“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This is a message we are all given from a young age. And it sticks with us through our life. Though well intentioned, the practice of not saying anything if it’s not nice, may backfire in the workplace. Curious how?

According to Kim Scott, CEO Coach and faculty at Apple University, being nice prevents people from learning and making their work better. It is a disservice to not share when your team member’s work isn’t up to the mark. And to do this well, she recommends a practice of radical candor – to care deeply for someone, while challenging them directly to be better. Such candor is about offering guidance. Vague as that may sound, here are some suggestions to put it to practice:

Seek out information. Companies go to great lengths to hire talented, capable people. Managers dedicate endless resources to find the ‘right fit’. And once that is done, employees report feeling neglected, not heard. They feel a big divide between ‘the management’ and ‘the employees’.

How to shift this? Show that you care. Not just by having personal conversations. Rather ask people consistently how they feel about their work and the team culture. Get into the depths of what they are thinking. And then initiate changes that help shift any disconnect. That will make your listening tangible, help display integrity, and build trust. Research reveals that despite integrity being the most desired leadership quality, only about 25% of people think their bosses actually have it. You’d want to shift that!

Forget the feedback sandwich. As we explored in an earlier post, employees want their bosses to teach them. Thus, when you offer feedback, let go of the ‘positive-constructive-positive’ format. Instead, offer twice or thrice the amount of praise. It reflects their strengths; it’s not about boosting their ego. And when you name a failure, let your team member know that it is fixable.

Scott’s thumb rule: “Offer guidance in person and immediately, praise in public, criticize in private, and don’t personalize. It’s true, challenging people generally pisses them off. But it’s the way you can help them improve.” Don’t avoid a challenging conversation. Bad news doesn’t get better with time!

Initiate career conversations. A quintessential aspect of growth – figuring out what lies ahead. And this doesn’t just pertain to promotions. Managers are also mentors, who when caring deeply, should be able to know their employees at a human level – beyond their roles. How will this help? It’s a real investment in them, which shows you want them to succeed. Here is a framework from Google, which requires managers to focus on three conversation themes:

  • Listen to the employee’s life story to learn what motivates them at work.
  • Ask employees about their dreams for the future to learn what skills they need to develop.
  • Together, develop an action plan that is focused on the employee’s motivations and life goals.

The success of an organization is a collaborative effort from each person in it. And the foundation of it lies with flourishing employee-employer relationships. Are you ready to build them with candor?

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