Feedback Conversations

I’ve come across two frameworks recently that are helping me think about how I have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. They have been useful when I have to tell someone that their actions are making me or others uncomfortable, or when we are disagreeing about a decision.

Radical Candor

Kim Scott’s Radical Candor framework introduces two criterias to evaluate what we say. On one axis, how direct is your communication? On another, how much do you care about the person? When you combine these into a 2x2 chart, you can categorize your communication into four areas:

  1. Ruinous Empathy: When you care a lot, but are not very direct. This is when you hesitate to hurt someone’s feelings, so you either don’t say anything, or you say it indirectly, hoping that the other person decyphers your subtle message.
  2. Radical Candor: When you care a lot, and are very direct. This is where most of want to be more often, but we default to the first category.
  3. Manipulative: When you don’t care about the person, and you are not direct.
  4. Jerk: When you don’t care how they feel, and you are very direct.

The most useful parts of this framework helped me see how I communicate in an uncomfortable situation, and understand which direction I needed to move toward. If I am striving to be more direct, I also want to make sure that the other person knows that I do care about them and how they feel.

Difficult Converstations

The Difficult Conversations book introduced me to the different layers of conversations we have despite what both sides are be saying. When two people disagree, there are disagreements on the “what happened” layer. Did we see the same thing? Do I understand how the person experienced the situation?

There is also the feelings layer. How do both sides feel because of what they perceived to happen? Are these feelings expressed or implied during subsequent conversations? If they are not acknowledged, you have not addressed the actual issue. Or if the issue is addressed, there will still be residual, unresolved emotions associated with the incidident.

The third layer of converations are internal dialogues on indentity. How does what happened reflect on who I am or think I am?

With these layers, the conversations become less of “I am going to tell you something and you are going to receive it” into learning conversations. I need to understand you across multiple layers before making judgement calls.


Both of these frameworks have been very helpful, and I would like to spend more time understanding how they complement each other.

Difficult and awkward conversations are unpleasant, so we avoid them. There’s also the adage of not saying anything if you have nothing nice to say, which I’m starting to think is misdirected advice. If you have nothing nice to say, find a better way to say it.