In today’s episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast, host Dan Neumann is joined by AgileThought colleague Christy Erbeck. Christy is a principal transformation consultant at AgileThought with over 25 years of experience in domestic and international consulting, training and coaching, working in both software development and non-product-focused environments including manufacturing (discrete and process), distribution, and sales and marketing. On top of all that, Christy is also a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator.
Today, Dan and Christy will be discussing radical candor based on the fantastic book by Kim Scott of the same name. In her book, Kim courageously shares some of the missteps she made as a manager in her career and how she created tools and techniques to help others avoid making the same mistakes she made. Radical candor is all about building new behaviors and skills that help managers and leaders to create a healthy environment for everyone to work in. Tune in to get Christy’s insight on exactly what radical candor is, what it isn’t, how to begin implementing the radical candor framework and how to apply it successfully in your workplace.
Intro: [00:01] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought, the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.
Dan Neumann: [00:17] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m your host, Dan Neumann, and I’m excited to be joined by my colleague, Christy Erbeck. Thanks for joining.
Christy Erbeck: [00:26] Thanks Dan. I’m glad to be back again.
Dan Neumann: [00:29] Yeah, it’s, we’re going to be exploring Radical Candor, a book by Kim Scott. And before we get into that, of course these will be our opinions and not those of AgileThought or other folks or other companies.
Christy Erbeck: [00:42] Cool.
Dan Neumann: [00:43] Disclaimed so you were excited sometime back and you said, hey, there’s this book, Radical Candor and I’m really excited about it and we should get together and talk about it on a podcast. So for those who maybe, uh, have no familiarity with Radical Candor like I did when you came back and were excited about it, like what, what’s, what’s in it? They got you so excited.
Christy Erbeck: [01:06] I first heard about the book when Kim Scott did the closing keynote at Agile2018 in San Diego last August and was really inspired by the keynote and curious about how she went about creating or identifying this new philosophy and then actually putting it to work and her stories were incredibly compelling in the stories that she told at the keynote. And then throughout the book she has some really amazing stories that I was blown away actually by the courage it must have taken her to share some of these stories and share some of the missteps that she made as a manager in her career and really admire her vulnerability and that courage to lay it out in a way of saying, hey, here’s what I did, here’s how it failed miserably in some cases and how it hurt people and how I’ve created this, these tools, these techniques, this philosophy to help others not make the same mistakes I made. So that’s really what got me excited about it. And it is, it is different. Like, it’s not natural to do some of the things that she asks us or shares with us in the book. And so that’s even more, um, intriguing to me because it is really about building new behaviors and new skill sets.
Dan Neumann: [02:51] One of the things I think I did incorrectly, I know I did incorrectly, so I’ll even remove the hedge of, I think like I judged the book by the title Radical Candor and I’m like, you know, whatever, um, it, it sounds like it’s maybe a license to be obnoxious and, and quite the opposite then from having delved in the book. Not as deeply as you did, but it, in preparation for this, I did, you know, did my homework and tried to, tried to be, tried to be a little bit prepared and, um, thank you. Thank you. Yes. And so I haven’t consumed it nearly to the depth that you have, but one of the things that stood out is Radical Candor is not about, in fact, it’s quite the opposite of being obnoxious. And she drew the differentiation between Radical Candor and obnoxiously aggressive behavior and some other ones. So in, uh, in, in summary then the Radical Candor, can you describe what that behavior is versus um, one of those other options?
Christy Erbeck: [03:45] Sure. So the way she goes about it is, one I love also, she uses pictures, she uses a lot of pictures and diagrams in the book, which helps this visual brain person a understand the concepts much easier. And so she’s got a quadrant. Um, and in the upper right hand quadrant is the box for Radical Candor and it is a result of caring personally about people and challenging them directly. And her first premise is that we’ve heard for a long time. I mean, I know as long as I’ve been in business, it’s, it’s don’t take it personally, it’s just business when in fact that’s not true. It is personal even if it is. And sometimes, especially when it is business as humans, we already struggle to separate who we are from what we do. And in in this way, one of the things that I love is that she’s given us permission to bring our whole selves into the workplace and to say, I know who you are. I care about you. I want the best for you. Let’s, let’s get to know each other in a way that puts the business aside and allows us to be people first.
