If you haven’t checked out “Radical Candor”, I highly recommend you jump on over to Amazon or make your way to your local bookstore and pick up a copy as soon as possible. Like seriously, I give you permission to stop reading this (I do expect you to return and finish) and go get a copy. I do highly recommend obtaining a print version as you may feel the desire to highlight and underline numerous sections throughout the book. (I know I did!)
One part of this book that stuck out to me personally was the part of on “Ruinous Empathy”. It’s the idea that instead of just “ripping off the band aid” and delivering bad news, we think we’re doing others a favor by avoiding conflict and/or tension by just sharing some feedback here or there and minimizing discipline. Instead of letting an employee know an area they need to improve and holding them accountable, a supervisor may instead just make a comment that they try to do better.
If you’re reading this and thinking you might be that supervisor that tries to avoid conflict to spare your employees discomfort, take a deep breath and buckle up buttercup, because I have news for you. You’re not. You are not saving you employees from discomfort, but instead are just causing them to feel it in other areas.
When you foster an environment where conflict is avoided, tough conversations involve you nervous giggling, and matters that should include discipline are dropped; you are setting your team up for failure.
Constructive criticism, whether it’s supervisor to employee, employee to employee, or employee to supervisor can be beneficial and helps build a culture of honesty, respect, and improvement.
When you operate from a ruinous empathy standpoint, you prevent yourself from being able to have candid conversations with your direct reports. You will also find many conversations, even simple ones as a conversation about what they did last weekend, are awkward and uncomfortable. This is because the lines of communication and openness have been dwarfed by your attempts at dancing around the tough stuff and potentially appearing unapproachable.
The other downside you’ll find if you hangout in this space long enough is that your employees will be working with little direction. The occasional “good job” does little to help guide them while they know they are most likely making mistakes but are unaware of what they are. Without knowing where their strengths and weaknesses lie, they won’t have the opportunity to grow their skills and learn how to improve. They may also end up complacent or even worse, regress in their skills and you may have to fire them. Some employees may also quit, but because there is no open communication to provide feedback, you’ll just be left wondering why a good employee walked out the door.
So maybe you’re reading this and indeed are thinking “yikes, that sounds like what’s happening in my center.” Don’t fret! You can still make positive changes to help correct the course you and your center are taking. Start by working on how you deliver feedback. Are you willing to break the bad news or do you find yourself dancing around it? How can you improve your ability to communicate than less than positives in a professional way and accept that tension and discomfort may be inevitable? Are you holding employees accountable for their performance and letting them know how they can improve? This doesn’t mean you are “smacking their hand” or looking for things they do wrong, but that because you want to see them learn and grow, you’re willing to highlight the areas they have room for that. (Although if a situation warrants discipline, you’re going to have to step up and handle it, regardless of how you believe they may react.) Having these conversations helps employees to know where they stand and provides you a starting point to help coach them to success.
It’s a big misconception that by avoiding tension and conflict you’re going to have better relationships with your employees. Instead try approaching them with respect, constructive feedback, and honesty and watch your center flourish.
Want to learn more about Radical Candor? Check out the book by Kim Scott here.