If you are flummoxed by the word ‘front stabbing’, let me tell you, so was I. I had never heard of it until I happened upon an article by SHRM. Intrigued by the term, I did a little further reading.

And if you are wondering, front stabbing is not like backstabbing, in the sense that it does not involve any betrayal of sort. Instead, it is a type of feedback. Radical candor if you will. Brutally honest, make-no-bones about it feedback. If your employee’s work sucks, radical candor is telling them that their work sucks, with no softening of phrases to cushion the blow.

I’m going to stick to the term radical candor throughout the article, because to be honest, I feel awkward using the word front-stabbing.

The philosophy behind the concept is this – being nice does not always work. To drive a point home, feedback needs to be blunt. It’s impossible to ignore being hit by a hammer right?

Radical candor has two notable proponents, namely Kim Scott (Co-founder and CEO of Radical Candor) and Susan Scott (author of widely acclaimed self-help book Fierce Conversations).

I get the idea behind the concept and think it is a good one. Honesty in feedback is always appreciated. I would rather somebody told me the truth about my work as opposed to sugarcoating it, because they are afraid that my feelings might be hurt.

Of course, in that present moment, my feelings might be hurt, because it is not easy to listen to honest criticism and know that it is not an attack on you as a person. But in the long run, I’m going to appreciate it because that honest feedback is motivating. The next time I’m going to work on a project, I’ll put in the extra effort to do better. Because I want to show my boss/manager that I can.

So yes, I do think radical candor is a good approach to feedback. For one, it prevents people from living in a false bubble and being devastated when that bubble is burst. For another, it prevents employees from being coddled or even worse, patronized. It seems deceptive to tell someone that their work is ‘alright’ or ‘good’ and then privately fix that work yourself or tell another peer that the employee in question turned in some bad work.

All the same, I feel like there are few things proponents of honest speaking should keep in mind.

  • Being honest is not the same as being a jerk – Nobody likes jerks and when a person is a jerk all the time, but passes it off as honest feedback, soon enough they are going to be ignored.
  • Honest feedback is better when it comes from someone you trust – Such as your boss, your manager, a peer etc. When a completely random stranger gives people brutally honest feedback, employees are less inclined to trust them or will ignore that feedback.
  • And last but not the least, radical candor goes two ways. Not just top to down – Just as a manager can tell an employee, ‘ you need to look more presentable when you represent the organization at conferences’, an employee should be able to  say, ‘ I think you place way too much emphasis on dress codes and it is stressful because instead of focusing on my presentation, I am worrying about how I look.’
  • And always remember the golden rules about giving feedback in the workplace

If you finished reading this article and thought, ‘ This is nothing new, this is how I usually give feedback’, then keep doing what you are doing. You’re on the right track!

And if you finished this article and thought about the last time you wanted to say something honest about a project/presentation but held your tongue instead, afraid of hurting the person’s feelings, you should know that you can give, honest, critical feedback and still be a good person.

And of course, you can always call radical candor or front-stabbing by its proper name, feedback.