Dan Neumann: [05:26] And I know I’ve worked with folks who have expressed a sentiment of, you know, not needing to get their friends at work, which is fine, but I think that’s differently than having a genuine care for the people at work. You don’t have to be friends and hang out all the time and do things outside of work, but it is a need to care about that person as an individual. Recognize that, hey, we’re not necessarily like best buddies here but we, but you’re human have needs and you know, we’re going to work together and be effective and, and still caring personally about that person’s feelings.
Christy Erbeck: [06:02] Definitely. I think this is where boundaries are really important in that, um, you and I know each other and we work together and we know things about each other. Um, work things, but we also know some personal things. Um, and we have a boundary in that there’s other things that we don’t know about each other in that there is no need for that because we’re in the context of work. And so our relationship is bound by the work agreement, the work contract in, in a way. So that having that work boundary I think is really important. And, and it does not, it does not preclude me from caring about you as a person and knowing things about you, knowing what makes you happy, what makes you frustrated. Because again, in the work context, I want to help you. I care about you, I want you to have a good work experience. Um, and so from that perspective, I think boundaries within that caring personally are really important to have.
Dan Neumann: [07:21] And Kim had differentiated the Radical Candor where we cared deeply about somebody and are being direct with something she called obnoxiously aggressive, which was a scenario where you are direct but really just don’t care about that other person at all. And I think that sometimes gets confused with being directed. I’m being candid, I’m telling you like it is, you know, and, and, but it lacks all the empathy for the other,
Christy Erbeck: [07:50] Yeah. I think it’s incumbent upon us as managers, leaders, um, even coworkers to be cognizant of the setting that we’re, we’re in, uh, to, to be cognizant of the time of day and everything else that’s going on around us when we’re providing that feedback. And I can be direct. I don’t have to be mean when I’m direct. I can be candid. I don’t have to be, as she says, obnoxiously aggressive and come at you with my direct feedback. And oftentimes people miss construe feedback as something that is only negative number one and two, if I’m not hard on you when I give you this feedback, if I’m not direct, if I’m not mean, it’s you’re not going to take it seriously.
Dan Neumann: [08:51] I was trying to think of an example where maybe I’ve experienced something like that. I’m struggling a little bit to come up with one. So yeah, I totally resonate with the not only aggressive like feedback, I’m sorry. Not only negative because a lot of times right? Feedback is maybe an improvement and I’ve, it’s somewhat tongue in cheek, but I think a little bit literally like I, I’m pretty good at finding things to improve on and not as good as I should be about finding praise for things that are being done well.
Christy Erbeck: [09:21] Or in her book she gives the example of how Cheryl Sandberg pulled her aside after a meeting where Kim gave a very important presentation and pointed out a, a speech tick that Kim was unaware of. And it wasn’t until Cheryl got extremely direct with Kim that it sunk in that, oh my gosh, this is something that is true and I need to pay attention to. And because of the way Cheryl approached her and the relationship that they had and the immediacy with which Cheryl gave the feedback, it changed the course of Kim’s career.
Dan Neumann: [10:09] Yeah. And so to amplify the couple of things you said there that seem to be really key, which was the relationship was there. So, so Kim and this other person with whom she worked, they had a relationship before and the feedback was given right away. So it wasn’t a, as part of an annual review, you know, some, you know, between one and six months or one and 12 months later, uh, it was, it was quick and not a, not a grueling thing, not come into my office. We’re going to have a, a 1 on 1 about the feedback, but it was, it was a media and there was a relationship there.
