The Art of Radical Candor: A Game-Changing Approach to Feedback and Criticism
At INBOUND23, bestselling authors, Kim Scott and Dr. Tina Opie explored the role of radical candor in the workplace and how leaders who employ it can provide a safe and supportive environment for honest conversations, empowering their teams to grow and thrive.
Read on for a deep dive into Scott’s framework and see radical candor in action as she applies it to real-life scenarios.
WHAT EXACTLY IS RADICAL CANDOR?
Radical candor is a transformative framework developed by author Kim Scott, focused on caring and challenging. It has had a significant impact on organizations and individuals, enabling them to transition from a control and command mindset to one of collaboration. How did radical candor develop? Scott traces it all back to the values instilled in her as a child by her grandmother: tell the truth and don’t lie. That seems like common sense advice, so what exactly makes it radical?
“I call it radical candor because I had worked with a lot of different kinds of people in the course of my career. And every single one of them struggled with feedback.”
Radical candor emphasizes the importance of honesty along with a sense of caring and challenging when giving feedback — implement this to ensure your feedback is both kind and clear.
It may seem like an easy task — giving and receiving feedback — but in reality, it’s quite easy to get it wrong. Enter: the radical candor framework.
The 2x2 framework provides a guide for what radical candor is and isn’t. Here’s what radical candor is not:
Obnoxious Aggression: confronting someone directly without demonstrating care. This results in insincere praise, unkind feedback, and criticism that lacks empathy. “Sometimes all of us remember to challenge directly, but we forget to show that we care personally,” said Scott. “It's a problem mostly because it hurts other people.” Another problem? It’s inefficient and conversations end up being unproductive.
Manipulative Insincerity: giving insincere praise to someone in-person but criticizing them harshly behind their back. “This is where the drama comes in,” Scott added, and it’s the epitome of feedback failure.
Ruinous Empathy: sparing someone’s feelings in the moment instead of telling them something they need to know. “You fail to tell someone something that they're better off knowing in the long run, just because you don't want to hurt their feelings or offend them in some way,” Scott emphasized.
That leaves the final quadrant: radical candor — caring personally and challenging directly. As Scott acknowledges, it’s quite possible to find yourself in any of the three wrong quadrants, but knowing what radical candor is not, helps provide clarity on what it is.
“Use this framework like a compass to guide specific conversations with specific people to a better place.”
PUTTING RADICAL CANDOR INTO PRACTICE
Now that you know what radical candor is (and isn’t), how do you apply it? According to Scott, there should be an order of operation with the first being: solicit feedback. “Radical candor, first of all, it operates the same way up, down, and sideways,” Scott emphasized. “Don't dish it out before you prove you can take it.” After asking for feedback, make sure to focus on the positive points and give praise.
“Radical candor is about painting a picture of what's possible. And describing the art of possibility. Praise is a better tool for that than criticism.”
The catch? It has to be authentic praise. Make sure that you’re delivering it in a way that is both specific and sincere. When providing criticism, it's crucial to assess how it's being received to determine whether to prioritize care or shift towards direct challenge. Part of that, is providing criticism in person or over the phone in order to understand how your words are landing. “Radical candor is a conversation, it’s not a monologue,” Scott underscored.
What if you disagree with the feedback someone’s giving you? Watch below for tips from Scott:
To put radical candor into practice, leaders should start with soliciting feedback and proving their ability to receive it. Focus on giving authentic and specific praise to inspire and motivate. And then offer constructive criticism while gauging its impact on the recipient.
RADICAL CANDOR IN REAL SITUATIONS
Talking about the theory of radical candor is one thing, but seeing it in action is another. Scott walked the audience through two different scenarios and how she would approach them with radical candor in mind.
Scott started off with a more innocuous example. Imagine you’re out at lunch with a colleague and they have spinach in their teeth. What’s the best way to tell them? Here’s how Scott would tackle it:
1. Say it privately
2. Say it humbly
3. Say it immediately
By doing all three, you are clearly stating your intention to be helpful while being direct.
Next Scott applied her framework to a more work-related situation: you’re a manager and you observe someone taking credit for someone else’s work. Here, Scott would apply the HIP method: humble, helpful, immediate, in person, in private, not about personality.
1. Address the person immediately after the situation — go on a walk just the two of you and make sure to deliver the message humbly.
2. State what you observed in the meeting — don’t pose it as a question because that allows the other person to provide their opinion on the situation.
3. Don’t bring personality into the conversation — it’s difficult to change personality attributes.
Focus on the context and the specific situation in question, describe what you observed was said or done, explain meaningful consequences, and provide actionable next steps for that person to take.
When addressing problematic behavior or tough situations, managers should exercise empathy and humility while focusing on observable facts in order to give effective feedback.
As the conversation wrapped, Scott challenged the audience to think about their go-to question when soliciting feedback and identify who and when they’ll ask it to.
By combining care personally with the ability to challenge directly, leaders can create a culture of open communication and collaboration. Understanding and applying the radical candor framework can result in improved relationships, increased productivity, and personal growth for both managers and employees.
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