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Say It Loud, Say It Proud: Communication Tools

Over the past couple of weeks, I've heard from several people who are navigating how and when to address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in their families, workplaces, and online communities. We know that there's no one size fits all solution. But we also know when we commit to something—in this case, having courageous conversations—the universe will provide opportunities to practice, post haste (sometimes I'm grateful for that, other times I'm like why?!?!).

If your experience has been like mine, communication has been the theme of the past week. Beyond DEI issues, much of the training I've facilitated lately has been around team dynamics and building healthy, collaborative working relationships. Communication is often the crux of the issue.

Frequently, in professional spaces, we feel caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. We observe or experience something a teammate has done well or could improve upon. But we're unsure how to give praise that doesn't come across as paternalistic, or how to critique constructively in a way that is likely to be well received. (Reminder, we can't control how people respond to us, all we can do is our best to share with good intentions).

Situations like these are where I find the work of Kim Scott helpful. In her talk and book, Radical Candor, Scott shares an approach to giving feedback that she developed during her years as a Silicon Valley executive and coach.

Scott's view is that to communicate in a way that fosters growth, we must care personally and share directly. Together, these elements create radical candor. Radical candor is the sweet spot where it's clear we care about the person and their performance. But radical candor can be challenging because it requires us to show up as ourselves (yes, sis, even in the workplace, the authentic you is the most appropriate version), and we need to move past being “nice” to be honest.

Too often, in the workplace, instead of radical candor, we see obnoxious aggression, manipulative insincerity, or ruinous empathy.

Obnoxious aggression is what happens when there's little care or personal investment in your colleagues' success but a whole lotta directness. Think of your classic playground bully: the dude who picked on people for the sake of picking on them, who didn't really care about others, and who did not mince his words. There may have been truth to the feedback given, but the intention wasn't his victim's growth.

Next door to obnoxious aggression is the tendency toward manipulative insincerity. Here, people don't speak up because silence is the simpler route. It's easier to keep quiet since you're not personally invested in your teammate's success and because rocking the boat isn't seen as acceptable. In this case, rather than directly addressing issues of performance and things that could go better with the colleague in question, conversations are had about the person. This tendency is probably best exemplified by the mean girl. Rarely will anything negative be publicly and overtly stated, but if looks, whispers, and lack of opportunities could kill, their victim would be dead.

The fourth tendency is the one I see people commit most frequently (although as humans, we're all most likely guilty of each at some point), and that is ruinous empathy. In cases of ruinous empathy, we care deeply about our colleagues, so much so that we don't give necessary feedback on ways they can improve their performance. Instead of speaking up, we'll pick up the slack for them or only assign them easy projects. By doing this we set them up for failure because they're not able to undertake the learning they require. Instead, they'll happily head off to a new team or organization only to fail.

While we're each ultimately responsible for our own learning, the truth is, it's hard to know what we don't know. But through effective communication, our colleagues can hold up a mirror, giving us a true reflection of what we're putting out there in the world and helping us recognize what we want to keep or to change.

But to build this type of partnership in our workplaces and organizations, we need to care enough to take the risk of speaking up. And when we do speak, we need to be bold enough to do so candidly and quickly; because in the words of Nikki Giovanni,"If now isn't a good time for the truth I don't see when we'll get to it."

Out of curiosity, I'd love to know: what have you seen most often in your workplace: radical candor, ruinous empathy, obnoxious aggression, or manipulative insincerity? If you have a moment, please take this four question anonymous poll and let me know.

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