Christy Erbeck: [10:42] Yeah. And I’ve done that with, um, coworkers of, I, I believe I’ve done it with AgileThinkers a couple of times and I know I’ve done it in the past with, um, previous coworkers where in between, uh, a meeting, a workshop, whatever it might be, or even if on a break when somebody’s providing a workshop and they’re training at the front of the room, um, I have pulled somebody aside and said, hey, here’s three things I want you to think about as you go back up in front of the room. Um, and adjustments that I think are important that you make in order for your effectiveness to remain with this class. And that’s feedback that’s direct and I care personally about that person and I was challenging them to change in the moment how they were behaving to better themselves.
Dan Neumann: [11:39] Yeah. And then it’s a chance to create a better experience for the people that you’re working with too. It’s all, it’s a massive disservice not to have given some type of feedbacks. And sometimes it’s a style, sometimes it’s a style thing and there are many different styles. Uh, and sometimes it’s more, uh, really, uh, even if it’s a style thing, sometimes it can really degrade from the overall experience. And so it’s really important to, to cover those things.
Christy Erbeck: [12:10] And from a style perspective, Dan, I have an example of obnoxious aggression that I did to somebody years ago at a different company and Kim calls this front stabbing. Um, and I was incredibly obnoxiously aggressive with this person. And what ended up happening was, uh, we were on deadline for delivering a product, um, and some functionality for a software implementation for a large airport. And, uh, we were down to the wire and the people working on the team. And one person in particular left to go have lunch knowing that we were on deadline and that we had to have this piece of functionality in by a certain time. And I was waiting outside the office door in the hallway, in the atrium for them when they walked back through that front door and boy did I let this one person have it because I felt it was her, like she was a female and a younger female. And I have since then apologized and made amends. We are friends today and I am ever grateful for her grace and forgiveness. Um, and I was so in the moment and so caught up in my own frustration and anger and panic that because I didn’t feel they, and she, in particular understood the ramifications of us not meeting this deadline. And then I felt like she didn’t care. And so there’s just this fundamental lack of communication one, uh, but that’s a perfect example of horrible, obnoxious aggression that you never want to do and never want to experience. You never want to be on the receiving end of that. Um, and that’s, yeah, that’s just like one huge mistake.
Dan Neumann: [14:23] Yeah. You just not not showing the, the care personally for, for those other people.
Christy Erbeck: [14:28] Even though I did, even though I totally cared for them.
Dan Neumann: [14:32] But in the, with the heat of all the stuff going on, it was subordinated to all the other, you know, you had lizard brain things going on there. Yeah. Those are great panic.
Christy Erbeck: [14:41] Lizard brain came in and took over and look out man, I was on the hunt.
Dan Neumann: [14:48] Well, but live and learn. Yeah. And it’s nice that you’re able to repair any potential relational damage that had been done there.
Christy Erbeck: [14:56] Well, the thing about that is when I learned a lesson I learn it hard and I, I’ve not ever done that again, thankfully. Um, but that’s a, a great example. And she, in her book, Kim has other examples as well that literally you just want to put your hands in your head and your head in your hands and go, what, was she thinking?
Dan Neumann: [15:19] Yeah. And sometimes maybe a little hint of recognition in some of those as well. I think it took me a while to wrap my head around what she called ruinous empathy where you, and so in the quadrant it’s high levels of personal caring but low levels of challenging directly. So very indirect or withholding of feedback because you’re afraid to injure somebody’s personality.
Christy Erbeck: [15:57] Correct. And we often do this when we’re afraid we’re going to hurt somebody’s feelings or we misinterpret how someone needs or would like to receive praise or acknowledgement for the work that they’ve done. And um, we see this a lot in, in men to women relationships where men don’t want to hurt the woman’s feelings and so they will, um, maybe soften the feedback or not give feedback at all or just be really apologetic around the feedback and, um, that’s not doing anyone any good. It’s certainly not helping the female, um, in her career and it’s not helping the man better distinguish his relationship with her or better define is probably the better word. Better define the relationship in, in a way that there’s equality in how we talk to each other.
