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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Ask a Candid Boss: How Can I Build a Radically Candid Team Culture?

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Dear Candid Boss,

I'm about to start a new role as a marketing director. The position’s new to the company, and most of the direct reports are also new hires (within the last two or three months). What is your advice for building a radically candid team culture from day one?

Eager to Start Right

Dear Eager to Start Right,

I’m so glad that you asked this question because it’s so important (and yes, perhaps I’m a bit biased because I wrote an entire book on the subject).

Building a radically candid team culture means to create an environment in which everyone on the team shows they care personally about one another and also is willing to challenge each other humbly, openly, and directly when they disagree or see a problem.

When you care and challenge at the same time, it’s Radical Candor. When you challenge but don’t show you care, it’s one kind of bad: Obnoxious Aggression. When you care but don’t challenge, it’s another kind of bad: Ruinous Empathy. When you neither care nor challenge, it’s Manipulative Insincerity. Here is a framework that explains what Radical Candor is, and also what it is not:

Here’s my best advice to start on the right foot:

1. Share Your Stories

One of the best ways to build trust and explain the idea to your team is to tell your stories.

Share a time when you made a mistake and your boss told you clearly and kindly. How did your boss challenge you? How did it feel in the moment? How did it help you in the long run?

Sharing your stories with your team is a great way to explain what Radical Candor means, while also demonstrating vulnerability and the confidence to recognize that you’re not perfect, but are committed to learning from your mistakes. It’s a great way to show why radically candid feedback is a gift that will help you all do the best work of your lives.

2. Make Listening Tangible

Ask your team to give you feedback and make a show of rewarding candor when you hear it.

For example, put a lock box soliciting feedback in a highly visible location and give someone else the key. Have that person open up the lock box at your team meeting, and put yourself on the spot by reading the feedback and reacting to it.

When you agree with the feedback, explain how you’ll address the issue and publicly thank the person who brought it to your attention.

3. Focus on the Good Stuff

Radical Candor is not just about criticism—it’s also about praise.

It’s important to give more praise than criticism, because it’s your job as a leader is to show everyone what success looks like.

4. Develop a Shared Vocabulary

Giving and receiving feedback is uncomfortable for everyone, and having a shared vocabulary can make it easier.

Try printing out the Radical Candor framework and putting it near your desk. When you solicit feedback and you suspect that person isn’t telling you the whole story, ask them if they are being ruinously empathetic with you.

Give everyone on the team a copy, and suggest they use it to push their conversations in a more radically candid direction.

5. Emphasize Caring Personally

There’s a world of difference between Radical Candor and Obnoxious Aggression. But all too often, people hear the phrase without really understanding the idea—and then they use it as an excuse to behave like a jerk. Don’t tolerate this on your team.

Learning how to be a candid and open leader is so important to your team’s success. You can’t hit your goals if you and your team are not communicating well.

This article is part of our monthly Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our coaches are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Candid Boss in the subject line.

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