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Why hedge fund titan Ray Dalio says you shouldn't pull punches when you criticize your boss

Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates
Jason Alden/Bloomberg | Getty Images
Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates

When it comes to criticism, Ray Dalio wants you to give it to him straight.

Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, is an advocate of what he calls "radical transparency" in the workplace and spoke openly about the method he utilizes with his 1,500 employees during a presentation this week at TED2017 in Vancouver.

Chip Cutter, LinkedIn managing editor, describes Dalio's tactics:

The idea is that honesty — however brutal — makes for a more effective, meritocratic work environment, one in which the best ideas surface and rigorous debate can flourish.

This corporate culture is controversial; all meetings get recorded on video and can be reviewed by anyone internally, a practice some allege leads to an atmosphere of fear and distrust. But from the stage at the TED conference in Vancouver, Dalio said it was an idea he wanted to spread.

Dalio illustrates his points and describes how to employ this communication style by sharing company emails and videos, including a particularly scathing message he received from employee Jim Haskel after a meeting:

Ray - you deserve a "D-" for your performance today in the meeting ... you did not prepare at all because there is no way you could have and been that disorganized. In the future, I/we would ask you to take some time and prepare and maybe even I should come up and start talking to you to get you warmed up or something but we can't let this happen again. If you in any way think my view is wrong, please ask the others or we can talk about it.

Far from embarrassed or irritated, Dalio was so pleased with Haskel's candor that he circulated the email internally and then shared it with 1,800 audience members at TED.

"Isn't that great?" he asked the crowd. "That's great. It's great because I need feedback like that. And it's great because if I don't let Jim and people like Jim express their points of view, our relationship wouldn't be the same."

Dalio isn't the only executive who likes to hear the unvarnished truth. Google co-founder Larry Page is said to welcome brutal feedback in the service of arriving at the best possible solution, according to Kim Scott, a former Google exec and author of "Radical Candor." Serial entrepreneur and investor Marcus Lemonis looks for employees who'll tell him flat out that a business concept is terrible.

"I need feedback. " -Ray Dalio, founder, Bridgewater Associates

Xerox chairwoman Ursula Burns credits a disagreement with a company executive — who must, himself, have been a proponent of Dalio's communication style — with fast-tracking her career.

Still, not everyone is a fan of the hedge funder's methods. In a Bloomberg View column, Matt Levine questions whether publicizing this kind of communication is just a different way of reminding employees who's still in charge.

"If you send your boss an email criticizing his performance, and he says, 'You're fired,' that is one kind of power move," Levine writes. "But if he says, 'Ho ho ho, you old rascal, well done,' and then tells a room full of chuckling TED listeners about his benign tolerance, that is a different kind of power move."

For his part, Dalio encourages everyone to consider becoming as radically candid as possible — with one exception.

"You don't have to tell people that their bald spot is growing or their baby is ugly," says Dalio. "I'm just talking about the important things."