Dan Neumann: [17:12] So withholding the direct challenge really then it speaks to the, the equality and balance that maybe he perceives or does exist then in that relationship. Cause we’re, oh, I don’t know what the fragile flower, maybe like a, they’re there, they’re too delicate for me to be a direct or they’re going to cry or get emotional or whatever. Yeah. And so that’s not being direct and kind of letting the, uh, the personal care be a, an impediment to that person receiving important feedback.
Christy Erbeck: [17:44] And it’s unfortunate because truly we’re not taught these skills in school. There’s very few training classes that people can go to to practice these skill sets and learn how to manage. If I’m a female, if men and women both cry regardless at some point, some kind of a situation, I don’t want to be insensitive to men who, um, who, who do that. Right. Um, but we’re not ever given opportunities to practice how we would respond to direct feedback, how we would manage our emotions on the giving or the receiving side. Um, it’s, it’s not until we come into a crisis that, and we get coached by HR on how to talk to this person that we have these situations, which is why we so often avoid them in the first place.
Dan Neumann: [18:56] Yeah. You mentioned, not learning the skills in school and it makes me think of phrases like, you know, you have to go along to get along. So you know, with not challenging people. Um, and you know, you were in group projects in school and boy, I don’t know how many times, I’m sure I experienced it, but I know as a parent, you know, my son’s coming home from school and somebody on the team isn’t doing something, you know, aren’t delivering, really and pulling their fair weight. And what do you do about it? It’s, you know, he almost kind of grin and bear it because you’re all getting the same grade, you still gotta have your friends type of thing. And it’s, it’s a real challenge that’s, we almost learned the opposite of challenging directly with personal care, you know, a lot of those environments.
Christy Erbeck: [19:43] Yeah. And that’s, that’s not helpful as we grow up in the organization as we move into positions with more responsibility or direct reports or even client, uh, situations. Um, so I’m thinking about a workshop we need to create to help ourselves and our clients learn and practice these skills.
Dan Neumann: [20:12] No, I agree. Yeah. Copyright AgileThought 2019. No, because I think as you were talking about this and I was, I was talking about the, the feedback then, uh, in a way to give that we also did an episode a little ways back. People can go find it about, uh, the feedback fallacy and really, you know, am I the expert on how we should be doing this project? Am I the expert on your behavior? And that, uh, one of the frameworks that can avoid that as the SBI situation, behavior impact model where it’s not Dan saying, um, Hey Christy, this is the best way you should do that. Or you telling me, here’s how we, I, you know, I should do certain things, but it’s, here’s the situation, here’s what, what happened, here’s the behavior you exhibited and here’s the impact that it had on me. And then we have a chance to explore that. And I know you’ve done that effectively. When I have, uh, put my foot in my mouth and continue to chew on it all the way up to my knee, you know, um, and I thought that was, it was valuable to get the fee. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew I had, um, yeah, I knew had done something that was really stupid and, uh, we had a chance to explore that when you were like, Whoa, what was that about? And Yeah, and so we’ve had it. So it, it, I thought that was, you know, there was personal caring, I think both sides and it was pretty direct. But that SBI model I think is a really powerful one for trying to apply in this radical candid approach.
Christy Erbeck: [21:45] Absolutely. And she, she references that tool specifically. And so her book is broken into two parts. The first part is about the philosophy and the second part is all about tools and techniques that one can use and apply. Um, and so she absolutely references the SBI model.
Dan Neumann: [22:05] I love the philosophy, uh, especially when it got into talking about how to maybe work with rock stars and superstars and falling stars. Um, which for me, I guess I’d never really differentiated a rock star from a superstar where the way she characterizes a superstar is somebody who needs constant challenge and commitment to growing quickly. Whereas a rock star is somebody, maybe he needs more stability and time to excel in that, in that role.
