Rational Candour

A client of mine told me about a book she recently read, called Rational Candour by Kim Scott, who is an ex google employee. She was raving about it as a model of providing feedback. She’s from the United States and she operates here in Australia, and she noted that there’s quite a difference in how feedback is provided in the United States, compared to Australia.

When I read the book, I really liked the model. It reminded me of the rules that we use in my men’s group. I’ve been a member of a men’s group for the last 18 years now and in the group we have something that’s known as straight talk. We have a number of rules to do that. One of those being ‘I’ statements and of course providing feedback with a high degree of empathy and care. When I looked at the Rational Candour model, it actually very much fitted in with straight talk.

The model that Kim Scott discusses, uses a number of different quadrants, comprised of high to low care on one axis and direct and indirect communication on the other. It made sense to me, to think of people who would fit into each of the quadrants. In other words, thinking of it as archetypes. I considered what sort of person would give rational candour? It’s somebody who cares for me and will give me direct feedback.

The type of person I came up with was actually like a coach. They would give you direct feedback and they would care for you. However, somebody who gives you direct feedback but really doesn’t care about you, or has a low degree of care, would probably be an A-hole.
What about the quadrant for low care and indirect communication? I thought the archetype for that would be a bar fly, somebody who you meet at a bar and just shoot the breeze with. Then somebody who is indirect with high care, I thought would be a diplomat. Someone who has a high degree of care but wanting to get the point across but does it in a very indirect way.

What is the relevance of this in terms of leadership? I think as a leader, it’s really important for us to provide direct feedback with care and empathy. Now of course the way you provide feedback would be different in different parts of the world and different cultures. Yet, one of the things about good leaders is having the courage to actually provide feedback, to actually say what is necessary to get things done.

Conversely, as a leader, we also need to have the courage to be able to receive feedback, especially if it’s feedback that we don’t particularly want to hear. If somebody has the courage to provide you with feedback, then it’s important for us to acknowledge the person doing it. We don’t have to agree with it, but they actually brought it up, so we should always thank them for it.

Think about how much feedback you actually provide. Do you have rational candour when you’re providing feedback? In other words, is there a high degree of care, so therefore empathy, and are you direct, so that people get what you’re saying? If you’re not doing that, do you then need to do more of it? Do you need to encourage your teams, your suppliers, your vendors to also practise straight talk with you, so that we are all aligned on the same journey?

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