Why we practice radical candor in providing pitch feedback

One of the great frustrations for agencies for agencies, beyond coming second is the lack of constructive feedback during and at the end of the pitch process. In my agency experience working on new business pitches, the quality of feedback was poor at best and non-existent at worst. Something that still occurs today, with the industry filled with memes on the internet of poor feedback, such as “It was so close, you came a close second”.

This is why, at TrinityP3, we consciously decided always to encourage our clients to provide agencies, successful or not, with honest and constructive feedback. And if our clients are unwilling or unable to provide it (and this challenges many), then we will. Recently, this approach to pitch feedback has been given a name and a framework – radical candor.

What is Radical Candor

In a world characterized by rapid changes and complex interactions, effective communication has emerged as a cornerstone of success in both personal and professional spheres.

Within this context, the concept of “radical candor” has gained traction as a powerful approach to communication that focuses on combining honesty with empathy to foster meaningful connections and drive growth.

Rooted in the philosophy of candid communication, this approach can potentially transform relationships, teams, and organizations by encouraging open dialogue while nurturing an environment of trust and collaboration.

Personal experience with Radical Candor

When I finished Copyschool in Melbourne in the mid-1980s, I had a folio of work I was hawking around the agencies. Time and again, I was giving feedback, such as it was a nice folio, there was some good work, and always the encouragement to keep going, but there were no roles.

It was not until I met John Box, the Creative Director and one of the partners at Box Archer Emery. John looked at my folio and told me the work was not up to scratch. Yes, it was nice, and there was good thinking, but nothing more than a hundred other aspiring copywriters were doing. He worked through my folio, highlighting what needed doing and offered to review it again.

I walked out of the meeting deflated, frustrated, but simultaneously enthused. Reworking my folio work, I soon landed my first copywriting job in a creative agency. The rest is history.

Thirty years later, the book by Kim Scott provided a term and a framework for what John Box had been practising that day in his office.

Understanding Radical Candor

Radical candor, as coined by author and executive coach Kim Scott, represents a philosophy of communication that marries directness with empathy. It encourages individuals to speak their minds openly and honestly, addressing both positive and negative feedback while caring for the well-being of the recipient(s).

Unlike traditional management styles that might promote aggressive criticism or overly nurturing behaviour, radical candor emphasizes the importance of finding a balanced middle ground.

At the core of radical candor are two axes: the vertical axis, ranging from “caring personally” to “not caring personally,” and the horizontal axis, spanning from “challenging directly” to “not challenging directly.” By combining these two axes, four quadrants emerge: “Radical Candor,” “Manipulative Insincerity,” “Ruinous Empathy,” and “Obnoxious Aggression.” Radical candor resides in the top-left quadrant, where individuals express genuine care for others while directly addressing their concerns or providing feedback. It is a space where honesty meets empathy and growth flourishes.

The Benefits of Radical Candor

One of the most significant advantages of radical candor lies in its potential to promote personal and professional growth. When individuals engage in open, honest conversations that reflect their sincere concern for others and their willingness to address issues directly, the recipients of such communication tend to develop a deeper sense of trust and respect.

This trust is a crucial foundation for growth, as it enables individuals to recognize areas for improvement without fear of retribution and seek out new learning and development opportunities.

Furthermore, radical candor promotes an environment of continuous improvement. The candid feedback shared through this approach allows individuals to address their weaknesses, build on their strengths, and make necessary adjustments in real time.

The willingness to listen to honest criticism and act upon it demonstrates a commitment to personal and professional growth that can inspire others, setting a positive example for the entire team.

Challenges and Misconceptions

While the benefits of radical candor are compelling, the approach is not without its challenges and potential misconceptions. One such challenge is the delicate balance between being candid and crossing into the realm of aggression.

Communicating openly and directly should never be an excuse for harshness or insensitivity. It is crucial to approach each conversation with empathy and a genuine desire to help the other person grow rather than to critique or criticize.

Additionally, there is a misconception that radical candor implies disregarding feelings or focusing solely on critical feedback. On the contrary, the approach places significant emphasis on showing genuine care for the well-being of others.

How we practice Radical Candor

This communication style and approach has become our way of operating across all aspects of our business beyond simply pitch feedback. We practice radical candor internally and with our clients, agencies and procurement teams. In negotiations, relationship management, benchmarking fees, marketing and agency roster design and more.

We have found it particularly effective at all stages of engagement, from initial consultations to providing long-term recommendations and feedback to our clients and their agencies.

We also encourage this approach from our clients and agencies. We would much prefer those we work with to adopt the radical candor approach instead of “Manipulative Insincerity,” “Ruinous Empathy,” or “Obnoxious Aggression.”

Radical candor, not Brutal honesty

We are particularly sensitive and aware of this last one because, occasionally, radical candor is mislabelled as brutal honesty. Brutal honesty is obnoxious aggression. If there is ever a time that our communication style feels brutal, please let us know.

Effective communication has never been more critical in a world inundated with information and characterized by diverse perspectives. Radical candor is a beacon of honest, empathetic communication that can transform relationships, teams, and organizations.

At TrinityP3, we foster an environment where individuals can engage in open, candid conversations while caring deeply for one another’s well-being. Radical candor paves the way for personal and professional growth. It challenges us to embrace honesty and empathy as twin pillars of effective communication, and in doing so, it contributes to the creation of more robust, more resilient, and more innovative communities.