Let me be radically candid for a moment to say that I am not good at radical candor. I was pretty shy growing up- and despite what some people see, I still ride a very thin line between introvert and extrovert. I didn’t consider myself a “people person” until college- and although many people that have known me most of my life laugh at my late realization, I think it had to do with me liking to stay within the lines- being the good student, not questioning authority too much, and doing what I thought was right. I am, by nature, a people pleaser; I have a tendency to avoid conflict, and I’ve been told too many times that I’m simply “too nice.”
Despite countless family dinnertime conversations where we would debate topics that former tradition would teach you don’t talk about at the dinner table, outside of the dinner table and outside of being invited to have that debate, it takes a lot to get me riled up. While I found my voice at that table and am not scared to have an opinion, I do have a tendency to err towards caution when it comes to the possibility of hurting someone’s feelings and am not always direct about stating my truth where it may not be best perceived.
I can’t tell you how many times I have worked on this piece- typing a few sentences and then stepping away, thinking about what I wanted to say during quiet walks with the dog, and reflecting on both work and personal relationships where radical candor was far from present and the negative ripples that has had. This conversation and the book have continued to play in my mind during some serious self-reflecting as I work towards being more intentional about stating my truth and communicating needs.
This discussion comes after a year of some of the most honest and direct conversations and working relationships I’ve been part of with vulnerability, sincerity and authenticity and also some of the least honest where real issues, feelings, and conversations were avoided, unwelcome and disrespected. I recognize the difference in respect I hold for the various individuals that were part of these conversations. Furthermore, I am aware of the level of closure or peace that has come from the hard conversations- even if I didn’t love hearing something at the given time, and in contrast the level of disappointment that comes from the lack thereof. Radical Candor by Kim Scott explained it as a balance between caring personally and challenging directly.
In this period of reflecting and tough conversations, I had to realize that I try- and I want- to trust candor radically. Maybe it is blind optimism, but I fight to believe that if someone says something, they mean it. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Daniel Boone and the Walton’s where a handshake with a good reputation was all you really needed to make a deal. Maybe it’s because my parents created an environment of trust and respect and didn’t try to paint the world, certain experiences, or even a grandparent’s ailing health with rose-colored glasses. They will let us make our own choices, mistakes, and successes, but they continue to be upfront and honest with my siblings and me when the opportunity arises. Possibly as a result, I often choose to believe that if a person, organization or group tells me something- whether that be of their intentions in building a relationship, their commitment to a getting a job done, or their promise of showing strong work ethic- that it must be true. Yet, here I am recognizing the discrepancy in my logic when I myself sometimes fall in the “ruinous empathetic” category and fail to be radically candid. Furthermore demonstrating that radical candor has multiple sides to it- creating an environment where it is welcome, being willing to ask the hard questions when you may not necessarily want to know the truth, and never forgetting to use both your brain and your heart in discernment.
You see, we often can live in a world of half-truths. Whether it is the half-truths we tell ourselves, the half-truths we tell other people, the half-truths in marketing, or just the way we oversimplify the world; it’s a part of life that we often accept. It’s the clichés of “it’s not you, it’s me,” or “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” I would put money on the fact that not every legislator reads every bill they vote on, just as we didn’t always read every page of assigned reading in school. We all had some overly simplified lessons growing up or we have taken something at face value that should not have been. A peanut is not a nut at all (it’s a legume), GMOs aren’t bad nor everywhere, and all milk and meat is “antibiotic free” not just those labeled that way. We see these half-truths every day which is why we have to make the choice to choose more, to choose to care and to challenge.
So in this jumbled hogwash of realizations that may come off a little cynical for me, I write with the acknowledgement that I have a huge opportunity to do and be better, both for myself, for the people I care about, and for the industry I hope to be a voice for now and in the future. I have made myself and my opinions “palatable” too many times based on what I thought was desired, welcomed, or expected… I’m sure I will still be “too nice” sometimes and the inner people pleaser in me will probably continue to make certain conversations more “digestible,” but at the end of the day, I want to respect the people in my life enough to know they deserve truth. My hope is that now I can be more aware of my tendencies so that I can be intentional and read the situation better to not always adjust what I actually want to say, what I need to say. But also, so I don’t simply accept the things I want to hear without discernment or immediately discredit what I do not wish to hear. Half-truths, ruinous empathy, and oversimplified clichés, will not do us justice. They don’t allow for growth, for acceptance, and for real conversation and education. We have to be willing to see the error and the opportunities. Just as we look towards serving the Ag industry better, we have to be openly aware of shortcomings and weaknesses in order to be the best and to properly celebrate and build upon our strengths because I believe in the future of agriculture.