There is no such thing as positive or negative feedback. There is only accurate feedback.Ray Dalio
Critiquing others is never easy. Feedback fanatics are also not crazy. Far too often we avoid direct, critical feedback even though it is one of the main reasons why individual and collective morale fail in a group or organization. Valid, direct feedback helps us grow personally and professionally. Honest and communicative cultures increase productivity, innovation, and strengthen group bonds.
The challenge is straddling the line between being messy and mean.
The tension between giving transparent feedback and caring for your direct reports is what makes giving good feedback so difficult. Kim Scott, a former executive at Google and Apple and author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity, created a simple 2×2 matrix to navigate this complexity. Learn more here.
To help picture radical candor, picture a basic graph divided into four quadrants. If the vertical axis is caring personally and the horizontal axis is challenging directly, you want your feedback to fall in the upper right-hand quadrant. That’s where radical candor lies.
Scott affectionately labels the vertical axis as the ‘give a damn’ axis” and the horizontal axis is the “willing to piss people off” axis.
If you choose not to aim for that top right quadrant of the graph, you either come off as insincere or a jerk. The completed matrix is shown below.
Obnoxious Aggression is challenging others without caring personally. Manipulative Insincerity is not directly addressing others while also just being a jerk. Ruinous Empathy is where most of us get stuck not wanting to be direct or critical in our feedback. We sit in this stasis as we try to be nice while things fall apart.
Aim For Radical Candor
As Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, famously stated, “You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know.”
Feedback helps us see our inevitable blind spots, and optimize performance. Poorly delivered feedback, however, can breed confusion, fear, resentment, and worse.
Here’s how to balance honesty and compassion while mastering the art of giving feedback.
Learn how feedback affects you, and your group. Think about your role in the group and the culture that you would like to build. Feedback and being critical of others is often a social threat. You need to consider how this will impact you, the individual bring critiqued, and the group.
Start by telling someone what you like. There are some that do not value the compliment sandwich in giving feedback. I do not agree. I think you need to lay down two slices of praise when providing critique. Yes, most people will ignore the compliments and focus on the negative. But, they’ll definitely notice it if it is not there.
Pause and reflect on your own intentions for providing feedback. Check yourself. Why are you giving feedback? What is the purpose? What is the intended result or outcome? What change in behavior or actions would you like to see?
Say what someone could have done differently. In providing feedback to my students, I say “here’s what I saw” and “here’s what I wish was a bit different.” This approach is a bit more objective and keeps you calm and non-judgmental.
Explain in detail what you’d like the person to do in the future. Be explicit about what you would like to see next time this situation or task arises. Set a clear intention for the change you would like to see.
Highlight someone’s strengths by telling the person something he or she does well. End on a positive note. This is the second slice of praise in the compliment sandwich. This helps you strive the balance between being caring and being a jerk. You help build motivation, trust, and empathy in yourself and your team.