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Radical candour: How to deliver effective feedback

16th July, 2020   •   3 min

When asked what the key is to successful improvement, people often respond:

“Practice makes perfect”

We assume that devoting our time to practising a skill will make us an expert, but this is not the case. Practising a skill amounts to nothing if we end up repeating the same mistakes. As Einstein said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”.

Why is feedback so important?

Without feedback, we are walking blind. Even the most hard-working people depend on the honest assessments of their work by others to improve and make sure that they are following the best course to achieve their goals.

Not only is feedback essential to help us improve, it is also critical to the success and profitability of a business. “28% of employees report that feedback is not frequent enough to help them understand how to improve”, while “40% of employees are actively disengaged when they don’t receive feedback”. In the UK alone, disengaged employees cost roughly £60 billion per year in lost productivity.

The challenge is that feedback is often shared too infrequently, given perhaps only once a year during an appraisal. 38% of individuals stated that feedback had a negative impact on their performance, because “it wasn’t given in the right way”. The way in which this feedback is delivered impacts the effectiveness of how that feedback is received and acted upon. So it’s critical to do it right.

How can I share feedback in the right way?

Kim Scott’s Radical Candor feedback model outlines how to give feedback in a way that leads to positive change and growth.

Scott tells us that the best way to understand how to give radically candid feedback, is to understand what it isn’t:

So what is manipulative insincerity?

This is when we don’t care personally nor challenge directly, we will communicate insincere praise and then most likely, harshly criticise them behind their backs, this can lead to passive-aggressive behaviour.

Say, for example, you have a colleague who constantly interrupts you when you speak. If you were being manipulatively insincere you may not want to seem rude or abrasive by asking them to stop interrupting you, so you avoid the topic of conversation and instead feel inwardly annoyed.

What is ruinous empathy?

When we care personally but don’t challenge directly. We do this because we don’t want to offend or hurt someone’s feelings. Ruinous empathy comes in several shapes and forms, from sugarcoating negative feedback to staying completely silent.

So if you were ruinously empathetic in this same situation with your colleague, you just let it go because they don’t mean to be rude. You do nothing and hope they eventually realise and the situation resolves itself.

What about obnoxious aggression?

Where we challenge directly but don’t care personally, we fall into delivering positive feedback that doesn’t feel sincere, or negative feedback in an unkind, often humiliating manner.

Here, you might send a youtube video around the office of someone who constantly interrupts their colleagues, much to the amusement of the rest of the team.

What is radical candor?

Where we care personally and challenge directly. This is where we should all aim to be when delivering feedback. We share motivating constructive and specific feedback that leads to behaviour change.

So with our interrupting colleague, you might take them to one side and tell them that they have a habit of interrupting you that they may not have noticed and you wanted to say something so that you could continue working well together.

To be radically candid we need to:

  • share feedback regularly and in a timely manner
  • take the time to prepare the feedback in a structured way, with clear examples to show that we care
  • be brave enough to ask others for feedback to create a feedback culture

Feedback can be incredibly powerful, if it is delivered in the wrong way it can lead to demotivated and disengaged individuals, but if it is delivered in the right way can lead to motivated individuals who improve and achieve more than they thought they could.

Please get in touch with the Higson team if you would like to learn more about the importance of feedback and the applications of the Radical Candor framework.