You are at lunch with your manager. You catch up on in-flight projects, share challenges of working with certain team members, and talk about your career with the company.
As you say goodbye, and, unbeknownst to you, a large piece of spinach is stuck in your teeth. Do you want your manager to:
A.) Tell you that you have a piece of spinach on your teeth? Or,
B.) Not tell you that you have a piece of spinach on your teeth?
Naturally, you want to know about your potentially embarrassing grin before moving on with the rest of the day. A good manager will say something. And, that’s the gist of the book Radical Candor: How to be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott, well worth the read or listen.
Even though it may feel awkward, it’s part of your job as a Project Manager to shoot straight with team members, as they want to know when they have spinach on their teeth. However, a couple of things need to be in place for your feedback to be effective:
- You Care About them Personally - Team members need to know that you aren’t out to get them, but want them to improve for the sake of their future and careers. Feedback can be framed in such a way that its purpose is to better prepare them for that next position, job, or manager.
It takes time and many shared experiences where you’ve shown them that you’ve “got their back” for your team to feel this level of trust. How do you know when you have earned it? When they come to you and ask what they could have done differently, or better. Guard this trust carefully. It can take years to gain and moments to lose.
- You Challenge them Directly - Keep your expectations for them high, by giving them stretch goals to reach for, and don’t back down if you know they are achievable. This means having the nerve to send things back to redo if they don’t meet your expectations, or assigning tasks or responsibilities that may be out of their comfort zone, to help them see what they are capable of.
When constructive feedback is caring and challenging, it is what Kim Scott calls Radical Candor, the best place to be.
If your feedback is not radically candid, the author warns you may fall into the trap of Ruinous Empathy, which sounds like this: “I know this person missed their deadline for the third time in a row, but they’ve put in long hours and are dealing with a lot in their personal life right now. I’m just going to pretend like this didn’t happen, and not say anything.”
You just let them walk out of the restaurant with spinach on their teeth.
Two additional categories of feedback described by Kim Scott are Manipulative Insincerity and Obnoxious Aggression. As their names suggest, managers who employ either have gone to the dark side, and reading Radical Candor will help you understand why you never want to provide feedback this way.
You won’t go wrong by keeping your feedback real with people that report to you. High performers will thank you, average performers will become better, and low performers will eventually find their way to the door.