Kim Scott says in her talk about radical candor that she learned during business school that “all of life’s hardest problems can be boiled down to a good two by two framework.”
Radical candor is a framework to help us think about ways in which to give feedback. It is founded on the idea of two continuums, “care personally” and “challenge directly”: the good two by two framework to solve life’s extremely challenging problem of how to give effective feedback. Depending on your combination of these two options, you end up in one of four quadrants in terms of your communication style. Compassionate and non-violent communication is also a framework to help us think about ways in which to give feedback. It is not constructed on a two by two framework, and yet, when boiled down, the two concepts seem to fit well together, like yin and yang.
Compassionate and non-violent communication begins with the idea of a stimulus—something that instigates the interaction—coupled with intention. You then have two choices—to play the game of who’s right, or to enter the realm of possibilities. As per the website for the Center of Nonviolent Communication, “NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of those needs.” Parallels to this idea can also be found in classroom approaches such as Responsive Classroom.
Compassionate communication includes three visual organizers in order to support users of the approach, including a color-coded chart of “Feeling Words”, and a wheel of needs that partners with these words in order to help us to pair underlying needs with feelings, and thereby communicate in a clear manner exactly what it is that we need. Inserting these into this sentence frame–“When I see/hear….I feel….because I value….actionable” — gives the person to whom you are communicating a clear understanding of your feelings, and their relationship to your needs, as well as actionable steps that can be taken to resolve the problem.
Both these approaches aim in some way to consider the vulnerability that people feel when being given feedback. Both of them value honesty and compassion, for all parties involved. However, ultimately they serve different purposes.
Radical candor should be used when:
1) you are in a position of power and are giving feedback to someone less powerful than you
2) you are not in a state of heightened emotion
Compassionate communication should be used when:
1) you are in a state of vulnerability due to power dynamics
2) you are in a state of vulnerability due to heightened emotion
Professionally I might be in any of these states on any given day. With my principal and other superiors, I am in a position of vulnerability due to power dynamics. However, when supporting teaching interns, practicum students, or even novice teachers, I am the one in a position of power. Sometimes I am the one whose needs are not being met: by my superiors, by my colleagues, even by my students. Sometimes, I am calm and simply making an observation. In any given moment, I must make a judgment about the most suitable approach.
What neither approach helps you with, however, is how to make that judgment. In an ideal world, I can float above myself and carefully consider all the facts of a situation before deciding how to react. In reality, that is never the case. We are constantly responding to moments.
Pairing Sheila Heen’s work with these two approaches, however, may help. Sheila Heen’s work discusses three types of feedback that we all need: appreciation, coaching, and evaluative.
When demonstrating appreciation, neither radical candor nor compassionate communication is necessary, as neither party in that case is experiencing either vulnerability due to power dynamics or vulnerability due to heightened emotion.
If you are coaching, there should be less power imbalance, but greater possibility for heightened emotion on the part of the party receiving feedback. When evaluating, there is a clear power imbalance, as well as a possibility of heightened emotion. Knowing your role in advance, as well as some particulars of the situation, may help you decide beforehand what type of approach will be the most effective.
Heen’s work also, however, emphasizes that in fact, successfully having these difficult conversations is actually less about how to give feedback and more about how we learn to receive feedback. The person receiving the feedback is ultimately the one in charge. Therefore, for mentor teachers, helping a student teacher understand their own tendencies in receiving feedback may actually be the most effective approach.
However, how we might best go about that in the field of education still remains to be seen.