Radical Candor is a powerful concept that teaches us that, to give proper feedback, we need to care personally for the person we are giving feedback and to challenge them directly.
In this post, I’d like to share a story of Radical Candor that had a great positive impact in my workplace.
Next, I’ll be writing a follow-up post that goes in-depth about how you can successfully use it at work and in your personal life.
One of the developers in my team, let’s call him John, used to have quite the toxic influence among other developers. He was the lead on his team, but was confrontational, had controversial opinions, and would elicit stakeholders to join his ‘side’, encouraging the “us vs them” mentality.
At the time, I was not specifically working in his team as a Scrum Master/team coach, but I definitely wanted… no, I needed to do something, as it was affecting all the teams. As a new Scrum Master, I was not really sure how to handle him, although I had a good relationship with all other developers in his team. The few times I had tried helping his team I was not successful, so what could I do differently now?
I have to confess that, because of his toxicity, part of me thought that it would be better if he left the company. It would make everyone’s life at the office better and definitely make mine easier. But wait a second, I’m a team coach, goddammit. How about I coach him? It’s my role to create a supporting, inspiring work environment where success is nothing but a consequence of being there. So the situation was not being helped by me just sitting there.
As I mentioned before, this was the first time I was working as a full-time Scrum Master, and therefore I had made a ton of mistakes when starting out. At that particular point, I realized I never had taken the time to get to know him, even after more than a year of joining the team. A huge fail on my side.
So scheduled a talk with him and we sat down on our first one-on-one meeting. We discussed some issues his team was having. His being new in a leadership position as well, a situation arose that caught him off guard, some things were said that were not supposed to be said, and now we were taking steps to resolve the conflict. During this talk, I was surprised by his humble attitude: his toxicity that I had felt during team meetings were not present on this one-on-one.
I pressed on.
With Radical Candor in mind, I used our internal feedback tool to leave John sincere but strong feedback. Radical Candor is a technique that my company often talks about and I’ve started using also in other areas of my life. The idea is that, if you really care for someone and their success, you should let them know where they can grow, even if it feels uncomfortable. If you don’t, you are doing that person a disservice. You are preventing them an opportunity for growth. And having had that first meeting with him and understanding him a little better, all I wanted was for him to succeed; his success meant helping his team succeed; his team’s success meant helping our whole technology team succeed. I think he understood this, by leaving a big ‘thank you’ for the feedback.
A few weeks later we had a social lunch where we talked about travel plans, career, living in other countries, and our current jobs. We were finally getting to know each other on a deeper level.
I learned a lot about him. And I learned the reason of why I thought he was a toxic person before. At the time, the department had a leadership problem, so people got a little too comfortable. John was trying to get people out of their comfort zones. He was confrontational because he was trying to make others be better developers. I didn’t agree with his tactics, but he wanted the same as any other developer in the team: He wanted to work on cool projects, he wanted people to step up, he wanted to create an awesome team.
Some old teaching came to mind, reminding me that everyone has a story. Everyone has reasons to behave the way they behave, and until we don’t get to know them, get to know those reasons, then we shouldn’t assume we know what’s truly going on.
Fast forward to today, John and I have a great relationship at work. I don’t think his attitude is toxic anymore and he understands that my goal is to see him and his team succeed.
I’m not claiming that his change in behavior is my doing. What I’m saying is that Radical Candor helped me get to know him, which made my thoughts about him change completely, helped me understand why he was so confrontational that period of time and what he actually was trying to do. Now we are both better prepared to support our teams’ growth.
On my next post, I’ll present a framework in which you can follow to try to implement Radical Candor at your workplace or in your personal life.