Is Tough Talking The New Correct Way To Communicate?

Now we're being told to drop the niceties and just talk frankly
Now we’re being told to drop the niceties and just talk frankly

Image Credit: Stuart Richards

When you are at the office, how do you interact with people? I suspect that in your office there are smart people, dumb people, nice people, and not so nice people. You probably grin and bear it – you try to treat everyone the same way and you try to be nice to everyone. What if you didn’t have to do this? At some companies, a radical way of how people interact is being tried out: honesty.

Say Hello To Radical Candor

The first, and perhaps the most important question, is why change anything? The simple reason that some firms are exploring a different way for us to interact is because they believe that the modern office may have become “too nice” even as they have started to realize the importance of information technology. What this means is that because we are so highly aware of what is “politically correct” that we’ll more often than not hold our tongue. We won’t say what we are really feeling. Because of this bad ideas take up a lot of our time and poor managers waste even more of it.

What these firms are asking us to do is to stop being so polite to everyone. Instead, what they want us to do is to drop our workplace veneer. They want us to start to speak frankly to each other no matter what the situation is. This approach to workplace communication goes by many names, but two of the most popular are “radical candor” and “front stabbing”. I’m pretty sure that you can well imagine that not everyone in the workplace is going to be comfortable with this new way of doing things.

The thinking here is that getting radical candor feedback is going to hurt people’s feelings. However, the firms believe that a bruised ego is going to be better in the long run than the resentment, stalled projects, and low performers that currently exist in our IT departments. As the person with the CIO job, you are going to have to realize that if this is the type of feedback that you want and need from your staff, then you are going to have to show them how to do it – they won’t understand otherwise. You are going to have to show people that they need to confront people that they believe are taking the department in the wrong direction or are planning on a project that won’t be able to achieve its goals.

How To Give Tough Feedback

If you decide that changing your department so that everyone is not hiding behind a mask of civility and instead is willing to tell everyone else just exactly how they see things, then you are going to have to make some changes. One of the most important things that you are going to have to communicate to your staff is that they are going to need to have thick skin to work in your IT department – blunt feedback can hurt feelings. You’ll also have to tell people that when they are receiving tough feedback, they’ll need to either defend themselves or, if they agree with what they are being told, make some changes.

There are a lot of ways to look at this style of interaction. One positive way is to view it as being more caring than the traditional way of going behind someone’s back when you think that they are doing something wrong. Radical condor has been defined as giving criticism while showing genuine concern. The thinking is that you wouldn’t be giving the feedback if you didn’t want the person to improve.

How to give this feedback is the trick. There are a lot of ways of going about doing this. One such way is to offer to go for a walk with the person that you want to give your feedback to. Because you’ll both be walking in the same direction, your feedback will seem less confrontational. The worst way to provide this feedback is by sitting across the table from each other. This is clearly confrontational and should be avoided at all costs. The thinking is that you need to evaluate the people that you work with accurately, not kindly.

What All Of This Means For You

Good communication is the key to running a successful IT department. People in the CIO position that want to make their departments even better are starting to think about ways that that they can cut through the veneer of civility that we all maintain in the modern workplace. What these CIOs want is for their staff to use radical candor to break down walls.

Radical candor consists of people telling people exactly what they think of their ideas and their management style. Gone are the attempts to not hurt someone’s feelings or to avoid making them feel bad. Instead the idea is that having a bruised ego now is far better than allowing a bad project or a bad idea to move forward in the IT department for any longer than it has to. There are a lot of different ways to communicate this information but the basic idea is to be straightforward while at the same time trying to be as gentle as you can.

This idea has some merits; however, it comes with a lot of risks also. Ultimately it probably comes down to the type of people that you currently have in your IT department. Do you think that they could handle having people tell them to their face what they think of both their ideas and themselves? If you think that they could handle it, then perhaps adding radical candor to your IT department is what is needed to move you to the next level.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What do you think the biggest downside to adding radical candor to your IT department would be?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Being a CIO is a demanding job. It seems as though there is too much to be done almost every day. There are people to be managed, vendors to be talked to, and technology decisions that because of the importance of information technology will affect the entire company that have to be made each and every day. However, it turns out that that’s not all that you need to be doing. You also have to be preparing for the future. The future is coming fast and you need to prepare your company for it. Do you know how to do this?

2 thoughts on “Is Tough Talking The New Correct Way To Communicate?”

  1. How about just plain candor? The rejection of political correctness and passive aggressiveness does not need to be rudeness and overt aggression, which “radical candor” seems to be a license for. If an idea has questionable merit then ask questions about its merit. It’s not the person presenting the idea that needs radical candor, it’s the idea itself.

    • Alex: Your point is very well made. The key here is to make sure that you know how the person that you’ll be talking with will react.


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