I had a conversation with a newer professional recently, who was very upset about a what occurred that day at work. This particular day, a supervisor hadreportedlymade comments that came across as critical. The professional was feeling somewhatattacked andwas trying to work through hurt feelings. I did my best to try to demonstrate that I was hearing this person talk about their day and how it made them feel, and also validate how difficult of a day that must have been to endure. As we discussed what was said, how it was said, and in what context, the comments that were made, as described to me, did seem to be critical. Perhaps the delivery of these comments could have been improved, but the information that was being relayed, was not being disputed by the professional who was receiving them. It was the way in which these perceived negative comments were made, instead of what was stated, that caused the hurt feelings and sadness. From what I could gather, the person receiving the comments, would have not been having this type of emotional reaction to them, if they had been delivered differently, or if the relationship between the supervisor and staff member was not in question. The staff member has not known this supervisor for very long, and so there is not a level of trust or understanding between the two about what can be expected in terms of next steps, now that this exchange has taken place.
We discussed the concept of criticism sometimesequaling care, and how sometimes when people care about you and want you to improve, then they care enough to tell you this.We discussed how the delivery of these types of comments can vary and how that can impact the feelings or reaction that one might have in response to them. I shared some instances in my professional life when someone gave me critical feedback and how it caused a sort of sting type of feeling, but that once I was able to put aside my feelings about it, and focus on the essence of the message, I was able to see the part of the comments that I did need to take in, and address. After we talked, and my colleague had devised a plan of what to do and how to approach this with the supervisor, I continued to think about this issue.
While we all may be very familiar with the term “constructive criticism” how much effort do we put into perfecting this feedback communication process? Our conversation made me think about howI should put effort intoproviding opportunities for my colleagues to experience and practice the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others. In addition,practicing being the recipient of these comments is equally needed. I want to make sure that we are learning about ways to intentionally include both positive and negative comments, and how to deliver those comments in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one.We must also learn how to be open to these comments and willing to hear them in a way that can bring about a desire to use them in our quest to improve ourselves.
In a book (recently revised) edition called “Radical candor: How to be a kickass boss without losing your humanity” by Kim Scott, she states that "Radical candor just means saying what you think while also giving a damn about the person you're saying it to." It does indeed matter if we believe the person making these comments to us, authentically care about us. She goes on to explain that Radical Candor is described as “Caring Personally while Challenging Directly. At its core, Radical Candor is guidance and feedback that’s both kind and clear, specific and sincere.”
Here is the link and the Radical Candor diagram by Kim Scott:
Basically, providing feedback that is both thoughtful and understandable at the same time is at the core of this concept. As I have read about Kim Scott’s Radical Candor, it seemed reminiscent to me of Sandford’s theory of challenge and support (1967). This theory I first learned about in my Student Development Theory graduate course, states that for optimal student developmental growth in a college environment, challenges they experience must be met with supports that can sufficiently tolerate the stress of the challenge itself. This can be applied not only to the students we serve, but the staff we work alongside with as well. I plan to focus more on this endeavor of incorporating opportunities for my colleagues to develop these skills with one another. Certainly, once we ascertain their level of readiness, we all want to provide the necessary professional “challenge” to our colleagues, and empower them to take on situations in which they may not already have the skills, knowledge, or attitude to cope, in order to bring about growth and development. And while they are being challenged, we want to ensure that there are buffers within the environment, as we do with our students, that will help them to successfully meet those challenges.
Back to my colleague who had the bad day and hurt feeling about what was said. I do believe that the supervisor that made the comments to my colleague, was attempting to provide the challenge, but not successful with providing the support needed. Or in Kim Scott’s Radical Candor diagram, there was aggression and candor in the comments made, but there was not care demonstrated, nor was the message clear.
I am grateful for the conversation I had with my colleagueas it helped encourage me to prioritize this important work of improving our ability to be both kind and clear,specific and sincere, using radical candor,being bothchallenging and supporting, as we engage with one another. Within Student Affairs, we often discuss the culture of support and challenge for our students. We focus on how it epitomizes an institution’s mission and identity with the bottom line calling for a holistic view of student development and learning. I would liketo suggest that we add a holistic view of professional development and learning for our colleagues. I invite you to use the ideas put forth to act as a catalyst to engage in conversation with your campus colleagues about how to develop a culture that best supports one another in their quest for effective growth and development. Crafting such a culture calls for the notions demonstrating that we truly care about one another, and that we can be clear with one another, and that we will welcome being challenged and supported, as we do that for our students.
Sanford, N. (1967). Where colleges fail. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Scott. K. (2019). Radical candor: How to be a kickass boss without losing your humanity (Second edition.). New York: St. Martin's Press.
Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.