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,
`2017 from https://www.tablegroup.com/books/dysfunctions
- [Untitled image of a woman sitting in a chair]. Retrieved December 5, 2017 from
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”.
Thanks for sharing this great example, Ashley! You have to “sincerely give a damn” for radical candor to work! 🙂
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.
I’m using the word conflict to describe “an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests” which is not always or necessarily representative of a disagreement.
Got it. I totally agree with you then! Spot on for material and subject – well written!
Thank you for your kind words! I appreciate your comment and the discussion! 🙂
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.
Spot on, Mary! Thanks for reading! 🙂
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.
Thanks, Taylor-Marie! I think it’s a wide spread problem everywhere unfortunately.
I really enjoyed the idea of “Radical Candor”. I had to learn this the hard way on the job, but I think it’s important for those who are a project manager, talent developer, HR rep, or in training and development through utilization of this tool and promotion of it to those they work with/support. I’ve found that often organizations stagnate when they don’t employ this kind of direct, constructive criticism. If done correctly, as the chart suggests, it can actually unify a team and improve innovation, efficiency, and employee satisfaction. It does take strategy though to employ this effectively which is where the emphasis on “giving a damn about the person you’re saying it to” comes into play. If implemented/utilized properly this can have numerous positive effects. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing this article with a great example.!
In my recent workplace, there were a few times when my colleagues were given a specific project to work upon. But considering the fact, they were not much aware of the project so they could not do it correctly. Also, while the project was handed over they did not speak up that they did not have appropriate knowledge about the particular project. Later, on the day of meeting the project was not up to the mark they had confessed that they were not much aware. This situation was really difficult to handle as it was too late for the confession made. So, I think Radical Candor needs to be given attention.!
Radical Candor is a very important thing to have in the workplace, too often situations arise because employees have a fear of conflict with the superiors. That is the main thing I enjoy my workplace, I know my boss is my boss but I can speak to her about anything without fear or any repercussions, she knows shes human and doesn’t have all the answers right at the moment and we respect her for that. Too many bosses have an ego and think whatever they say is right and if somebody challenges them in public then they have to show them who’s “boss”.
Thanks for the great post. I have a hard time with conflict and Radical Candor in the work place. I try to avoid it as much as possible because I try to be professional and respectful. This tends to cause more problems because I end up having to do things that could easily have been avoided if I had just spoken up and voiced my opinion. This article gave me a lot to think about and about the best ways to approach people and situations that I do not agree with.
The two tools radical candor and conflict appears to be quite helpful for assisting with uncomfortable topics. Fear of voicing one’s opinion could result in resentment, bitterness, and/frustration that would not be beneficial for the work environment or that potential task one knows would fail before s/he even begins. Not many people are ready to toe step or rub someone the wrong way when in a opposing position, yet those uncomfortable conversations are apart of growth and could bring great opportunities. There may be a grand idea that needs to be expressed without fear blocking that opportunity.
I really enjoyed reading this post! The title really caught my interest and it kept me engaged throughout. Radical candor can play an extremely important role in determining if a meeting, or business overall, will be successful. When people speak up in a rational and respectful way during a meeting, it can really help the outcome. Fear of conflict is definitely something that I’ve seen in action, and even personally experienced. At one of my past jobs, a lot of people had conflicting views and it never seemed easy or effective to agree on anything. Therefore, I gave up expressing my thoughts during meetings and just stayed quiet, because I knew it would cause conflict. Now, at my current job, my manager has done an excellent job at making sure all of our opinions are taken into consideration. I feel comfortable speaking up with any thoughts or concerns I may have. Also, I have even given my manager straight forward constructive criticism when she has asked for it. She often wants me to read over documents or reports she creates, and let her know what I think she can improve on. In turn, I tell her and my other employees to make sure to let me know if there are areas in which they think I need to improve in. It has been a great learning experience so far, and I think radical candor and being able to speak up for yourself is a really effective way of helping any business in being successful!
