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Theme of this week’s podcast: Radical Transparency

“What if you could tell your co-workers what you really think of them? At the world’s most successful hedge fund, everyone is rated and ranked constantly — in front of everyone. They’ve figured out how to embrace negative feedback, and they swear it’s essential to their success.”

In this episode, Grant takes a look at one of the most successful hedge funds in the world, Bridgewater Associates.

Key Takeaways

What happens when we receive criticism?

  • We tend to react negatively

Physically: our shoulders tighten, our breath gets shallower.
Psychologically: our mind races, we get defensive, we start to put up shields and mount a counterattack.

  • We tend to hide from criticism

“Studies show that when coworkers criticize us, we tend to drop them from our lives. Or at least avoid them at all costs. Instead, we go straight to our cheerleaders to complain and get reassurance. Our friends, our favorite like-minded colleagues, mom. That’s our support network.”

  • Why?

We often think that the people who criticize are doing it to bring us down, or to get ahead of us.

That’s why it’s so important to demonstrate to the person you are criticizing that you truly care about them.

The key to effective criticism is proper intention.

  • “One of the most important things you can do when offering criticism is to state your intention to be helpful.”

You must communicate in some way that your criticism is coming from a place of compassion, honesty and empathy. The person receiving the criticism must know that you’re not trying to bring them down, but help them. It’s easier to take criticism when you know it’s meant to help you.

“My biggest piece of advice is eliminate the phrase “Don’t take it personally” from your vocabulary. It’s OK if somebody’s getting upset or having an emotional reaction, it’s normal. It is inevitable. What you want to do is you want to react with compassion to them.” says executive coach Kim Scott.

Don’t give feedback sandwiches

“Too often people give feedback sandwiches; that is, they open up with some praise, and then criticism comes in the middle, and then a slice of praise again, so we start and end on a high note. One, when you lead with praise, they’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it seems insincere. And two is that people often tune out what’s in the middle.”

Don’t sugarcoat feedback; if you’re going to dish it out, tell the truth.

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True criticism is the best way to see and understand who we really are.

Because we’re all inherently biased, it’s very difficult to see ourselves objectively.

That’s why seeking opinions other than our own is necessary to gain a more realistic understanding of who we are.

Relying only on your own opinion of yourself is sort of like judging your appearance by your reflection seen through a spoon. Not really accurate, right?

Looking in the mirror reminds us to reflect on how our behavior will look to others.

(Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash)

Radical transparency is designed to solve for a deadly sin of work life: office politics.

“In too many places, what happens in the meeting doesn’t matter nearly as much as secret alliances and conversations after the meeting.”

One of the biggest sources of conflict in the office is people keeping their opinions to themselves.

You CAN change your reaction to criticism

If you start seeking out criticism instead of avoiding it, over time you will develop a new reaction to it.

Founder of Bridgewater Associates Ray Dalio has experienced this; he’s effectively trained himself to appreciate criticism rather than avoid it or be angry about it.

“[Ray has] trained himself so that the pain signal is actually followed by a pleasure signal. Over years of seeing that negative feedback leads to positive outcomes, he sort of seems to enjoy hearing it now.”

“The best way to prove yourself is to show that you’re willing to improve yourself.”

Questions to think about

  • How do you normally react to criticism? Do you welcome it, do you avoid it, do you hide from it, do you try to justify it?
  • How does your business deal with feedback? How do your employees give and receive feedback?
  • Are your employees comfortable sharing their true feelings or opinions about your business or about you, with you?
  • How different would your workplace be if everyone felt comfortable in sharing their true opinions with one another?

Applications for business

  • Create a culture of radical transparency.

Obviously, this is easier said than done. But it starts with small steps.

  • Take a top-down approach

According to psychologist Ron Friedman, “When it comes to setting social norms, high status members are watched more closely and carry more credibility, and hence have more influence on which social norms are adopted”[1].

In other words, the leaders of your business need to model proper behavior for it to take root in your company. The more your company leaders display radical transparency, the more ‘normal’ it will become.

  • Record

Record meetings, presentations, sales calls, customer interactions, and review them. Go back to the tape and learn.

  • Develop challenge networks:

Create challenge networks by assembling people into pairs or small groups (friends are better than acquaintances since they tend to be more honest with each other). Set a time (daily or weekly) for the group to get together and evaluate each other. In each meeting, share feedback, set action steps and hold each other accountable for the steps each person has committed to.


Grant, Adam. “How to Love Criticism“. Audio blog post. WorkLife with Adam Grant. TED, February 28th 2018. Itunes App.

[1] Friedman, Ron. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Perigee, 2015.

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