Radical candor, the short version
We are often taught to be “professional” or “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” In short, we learn to conceal rather than reveal our true feelings. Radical candor is the practice of revealing our whole selves to others – engaging authentically, directly, and with vulnerability.
At work and in our personal lives, our internal experiences and views are often not obvious to or expected by those around us. We feel angry when it’s not polite or appropriate. We oppose a decision that carries broad favor. Or we have some facts that might disappoint or confuse.
Conventional wisdom tells us to conceal these parts of ourselves – to be “professional” or polite or to not say anything if we don’t have anything nice to say. We should hide our true feelings, because doing so might unnecessarily rock the boat or expose ourselves to criticism and social isolation.
This can often help us get ahead in the short-term. We are seen as team players, easygoing, and rarely make people feel challenged or uncomfortable. But there are also often high costs to concealing ourselves in this way. We blunt our creativity and therefore our passion and drive. We are forced to accept outcomes that deep down we don’t agree with. Our organizations aren’t exposed to viewpoints that might ultimately be critical to project success. They move forward with decisions that may be not truly supported by those tasked with implementing them.
Radical candor is the practice of revealing our whole selves to others – engaging authentically, directly, and with vulnerability. It has emerged as a popular concept in many organizations over the last few years – enough so to get parodied on a episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley. At it’s core, it’s about choose to reveal respectfully and authentically rather than conceal. It’s also about letting go of controlling the situation or needing to be right, in favor of just truly being authentic to your viewpoint.
In practice, candor might be revealing to a boss that something they said made you feel uncomfortable. It might be acknowledging that a new business strategy makes you feel scared and concerned about the company’s future. It might be sharing that you aren’t really doing fine today, something in your personal life is troubling and distracting you.
However, some use the concept of radical candor to justify being overly blunt, aggressive, and toxic. They say whatever comes to mind without considering how it might be received and say that they are just practicing candor. This isn’t candor. You can’t truly practice candor without caring for others. Candor is about connecting ourselves to other. Without caring and sensitivity, candor becomes destructive aggression.
Imagine a world when you know what others truly think and feel and others know what you yearn for and are scared of. Imagine what you could accomplish together when everything is out on the table, everyone is fully seen and heard, and everything is up for discussion and consideration. That is radical candor.
Radical candor, in practice
There are many resources available to learn more about radical candor. Two particularly notables books are: