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 into 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?
- , Candor. (2017). What is Radical Candor? Retrieved from
- Lencioni, P. (2002). Five Dysfunctions of a Team Model [Online image]. Retrieved December 5,
- [Untitled image of a woman sitting in a chair]. Retrieved December 5, 2017 from