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How to use Radical Candor to create an authentic workplace

If you want to lead your team while embracing your humanity, we've got the solution for you.
Published 7 Jun 2022
4 min read
Lead your team authentically by using radical candor

The future of work is a balance between achieving ambitious goals, staying kind and being authentic. Even as someone’s boss. Yep, you read that right.

In fact, there is a way to get, give and encourage guidance (by saying what you actually mean, not what you think people want to hear), build radically candid relationships and understand what motivates each person on your team.

The solution? Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean’. It describes a framework she built to help the most successful leaders in the business world navigate the tricky, and sometimes plain awkward situations leaders face when delivering feedback. It created such a buzz that she co-founded Candor, Inc, dedicated to helping companies develop a feedback-first culture.

Interested? Let’s dive in.

What is radical candor?

Essentially, radical candor is a framework designed to help good bosses and their direct reports create and cultivate a healthy workplace, where caring personally while challenging directly becomes the norm.

Caring personally acknowledges that “it’s not enough to care only about people’s ability to perform a job. To have a good relationship, you have to be your whole self and care about each of the people who work for you as a human being.”

Whilst challenging directly acknowledges that “challenging people is often the best way to show them that you care when you’re the boss” because it involves you having to tell people when their work isn’t good enough – and, when it is.

Radical candor is thus the sweet spot created by combining the technique of caring personally and challenging directly together, in order to build trust and open the door of communication.

This will empower your team to achieve goals you’re aiming for, and grow personally and professionally.

What radical candor is not

In order to truly understand what radical candor is, Scott believes that we must first start with what it is not.

The radical candor model on what it is not meant for
Image credit: Candor Inc


1. Radical candor is not obnoxious aggression

Obnoxious aggression, also known as brutal honesty (or in other words, ‘front stabbing’) is what Scott believes happens when you challenge someone directly but not in a way that shows you care about them personally.

Think along the lines of praise that doesn’t feel sincere, or criticism and feedback delivered without kindness.

2. Radical candor is not ruinous empathy

Scott believes that ruinous empathy is essentially what happens when you want to spare someone’s short-term feelings, so you end up not telling them something they need to know.

This occurs when someone cares personally, but struggles to challenge directly — in other words, they either choose to remain silent, praise that is given is unclear, or it’s not specific enough to help that person understand what was good and what needs improving.

Ruinous empathy is comfortable and safe in the short run, but damaging in the long run. If you’re fed up with continuing this cycle– here are 6 common ways people rationalise silence to be aware of.

3. Radical candor is not manipulative insincerity

Manipulative insincerity in its basic form is essentially backstabbing. Otherwise known as political or passive-aggressive behaviour.

This is essentially what happens when you don’t care personally or bother to challenge them directly. Think insincere praise, flattery to a person’s face, and criticism behind their back.

In sum? Two-faced and what Scott calls: the worst kind of feedback fail.

Practice your future meetings where feedback is duewith radical candor in mind


The difference between brutally honest feedback and effective feedback based on radical candor

We get that delivering tough feedback as a manager, and as a person in general can be scary. And you’re not alone in feeling this way.

In fact, this is more normal than you might think. Feedback fails are actually common and according to Gallup, less than 15% of managers feel confident that the feedback they provide is effective – and only 26% of employees say the feedback they receive is actually helpful.

How to use radical candor

At the heart of radical candor is constructive feedback, delivered kindly.

This means a balance of what went well and what needs improving, which in turn becomes actionable feedback. It’s a framework that encourages people to have basic communication principles in order to build a candid culture.

For instance, if you’re working closely with a designer and you don’t like an illustration that they’ve spent hours on, you’re not going to say right off the bat that you don’t like it because it would demotivate them. Instead, talk about what went well in the piece such as the use of colour or the line work, and then talk about what needs improving. It’s all about balance.

This way, the person on the receiving end of your feedback won’t feel attacked and has clear action points to take away.

The second best thing to do is to ensure that feedback between you as the manager and your direct report becomes a two way street.

The wrap up

If there’s one thing you take away from this article, we hope that it is the fact that just because you’re a manager, it doesn’t mean you need to lose what makes you, you.

Remember: if you decide to practice radical candor, there is no such thing as change overnight. Radical candor requires patience, baby steps and some forms of unlearning.

The most important thing you should keep in mind? Practice it with kindness.

You got this.

The Team
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