Radical Candor as fallback notch locator

Have you ever experienced this really fun moment when a few of concepts you already knew suddenly came together as something new and completely different when revisited? This just happened when I was looking at Kim Scott’s Radical Candor framework. Putting it next to the ideas of the Adult Development Theory, I realized that it might be a rather useful tool to locate my fallback notch.

I already mentioned fallback a few times in my writing. It’s this phenomenon when we, despite our best efforts, show up as developmentally earlier versions of selves. A concept that’s been really useful in my own self-work was a notion of the fallback notch, a hint at which I first found in Lisa Laskow Lahey and Robert Kegan’s Immunity To Change. The fallback notch is the habitual stance I take when I am experiencing the effect of fallback. The notchiness part of it is that it happens kind of automatically, like a hard-learned, yet almost-forgotten habit, a Schelling point for a disoriented mind. When fallback triggers, that’s the hill where I tend to regroup. I’d found that this notch is context-specific, but rather useful to name when reorienting. “What, what’s happening? <notch locating happens> Ah, I am currently in a Diplomat mindset… Hmm… I wonder what led me here?” Let’s see if we can use Radical Candor as a compass to help with reorienting.

The first – and most significant – leap of faith I invite you to take is the mapping of the quadrants to developmental stages. Using Bill Torbert’s classification, and our intuition, we can kind of see that Manipulative Insincerity loosely maps to the Opportunist mindset and Ruinous Empathy to Diplomat. Those two are fairly straightforward. The cunning trickery and unscrupulous antics of the Opportunist appear to be perfectly captured by the words “manipulative” and “insincerity.” Similarly, the Diplomat’s warmth and keen desire for getting along are well-described by “ruinous” and “empathy.” The other two quadrants need a bit more cajoling. The ornery obstinance of recognizing, yet unwilling to accept others’ perspectives of the Expert often manifests as Obnoxious Aggression. I’d found this notch particularly present when, in a subject in which I view myself an expert, someone comes in to ask questions that could potentially buckle the idea’s entire foundation. “How dare they! They must be corrected! <rising irritation leading to self-righteous condescending rants>” Finally, the Radical Candor quadrant is the zenith of the framework, representing the relative flexibility of the Achiever to consider and absorb multiple perspectives, yet keep the eye on the prize of their own objectives.

With the quadrants mapped, we can now use the full depth of the Radical Candor framework as our fulcrum for self-developmental purposes. The idea of mapping our interactions and situation into quadrants, described by Kim in her book, can serve as a clustering tool, helping us spot the particular fallback notches we find ourselves in. Further, we can use the quadrants to find our way back from the notch. Knowing that I am in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant helps me see that I fell all the way back to the Diplomat mindset, and getting out of that notch might start with reminding myself that I do indeed know what I am doing (regaining the Expert ground) while still staying connected to empathy and compassion of the upper quadrants. 

Another thing that stood out for me: the Radical Candor framework appears to be Achiever-situated. It presumes that its practitioners are themselves at least at the Achiever developmental stage. It is useful for those who recognize that they temporarily fell back into behaviors they understand as detrimental to their path forward. This probably means that the framework quadrants will look weird to folks at the earlier stages. If I am stuck in the Expert trap, the Radical Candor quadrant will feel like a weird tautology. “Of course I care, that’s why I need to yell at them and shake some sense into them!” Things will look even more bleak if I am just now adopting the Diplomat mindset. The Radical Candor will look like a scary regression into the conflict-ridden Opportunist land. “Oh come on now, we just figured out how to get along. Why are we trying to mess things up again?” And of course, for the Opportunist, the whole story will seem like an elaborate ruse, a corporate prank to trick me into being more gullible and obedient.

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