Radically Candid–well, that’s good. But, what about those other 3 people? The plot thickens…To improve there, I need relational-awareness.
General self-awareness might even trip me up when it comes to relational awareness in a specific relationship. For example, I might in general give feedback that is Radically Candid, but when I work with a particular person who’s really sensitive, my Radical Candor lands as Obnoxious Aggression. And when I work with a person who is so super confident that they’re practically deaf to criticism, my Radical Candor might turn to Ruinous Empathy. But because I am self-aware, I consider myself to be a “Radically Candid” person–and this view of myself, not inaccurate in aggregate, might cause me to totally miss the signals from these 3 people who do not experience my feedback as Radically Candid. I might have high self-awareness–I’m right that most people see experience my feedback as Radically Candid. But that self-awareness might blind me to how these specific people find me. My high self-awareness might contribute to my low relational-awareness.
For example, I may think that I’ve been crystal clear, but the other person hasn’t understood me at all. Let’s say I just had a conversation with Alex. I criticized Alex and am worried about having been a jerk. But, unbeknownst to me, Alex still isn’t evenaware of the problem that I raised. I was worried that the criticism was so harsh it was Obnoxiously Aggressive. But Alex didn’t hear any criticism at all.
Or, I may think I’ve been kind, but the other person feels I’ve just stomped all over them. Now let’s imagine that I’m now having a conversation with Margaret. I think very highly of Margaret and make sure to say so, but also make one tiny suggestion for how Margaret could have done better. Margaret walks away utterly demoralized and thinking I am a total asshole. Others on the team don’t see me that way. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters for my relationship with Margaret is how Margaret feels. I have to find a way to get through to her.
And of course it’s not just self-awareness and relational-awareness, but there’s alsocultural-awareness to consider as well. I might finally figure things out with a team of 10 here in California. And then I might move to Tel Aviv, where people in general would experience my feedback as passive aggressive. 7 out of 10 people on my new Israeli team might find my feedback Manipulatively Insincere. This would blow my mind at first because it would run so counter to my perception of who I am and who I want to be. If I have good relational-awareness, it will help me more than good self-awareness to make the necessary adjustments. I know I’m not a chameleon. I know that I need to do different things with different people and in different cultures to show I care and to challenge people directly. And I’m willing to adapt my style because I hold those ideals–caring and challenging–as important at an absolute level. That will help a lot if I move from Tel Aviv to Tokyo. It will also help me if I move from a company with one strong culture to a company with a very different kind of culture.
Both relational-awareness and cultural-awareness explain why Radical Candor is not a personality type. Nobody is always in just one quadrant with everybody all the time. The Gauge is not a personality test. Instead, it offers a way to describe a specific interaction between two people.
Since every person is different, and everyone they are speaking to is different, we quickly get into an N to N problem that might at first seem impossibly complicated to describe, or to give advice on. If this sounds impossibly complicated, do not despair. It’s not actually as complex as it sounds. You can get a snapshot of how your feedback is landing without spending hours of conversation soliciting feedback on your feedback.
The Candor Gauge offers you self-awareness, relational-awareness, and cultural-awareness. That small glimpse into what others are thinking about your feedback will helps you self-correct. We send tips to help you improve and stories to help you feel less alone — but you’ll probably get better automatically, and that’s what really feels good.