Radical Candor by Kim Scott

This is another “bonus book” that I decided to swap into a category. When I was planning my lists, I chose Freakonomics for a PopSugar category about “inserting a phrase into the common lexicon,* a choice that will also allow me to scratch off one of the squares on my “Bucket List” poster. And, because Freakonomics was written by an economist, I slid it into the “business book” category—even though I knew I was reaching with that. After all, for all I know, Freakonomics is going to be less of a business book and more from a behavioral economics perspective.**

In the meantime, a coworker of mine recommended this book, so I put it on my “hold” list in Libby. A copy was released to me a couple weeks ago, so I set aside my other challenge titles to read this. (Yet another reason why I’m a bit behind schedule for February’s challenge categories.)

Turns out I needn’t have thrown of my schedule this way to accommodate the library timeline, because I liked this book enough to purchase it for my home library.

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Before I get into the details about Scott’s book and her management philosophy, let me just make one big point about the book’s relevance. Yes, Scott’s advice is primarily pitched towards managers, as evidenced by the book’s subtitle: Be a Kick-Ass Boos Without Losing Your Humanity. But it definitely has relevance for all the rest of us who aren’t anyone’s boss but still want to become better collaborators and team members at work.

You can get a better summary of the approach at the Radical Candor website, but here’s my bare-bones distillation. Scott argues that, although we need to have an awareness of professional behaviors while on the job, we should still embrace the full human-ness of being at work. And through that lens, the best way to communicate with each other is in the quadrant she’s labeled “Radical Candor,” which is marked by two primary criteria:

  1. Care deeply
  2. Challenge directly

Both features, Scott argues, are necessary for optimal managerial or collaborative relationships. Without attending to human relationships, without building trust and a sense of authentic care, there’s not much chance that any criticism or feedback you have to offer will land in its recipient (see Scott’s “Obnoxious Aggression” quadrant). On the other hand, if you’re so focused on being nice that you never actually address work problems, that’s not going to anyone much good either (see: “Ruinous Empathy”).

In addition to this elegant framework, Scott’s book offers numerous concrete examples and techniques you can use to begin building the Radical Candor muscle: first, by building relationships and soliciting criticism of your own work, before building on that foundation to begin offering frank and compassionate criticism to others when it’s warranted. (This wealth of examples is why I decided I’d just splurge on my own copy of the book.)

My own personal instinct is that it might be an especially powerful resource for those of us in the non-profit sector. This sector is one where there’s more a culture of bringing your entire self to work: most of us try to end up at NPOs whose mission speaks to us at some personal level. (Or else, why take on the long hours, heavy workload, and not-so-generous pay?) In that culture, I think a lot of us are hesitant to be mean or uncollegial. I certainly know I’ve tended towards frustrated silence in lots of work settings in order to be “nice”—silence that only lasts until I’ve reached such a level of frustration that I make a diagonal shift from Ruinous Empathy right on down to Obnoxious Aggression.

So yeah: this is one I recommend. I look forward to going back over it in the months to come.

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* Though I’ll bet the actual wording of the category is phrased less snootily than “common lexicon.” #StillNerdCore

** In other words: psychology.

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Image credit: Photo taken by the author, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

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