This post really resonated with me,
because I believe that open, honest, respectful communication is so important at work (well everywhere, really), yet it can be difficult to encourage and demonstrate radical candor. I have had both positive experiences and negative experiences demonstrating radical candor. The times that it has gone well, I think it was because there was a foundation of a strong relationship in place, as well as the feedback was received by a confident leader. In the times that it hasn’t gone well, the relationship was not as strong as well as openness to feedback, not being an experienced area. Resolving openness to feedback can be a conundrum, because there has to be trust in the relationship that the feedback well be received well. That trust cannot be easily established if there have been instances of not receiving feedback well or not giving feedback at all. The resolution that may be helpful is offering feedback to someone you’d like to gain trust with, for a smaller stakes scenario to see how the response goes. If well, proceed with more feedback as necessary. If the first response doesn’t go well, let the person know that you’d like to establish a relationship and you want to find out the best way that they receive feedback so you can apply that approach in the future.
We are all unique individuals with our own thoughts, beliefs, etc., so it is no surprise that at one point in our career or another we will be faced with conflict. Should we express our opinion, or keep it to ourselves. I believe we are doing a disservice to everyone if we remain quiet. We can disagree, or speak our mind, in a respectful manner. I believe that is the most important aspect of addressing this. By caring about the other person and speaking in a “radical candor” way we will actually be helping everyone be more successful. It is very hard, but I try and use these instances to learn more. I’ve even pulled my manager aside after a meeting and express my belief that I don’t agree with what was stated, and gave examples of why I thought that way. Sometimes it is appreciated, and others it is not, but at least I felt better by expressing myself.
I have used radical candor to make the situation better for myself as well as to make the environment more relax and better to understand and communicate with my team.
My outcomes were much better and we were all able to speak our thoughts and continue what was importantly related to the task of the meeting.
I agree because it’s important to be aware of how our feedback affects others. And also be frank, clear with our feedback while still being willing to understand the other person’s thoughts. This reminds me of social intelligence. And how crucial it is to recognize your audience. One day someone told me that when someone offered a new idea like in a meeting, to love the idea for the first 5 minutes! That really helped me to learn about don’t always run to radical candor right away first analyze the situation and allow it to process, them it’s off to give the different quadrants of feedback while giving a damn of for the other person feels.
I have always been taught that a closed mouth does not get fed. If you don’t ever speak up, then how can you expect anything to be recognized or maybe even change? I have used radical candor in previous employment, sometimes with positive outcomes, sometimes with negative outcomes. I think one aspect of utilizing radical candor is to know your audience. Not everyone can take this type of feedback objectively; taking it as a personal attack. I am a straight forward type of person; taking after my parents to not beat around the bush, but doing it with respect and couth. I believe there is going to be conflict in each and every job environment, but that does not always mean that it should be feared. Having differences of opinions and acknowledging that aspect leads to positive understanding.
Healthy conflict and/or differences of opinion are good for learning and evolving. Even in the Brainstorming cause and analysis method, a big part of it is gathering different people to get different points of view. In my personal life, as I have matured and evolved, I found that when I listen and emphasize another person’s point of view, I can see and learn a different perspective. Enhancing and sometimes enlightening my understanding.
However, this concept is tough in our current PC (politically correct) culture, where you have to be VERY careful of what you say and/or how you say it. In a country with alleged, “FREE SPEECH”. It can result in loss of employment, alienation, and a host of other social ills for simply stating your opinion which may be DIFFERENT from the dominating NARRATIVE of the times. You may have a conflict of interest with your boss, partner, etc. and it can have drastic consequences. This is the result of the culture in this country, in my opinion, the thought that whatever I FEEL is right (your truth concept) as opposed to THE TRUTH. It’s a very slippery slope that has caused more people to just be quiet and assimilate to survive.
Great post! & I really liked what you had to say. You are absolutely right, “healthy” conflict and/or differences are good for learning and evolving. Thats the whole point of having a diverse culture, to bring different points/ideas into the table. I believe we are very slowly shifting out of our current PC culture.
I would also sometimes fall under the case of not being confident enough to disagree with my supervisor however, especially in this day and time, if I am working in an environment where i dont feel confortable or will get “in trouble” for speaking up, I definitely do not want to be working there. For anyone else who doesnt feel confortable speaking up at the workplace because they dont want to get fired or get in trouble, I dont think the work place is worth staying there. There are so many other organization (Im sure) who will value your opinion and I think thats so important in an organization.
Also, side note to anyone who has trouble sometimes saying “no” professionally to coworkers or having conversations that may have some sort of a “mean” connotation (Like telling your co-worker to hurry up on the project, I am not paid enough to do that etc), I recommend checking out @Loewhaley on instagram or tik tok/YouTube. She does a GREAT job showing how to have though cough conversations in a professional manner. She really phrases all the words really well. You should totally check her out!