Christy Erbeck: [22:33] And I think she did a beautiful job of differentiating that and differentiating the needs that these superstars need versus what the rock star needs and how similar to this whole Type A personality that if you’re not this, you know, gregarious, outgoing, you know, sparkly personality, you’re not a leader. She talks about how rock stars are your grounding, um, team men members who are just solid. They’re your steady eddies and you need a bunch of those to make a high performing team and the superstars, there’s a need and a desire for them and there’s a place for them and we want to, to help them be those superstars. And we also want to make sure that we are helping and supporting our rock stars and giving them direct and candid feedback, um, to help them become even better rock stars. Like it’s, it’s just another wonderful way to distinguish that we all are unique and we all need different care. And so again, it goes back to really understanding the people that you work with. Caring for them deeply and being willing to dance with them. Be in the arena as Brené Brown would say, be in the arena with them and be next to them when they fall down and help them get up. There’s so, there’s so many correlations and similarities in how those two, these two people Brené Brown and Kim Scott. Um, there’s a lot of similarities in the work there. They feed off of each other. They work very well together.
Dan Neumann: [24:35] Yeah, they do. And when you were introducing Kim Scott, you’d mentioned kind of her bringing in her missteps and vulnerability and that was one of the notes that I jotted down was like that sounded a lot like the work of Brené Brown too kind of being in the arena and bringing those personal experiences and putting together a framework based on that learning that other people can then use as well. So I was thinking of a couple of maybe specific things people might keep in mind based on, because the, the Radical Candor concept is it’s the early part of the book, which we’ve been talking about here and we’ll have to get together to explore some of the tactical things. It is very conceptual. So you know, with the personal care, whether it’s present or not present, the direct feedback, whether it’s present or not present. For me, I think one of the actionable things is really the, um, A making sure you’ve got the relationship with the person. And then the timeliness of the feedback. I was relating to you before we clicked on record. You know, when I was a fresh out of college a year or two, one of my annual reviews, they were like, Dan, you’re, you know, you’re being really disruptive to other folks when you maybe have a lull in the project or your bored or whatever. I just wanted to go walk around the office and talk to people. But it’s like that came at least a year after the behavior must have been observed. I’m like, oh my gosh. Like why? I was really upset that I was finding that out now A, none of the people that I thought I had a good relationship with were like, Dan, now’s not a good time. I’m, I’m busy. Or can we do this later? Or talk, whatever. Nobody said anything like that. And then the, the leaders must have heard about it too. And they didn’t say squat to an impressionable, you know, young guy at the time. And I was just like, that was what an awful experience. And so, yeah. And so for me, I like obviously because I’m like, whatever, 20 something years later I’m like damn, you know, note to self, give the timely feedback and you know, build on the relationship as opposed to um, obnoxious aggression, manipulative insincerity or this ruinous empathy thing. Yeah. So relationship and timely, what it may be, a couple of the actionable things that come to mind for you.
Dan Neumann: [26:51] Well, so the first thing to do if you’re looking to apply some Radical Candor is to shut your mouth and ask for feedback first. So before you ever start giving this type of feedback, you must first show your people that you can take it and that takes a lot of self discipline to sincerely ask for feedback, ask for, um, observations and then to sit back and listen and not be defensive, not try to excuse it away, truly just shut up and listen. And it’s going to take time for you to build trust with your people, that they really can tell you what they’re thinking and what they’re seeing. And, and yet when you give them that gift of listening and applying the feedback, taking action where it makes sense and where it’s appropriate, um, related to that feedback, now you’re in a place where you can begin to provide some feedback as well. But that’s the first step.
Dan Neumann: [28:23] That’s cool. So asking for the feedback and modeling that behavior and really listening and taking it in as opposed to, like you said, explaining it away. Very nice. Something nice and concrete. Yeah.
Christy Erbeck: [28:34] That, that’s where I would start. And I, I have started that I still believe people are not being as radically candid with me as I would like or, and I’m not sure why. So I continue and we’ll continue to ask, um, for people to tell me their truth because when I’m able to hear that, learn from it, I will grow and I’m a truth teller myself. So I think it is absolutely paramount that people can tell me their truth and I can hear it.
