Healthy Confrontation Helps Everyone Grow

By: Tom Ford


We have all been there: sitting in a meeting silently disagreeing with the organizer.  You know from your experience that the proposal on the table will not work but you choose not to speak up because you are a professional.  However, the meeting ends and your boss tasks you with doing something that will fail.  Worst yet is that once you expose the failure, you will also receive all of the blame. Guess you should clean up that resume and start looking for a new job!  On the other hand, is there another way to manage this situation?

Two tools that can help you navigate effectively towards truth in the workplace are radical candor and conflict.   According to Candor, Inc., radical candor “really just means saying what you think while also giving a damn about the person you’re saying it to.”  The goal is to be direct but respectful so that while you might catch the recipient of your feedback off guard, she/he is not offended.  The goal is to create a productive conversation with candor so that everyone may improve.  This creates an environment where you may “care personally” and “challenge directly” earning yourself a spot in the upper right hand quadrant of the following grid:


Patrick Lencioni, in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” explains how a fear of conflict in the workplace demonstrates how “the desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive, ideological conflict.”  The following pyramid shows where the “Fear of Conflict” fits in creating a dysfunctional team:


This is why when you do not speak up at a meeting you often end up resentful at the outcome: without conflict, work ceases to become anything more than blindly taking orders.  Lencioni goes on to describe how even if the end result of a meeting is not what you wanted it to be, if you have the freedom to disagree during the discussion without fear of being fired, you will be more bought in to the outcome than if you say nothing at all.

Implementing radical candor can be as simple as pulling your boss aside after she does a presentation and saying that her excessive usage of the word “like” makes her look unprofessional.  Emphasize that you know how professional she really is and that you do not want her overuse of the word “like” to discredit her reputation.  Likewise, if your boss comes to you with a work assignment that you think does not make sense, tell her that! Even if the two of you argue, you will feel better about the assignment if you are able to speak your mind.  Furthermore, the conflict may lead to a discussion that completely changes the scope of work and produces a better outcome!  However, as with any new approach, make sure you give your boss a heads up about your methodologies first so that you do not surprise her with your newfound sense of directness.

Question for discussion:  Have you ever used radical candor and/or conflict to make a bad situation better at your job?  If so, what was the outcome of your efforts?



  1. , Candor. (2017). What is Radical Candor? Retrieved from

  1. Lencioni, P. (2002).   Five Dysfunctions of a Team Model [Online image]. Retrieved December 5,

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  • This was a great article to read! I feel that this happens all the time at my current workplace. Many people are given a project to work on that they know will not work, but they do not speak up. In the end they look bad, since they could not make it work, and when they finally speak up in the end, it is a little too late.

  • This is a great article! Having worked in prior workplaces where speaking candidly and with diplomacy led to worsening the situation, I can appreciate this fully. I think it takes a good gauge of the situation to know when and how is the best time t speak–another reason why a high emotional IQ is useful. I am a believer that we should be able to say what we need to say by doing it well using diplomacy and tact.

  • I can appreciate the “radical candor” aka being blunt while giving a damn about the person you are delivering the message to. I’ve been taught (don’t ask me to cite by whom or from where) that you praise in public and criticize in private. It all comes down to tone. Open disagreement does not equate to “conflict” to me, though. It’s just disagreement. Am I being too picky with the word choice? It’s ok, you can tell me and I won’t hold it against you.

  • Thank you for this post, I enjoyed reading it. I can really identify with Radical Candor, and its place in the business world.

    I work in a training center as a facilitator. I was having a hard time getting through to a facilitator about his facilitation skills. I am a rather dynamic and energetic facilitator that usually doesn’t have a hard time connecting with my participants. He is a reserved facilitator that knows the information he is sharing, but doesn’t always present in a way that engages his participants, and quite often it felt like he was reading a script. After sitting in on two or three of his sessions and giving him suggestions on things to incorporate to improve his facilitation I could tell that he wasn’t taking them to heart and didn’t see just how un-engaging and uninspiring his sessions were.

    After a particularly dry session I once again had a conversation about how it went with him and he thought it went well. It didn’t. While I don’t remember the exact words I used, it was something along the lines of “I want you to know that I can tell you are working hard and are very knowledge about the content that you facilitate, but that was painful to sit through. How can we make it better for our participants?”

    In the months that he had been facilitating, no one had been honest about how bad it really was. I certainly didn’t want to diminish the work he had done, but he needed to know that he still had a lot of work to do and that his participants may not be getting everything they needed from his sessions.

    I think a key part of radical candor is that while you built a relationship with that person and could be direct with them, you need to continue to follow up on the topic to reinforce that you care about their success. If I would have told him that his facilitation was horrible, given him a few tips and then never discussed it again, would he continue to feel that I had his best interest in mind?

    Make sure the “give a damn” continues long after the “challenge directly”.

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