I'm a huge fan of the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott, which is about giving direct feedback. Clear, direct, and actionable feedback is crucial to helping people grow and develop into better employees and teammates--and makes your business stronger in the long run.
However, in the years since the book came out, I've noticed an uptick in the amount of folks using "radical candor" to say whatever is on their minds--no matter how unvarnished the opinion.
I'm all about being direct with colleagues and direct reports--but not when "candor" is used as an excuse to act like a jerk. So how can you practice true radical candor? Here are four ways to expertly toe the line.
1. You take the time to have a conversation
When giving difficult feedback, it can be tempting to do a "drive-by"--where one person says what's on their mind and then ends the meeting before the other person can respond.
A conversation is an exchange, which means both people get to talk and be heard. If you have a piece of tough feedback to give, you owe it to the other person to answer any questions they have, help them process, or at minimum invite them to respond and listen. Running out of the room as soon as feedback leaves your lips shows that you only care about getting your point across--and failing to show the other person courtesy only undermines what you have to say.
2. You've considered the other person's perspective
Anytime you're giving (or receiving) a piece of feedback, it's important to consider the other person's point of view. Any feedback that neglects to take both sides into account will likely be ineffective. Taking time to consider (and ask) why someone behaves in a certain way might not change the feedback itself, but it will improve the tone of the conversation.
3. Your feedback contributes to the other person's growth
Collaborating with others--especially those with different work styles--can be frustrating. But never take your frustration out on colleagues. One of the most insidious misuses of radical candor is when directness is a sham for consciously or unconsciously hurting someone to make yourself feel better. A nasty remark cloaked as feedback might feel satisfying in the moment, but will undoubtedly damage your relationship with that person. Before giving any piece of feedback, ask yourself if it's meant to help the other person grow or if it's just an emotional release for you.
4. You've demonstrated that you care
When managers challenge directly but fail to care personally, Scott puts them in an "obnoxious aggression" category. Feedback gets infinitely more effective when you've taken the time to get to know the other person's dreams, motivations, and insecurities--that way, you can frame your feedback in terms of the things they care about and how it gets them closer to or farther away from their goals. And, of course, people are more likely to be receptive to your criticism if they know you're coming from a place of caring.
If you haven't demonstrated that you care about this person, Scott argues that you haven't earned the right to give them tough feedback. Note that this doesn't always have to be a long relationship-building process--simply (and sincerely) stating, "I care about your growth" goes a long way. Of course, remember that actions speak louder than words. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't care about their co-workers, but unless that care is obvious, the best intentions aren't worth much.
Finally, giving effective and direct feedback requires strong emotional intelligence. If you have a hard time understanding this concept, your radical candor might be coming across more negatively than you think. If you want to take stock of your emotional intelligence, check out this list of behaviors that denote high EQ.