Why everyone should try "radical candour" to fix workplace politics

Posted by
Anna Brech
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

Direct and kind don’t need to be mutually exclusive values. Here’s how to air your workplace issues with a little compassion thrown into the mix

One of the problems about speaking out at work is that it can feel very confrontational. 

The matter is further complicated for women, as we strive to break free from conditioning to be less vocal and more diplomatic than men. 

Not only that, but asking for a quick chat with a colleague or boss about something that’s bothering you has the potential to blow up amid anger and defensiveness on both sides. 

At the same time, if you stay quiet on workplace issues, you don’t get anywhere. Worse, you risk building up a simmering vat of resentment that creates a toxic atmosphere. And that’s good for precisely no-one.

Retail guru Mary Portas, however, has a novel solution: radical candour.

Responding to a career problem in The Times this weekend, Portas explains that she and her colleagues at her self-titled agency use radical candour the whole time to get past difficult issues.

Mary Portas is a big fan of “telling the truth with kindness”

“So often, women in business think they’re causing a situation by speaking up — they’re not,” Portas writes.

“It’s about being open and honest, which is vital to how we work. In my agency, Portas, we call it radical candour: you tell the truth, but with kindness and a view to everybody coming out with a good result. 

“Power does not have to be hierarchical. Power is with everybody, and you can only make change happen when you realise that.”

“By opening up the discussion yourself, you can gain some power,” she adds. “Being honest and open is the most important way to clear a channel, but you should do it professionally, without antagonism.”

This is such a simple approach, but it’s also genius in a low-key kind of way. You speak your mind, and therefore avoid stewing away on issues that are nagging at you. 

But at the same time, you take the heat out of the exchange by actively practising kindness. 

It’s all part of Portas’ drive to call time on alpha work culture, as captured in her new book, Work Like a Woman

You can find out more about the manifesto as Portas appears at Stylist Live next weekend, leading a masterclass in empathy, instinct and trust. 

Buy your tickets right here.

Images: Mary Portas, Getty


Share this article


Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.