How an 81-year-old's blouse taught me Radical Candor

October 2023

After graduating from college, I set off for Washington, DC with new hopes and old clothes… very old clothes.

A neighbor who had been like a grandmother to me had passed away and, not having professional clothes, I inherited hers. If you’re thinking the clothes of an 81-year-old might look odd on a 21-year-old, you’re exactly right, but there I was. I’d taken a job as a legal assistant to gauge the practice of law from the inside before committing to another three years of school and relied on this new-to-me wardrobe to look the part.

It was a hot DC summer and I’d been tasked with hauling boxes of evidence in and out of the courthouse every day of every week for a multi-week trial. Given particularly intense heat one day, I thought myself terribly clever to have picked out a sleeveless off-white top with blue stitching. Sure, it was reminiscent of the H.M.S. Pinafore play we’d performed in third grade, but nevertheless seemed tailored and professional.

That morning, a lead partner on the case approached me with two words:

“Sleeveless, huh?”

The fact he even spoke to me bowled me over. I proudly shared my thinking about being both professional and comfortable in the heat.

Many years passed before I realized what he actually meant to convey:

“In this courthouse, it is not considered appropriate to have bare shoulders. Even in the heat, it’s better to wear something with at least a short sleeve.”

Even now I still wonder why he didn’t just say exactly that.

Such experiences are why Kim Scott’s guidance in Radical Candor has stuck with me so long after I finally donated that sleeveless top. (Perhaps to become part of a high school performance of H.M.S. Pinafore?) Scott’s “simple concept that’s not always easy to practice” can be summarized as:

Caring Personally while Challenging Directly

Calling it “the antidote to toxic company cultures,” her work outlines how to be “both kind and clear, specific and sincere.” Without radical candor, people can feel attacked and undermined, at worst, or confused and wondering if something isn’t being said, at best. In a radically candid approach, if something needs to be said, it will be and, conversely, if nothing is being said it’s because there’s nothing to say, which provides peace of mind to everyone involved.

After learning this concept, I’ve aimed to create spaces that promote that peace of mind. After all, who wants to waste time second guessing or reading between lines when we can be productive and peaceful instead?

That’s why Radical Candor is one of the seven core values that infuses everything at Stories Change Power; from the sessions in our professional development training and our work with volunteers and consultants to the team I plan to grow in the year ahead, we live our eight values in all we do.

- Piper Hendricks, Founder & CEO

(Photo of a sailor by Museums Victoria)


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