Kim Scott (ex-Google/Apple, author, leadership coach/founder at Candor, Inc.) says praise and criticism aren’t all that different. We can let someone know what a great job they’re doing and still challenge them, just like we can challenge someone while still praising their effort. With clients or coworkers, Scott’s guidance is to “care personally but challenge directly.” In order to care personally, we have to remember to find an empathetic connection. In order to challenge directly, we have to look for the core question, resistance, or argument.
Consider a client who wants to make a business decision we know they can’t afford. We’re not going to get through to them unless we connect first and find the root of their desire. Maybe they’re overconfident based on a prior decision. Maybe they know they’re being irrational but are scared to pass up on an opportunity that may never appear again. We want to try their proverbial shoes on, see if we can get them to try ours on, and go for a walk. When done well, these conversations – even when difficult (especially when difficult) – can be relationship fortifying. When missed or avoided, we’re passing up on a valuable opportunity.
Communication is key, and balancing praise and criticism is a skill that takes practice. No matter what we do, we’re all in the relationship business. Our job is not to just take orders or heap aimless praise, nor is it to make demands or baseless criticisms. Our job is to create the connections that allow us to ask the tough questions and drive the progress people can feel proud of.
For a master course in professional relationships and feedback check out Kim Scott’s book, Radical Candor, get an overview from her interview with Jordan Harbinger, or stay up to date with her company’s blog.