radical candour

How to avoid people-pleasing and other misdemeanours

I’m coming a little late perhaps to this book Radical Candor by Kim Scott (ex-Google and Apple). Two years late, to be precise. What was I thinking?

Radical Candor is about bosses providing honest, direct and warm-hearted critical feedback to employees. Nothing new, you might say. Interestingly though, the Radical Candor frameworkTM offers four ways we give feedback, three of which are not very useful.

  1. Ruinous Empathy

    Not mentioning the deficiency, to avoid hurting the person’s feelings

  2. Manipulative Insincerity

    Covering up the deficiency to the person’s face, then sledging them behind their back

  3. Obnoxious Aggression

    Giving direct critical feedback, without the softening of a caring and supportive approach

  4. Radical Candor

    Expressing warm-hearted appreciation of the person, before delivering a direct appraisal of the deficiency

Oh no, do I do that?

What I love most about the Radical Candor frameworkTM is how I can recognise my behaviour so easily in any of the quadrants!

I’m not really convinced that it’s a tool just for work. Outside work, we may not have the remit to criticise others, but seriously, we still do, huh?

I reversed Dad’s car in to the closed garage door once as a learner and I think there’s room for radical candor there?

For my entire childhood I tried to do what I was told. Not so much because I wanted to, more that I was scared not to. I reckon I came across as a goody-two-shoes and certainly I didn’t let my hair down until I left home. I was a very angry child though, violent and temperamental, cruel to my sisters when upset, domineering and frankly obnoxious.

I had learned one thing though – if I ever attracted attention to myself, it had better be because I was doing a Good Thing. Not TOO good (requiring praise) but well-behaved, willing and cooperative. Drenched in virtue. I toed the line.

Much like any childhood, I imagined.

However, children who feel unsafe in the world may adopt good behaviour as a defence mechanism, to avoid punishment or abandonment. Still normal, huh? A primal survival instinct. You can’t knock yourself for wanting to belong to the herd, when your brain’s telling you that to be cast out means certain death.

Where survival strategies turn to sh*t

When this compliant behaviour is carried over in to adult life, it turns out it’s called ‘people-pleasing’. Which is very destructive and fundamentally counter-productive to building good relationships

Essentially if you strip it back, people-pleasing is lying:

  • Saying you want to do something, when you don’t
  • Promising to get a job done, when you won’t
  • Saying you like someone, when you don’t
Just for acceptance and a quiet life.

People-pleasing prevents us having honest relationships. We’re not being genuine when we show people our airbrushed selves.

It’s manipulative: “I’m going to behave this way so you’ll like me”.

Don’t we just build frustration and resentment on both sides, when we agree to do things we don’t want to? Of course, compromise is a natural part of any relationship. It’s a generous and thoughtful gift, bringing harmony to relationships. Unless we pretend we’re not compromising and quietly gnash our teeth.

Which quadrant do you usually work in?

I’ve been all round the clock myself. Notice though that we’re talking about behaviour, not personality.

It’s about how you RESPOND, not WHO you are.

It struck me, though, that many of my clients who have difficulties with stress, anxiety, frustration and exhaustion exhibit Ruinous Empathy behaviour.

People-pleasing has a cost to our spirits. We’re not being true to ourselves, and that hurts, often at a deep level that we don’t readily acknowledge.

How to feel better around people

The beauty of Radical Candor is the same as that of setting gentle but firm boundaries – both parties know where they are, how to avoid conflict and that they are accepted for the way they are.

It’s up to you to choose how you want to behave, but I will observe that remedying people-pleasing is a big component of the work I do with people in burnout, because it causes them a lot of suffering and leaks their power and spirit all over the place.

In my view, people-pleasing harms both parties. Maybe you don’t want to do this to yourself, if this sounds like you? Better quality relationships are on offer, when you show up differently.

If you need help with this one thing, let me know.

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