Building Trusting Relationships for Radical Candor

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you trying to develop a culture of radical candor? What goes into building trusting relationships and why is it important for candor?

Building trusting relationships is an essential first step to creating a workplace that is radically candid. If people feel safe and seen at work, the feedback is easier to give and receive and collaboration is more effective.

Keep reading for tips on building trusting relationships at work.

Building Trusting Relationships

One of the first steps toward creating a radically candid workplace is showing your team members that you personally care about them, which naturally contributes to building trusting relationships. This practice might feel a little “soft” for the workplace, but it’s not a waste—when you build trusting relationships with your team and let them bring their whole selves to work, you give shape and meaning to the work you do together. This motivates and engages your employees, driving them to accomplish much more than you could as a closed-off, disconnected team.

This step will take a good deal of time and effort on your part—solid relationships can’t be forced. Rather, they’re developed slowly through repeated, meaningful demonstrations of practicing self-care, giving your team autonomy, and respecting boundaries. First, we’ll explore how practicing self-care can help you show up to work in a way that opens up opportunities for relationship-building. Then, we’ll discuss building trust by giving your team autonomy, and by respecting their boundaries when asking them to share about themselves.

Practicing Self-Care

Self-care is vitally important to creating opportunities for building trusting relationships, because it allows you to bring your best self to work. This is important for several reasons. First, it’s very difficult to correctly deal with tough situations when you’re not at your best. As a leader, your job is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the situations you’re faced with—however, if you’re stressed at work and stressed at home, your problems will exacerbate one another. Tough work situations become insurmountable, or you may snap at someone who doesn’t deserve it. Second, it’s hard to care personally about other people when you’re caught up in your own issues—and personal care is crucial to radically candid relationships.

There are three ways that you can maintain your self-care: integrating your work and life, finding and practicing your self-care method, and scheduling self-care time. 

Integrate Your Work and Life to Help With Building Trusting Relationships

Don’t think of your two lives separately, as a work-life balance. This implies that energy that’s put into your work is sapped from your life, and vice versa. Instead, think more in terms of integrating the two—you bring your whole self to work, and your whole self goes home at the end of the day. For example, if staying centered requires that you spend 30 minutes meditating every morning, this isn’t time that’s “taken away” from your focus on work. It allows you to bring a more grounded self to work. Likewise, if you feel excited and energized about a work project, feel free to talk about it at home and share your vision with your spouse. 

Integrating your work life and personal life ensures that they enrich one another, instead of working against each other for your attention and time.  If you’re building trusting relationships, they need to be based on who you are completely and not just at work.

Find and Practice Your Self-Care Method

It’s important to find your own self-care method—what is helpful and meaningful for one of your colleagues may do nothing at all for you. Self-care can look like mediation or exercise, or can be grounded in spending time with your spouse, getting drinks with friends, or going on vacation with your family. 

Whatever your self-care method is, it should be prioritized when you’re faced with tough situations—but you need to check in and make sure it’s not your highest priority. For example, if you’re tasked with laying off several members of your team, it’s okay to have a weekend getaway for some space to think. It’s not okay to abandon work commitments for a last-minute 4-day weekend, or to distract yourself from the task by shopping around for flights and hotels while you’re on the clock. 

If you don’t have a way to step back and center yourself, it’s all too easy to get caught up in stress and chaos. On the other hand, if you have a solid self-care practice in place, you should be able to deal adequately with tough situations.

Schedule Self-Care Time

Self-care doesn’t feel as urgent or important as your bigger work tasks, so it’s likely to get bumped to the bottom of your priority list. To avoid this, schedule self-care time into your day like you would schedule anything else for work, and show up for it. For example, if you always blow off exercising in the morning, put it into your calendar and commit to it as you would with any other scheduled meeting. 

Once you’re taking care of yourself, you’re ready to effectively care about your team and work on the next two steps of relationship-building: granting your team autonomy, and respecting their boundaries when learning about them. 

Building Trusting Relationships Mean Granting Your Team Autonomy

Giving your team autonomy at work leads to better results and more accomplishments, because a sense of agency—not power and control—builds trusting relationships. When employees feel that they have a trusting relationship with you, they’ll bring their best selves to their work, naturally collaborate better, and are more engaged with their work. This is because a relationship encourages them to bring out their best selves, and ensures that they can trust your decisions, and you theirs. On the contrary, if they feel that their best selves are being forced out, or feel like replaceable parts of a machine, they’ll do the bare minimum.

When loosening the reins of authority, it’s important that your balance between control and freedom still offers your team a sense of structure—too little structure can cause systems to break down, and can allow people to use selfish interests to rise to positions of self-made power. These balances—between freedom and control, and between structure and disorganization—won’t come easily. It’s helpful to keep in mind that you’re not giving up all control—you’re giving up control selectively, in a way that makes sense for everyone.

Put some research and thought into what duties or responsibilities make sense to give up. For example, promotions at Google aren’t based on managerial decisions or recommendations. Any employee who wants a promotion can put together their own “promotion packet” that highlights the reasons they deserve promotion, such as accomplishments, recommendations, and so on. The promotion is then considered and approved or denied by a team. This eliminates the possibility of one person having full control over another’s path, and also eliminates the ability of someone to act without the interests of the whole team in mind. 

Encourage Sharing, But Respect Boundaries

The second part of building effective relationships with your team members is respecting their boundaries. Respecting boundaries is not a one-size-fits-all practice. As a leader, you’ll have to navigate what “boundaries” look like for each person on your team—everyone will react differently to the idea of bringing their whole selves to work and sharing aspects of their personal lives with you. The good news is, this gets easier over time, as your relationships strengthen and you understand your employee’s needs more deeply. 

Building Trusting Relationships for Radical Candor

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  • How you have to be direct with people while also caring sincerely for them
  • Why relationships are an essential part of successful leadership
  • How to create a strong team culture that delivers better results

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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