Kim Malone Scott coaches companies on how to achieve a “bullshit-free” environment, which she spent her career creating when she managed her own teams.
The Axis of Candor
Scott describes four different communication styles which are shown on the “Axis of Candor,” broken down into four quadrants:
Manipulative Insincerity: Passive-aggressive communication with both low levels of caring and directness. This not only kills productivity, but creates an environment of distrust and contempt.
Ruinous Empathy: High levels of caring, but low levels of directness. People who use this style think they are sparing the feelings of their employees or teammates by avoiding difficult conversations. Think, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This type of communication cheats your team out of growth opportunities, and can lead to resentment in the long run.
Obnoxious Aggression: The Jerk. This type of communicator is extremely direct, but lacks care for the people they’re addressing. This style is harsh, abrasive, and lacks trust, but may still see results. This type, while not good, is actually better than ruinous empathy.
Radical Candor: This style successfully combines high levels of caring with high levels of directness. A team that can communicate with each other this way has already created a community of trust, and knows any criticisms are meant to be constructive. This team genuinely wants to see each other succeed.
Be Cautious with Radical Candor
While radical candor can benefit an organization, it has to be used in the right context: specifically, you must have an established level of trust and respect within a team first. If team members don’t have empathy for their coworkers, it’s too easy to deliver harsh criticism and excuse it by claiming it’s just “radical candor.” With this word of caution in mind, to start incorporating candid feedback into your feedback rounds, keep it HHIPP:
- Humble: Treat your teammate as an equal, and approach the problem free of superiority.
- Helpful: Address the issue only if it will help your teammate grow.
- Immediate: Tell your teammate as soon as you appropriately can.
- In Person: Communicate face to face. If it’s criticism, wait until you can address the issue privately. If it’s praise, address publicly.
- Not Personal: There is a big difference between criticizing actions and character. “You were late to that meeting” is a criticism; “You’re always late” is a personal attack.