Dan Neumann: [29:26] That’s outstanding. Yeah. And it’s, it’s, it’s tough cause not, not everybody’s read the book, not everybody’s in that same place where they have a concept that there’s a different way to maintain relationships and you know, and help somebody grow as a human being.
Christy Erbeck: [29:41] Right. She, and she gave an example of a way to help people, uh, start to give you feedback and it’s to say something along the line of, Dan, what could I start doing or stop doing that would help you feel more comfortable in giving me some direct feedback? And that, that, um, statement I think helps the other person put it into some context and think about specific behaviors.
Dan Neumann: [30:26] Yeah, I, I could see that being a helpful tool. Well good. Well let’s leave that there for people as a take away. They’ve got some of those there and we’ll put them in the show notes so that folks can find those at agilethought.com/podcast and the agile alliance does still have the video of Kim Scott’s Radical Candor keynote from 2018 up on the website. It appears to not be behind any kind of login or credentials of anything like that. So it’s a Freebie, whether you’re an agile alliance member or not. So that’s a really nice service for the agile alliance to make available. And we’ll put that in the show notes too so they can, uh, they can, if they were there, they can hear it again. And if they haven’t heard it, they can catch it for the first time.
Christy Erbeck: [31:11] Fabulous.
Dan Neumann: [31:13] So what are you leaning towards or what’s got you inspired or what are you digging back into these days?
Christy Erbeck: [31:21] Well, I have, um, failed miserably in achieving my goals related to my book list for the year, my reading list. Um, I’m well behind where I would like to be.
Dan Neumann: [31:34] You dared greatly though. That is a huge list. I’ve seen the list. It is huge.
Christy Erbeck: [31:40] And hopefully I can make up some ground here in the next coming months. Um, but the next book I am super excited to revisit. It’s a book I read many years ago called “The Dance of Connection,” by Dr Harriet Learner. And, um, I, I feel like I’m just going to revisit an old friend and be reminded of some things and concepts and, um, I love her work and really think I will be rejuvenated by reading this book.
Dan Neumann: [32:13] That’s fantastic. I’ll look forward to maybe hearing a little bit more about that in the future. I thought I’d done a good job by using the Blinkist, summary for Radical Candor and I’ve learned that I missed a lot of stuff, especially the tactical things that were later in the book. So I will be making an effort to make a dent in that. And I think you’d said some of Kim Scott’s guidance was to consume it in chunks or small pieces and really it.
Christy Erbeck: [32:39] Yes it is. Um, it’s a thick book and there are some excellent tips and tools and techniques that you can use. And the other thing I really liked about her book, because she referenced original sources and other Harvard Business Review Articles, um, or authors. And I very much appreciate that type of writing and deep thinking.
Dan Neumann: [33:05] I’ll have to, so that’s on my list. And then I went to a talk by Chris Schenkel at Agile2019 and one of the concepts that really stuck with me was the concept of thinking in bets. There’s a book called “Thinking in Bets,” by a lady named Annie Duke. And really, you know, so much of what we in the software industry do and have done, it’s really deterministic. We had waterfall plans and even when we have a product backlog, a lot of those are really kind of a waterfall in disguise. You know, we might call it a story and we might call them sprints by golly, we’ll hammer and through a plan that was predetermined. And this is really shifting a mindset towards what are the bets we’re willing to make. Um, because the, the one piece that really jumped out as we can make a good decision and may get a bad outcome from a bet, or we can make a really bad decision and still get a good outcome because of the odds. But really just shifting a mindset to thinking in bets as what we’re willing to do. And I think that has the potential to be really powerful. So that’s that introduction to it. Got My my brain going and I’m hoping to be able to consume that one thing in the long form.
Christy Erbeck: [34:13] It sounds fabulous and we’ll probably end up on my book list.
Dan Neumann: [34:16] Yes, yes, add it to the backlog. Well, thank you for taking time to join on this episode of the podcast and as always, it was great.
Outro: [34:29] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner Podcast brought to you by AgileThought and get the show notes and other helpful tips from this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.
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