Radical Candor, a concept coined by Kim Scott, can help you love your work and the people you work with. Radical candor is the act of giving direct feedback to someone in a way that pushes them to grow and improve. It requires two things:
- Being specific and sincere when giving praise
- Being clear and kind when giving criticism
Importantly, it means actually giving both praise and criticism, because, in combination, these things have the power to strengthen relationships while driving better results.
What are the key features of radical candor?
In order to achieve radical candor, you need to include two key ingredients in your feedback: caring personally for the person and challenging them directly. These two things work together, and trying to deliver radical candor without actively implementing both can lead to horrible results.
Here is what happens when you deliver feedback that is lacking one or both of those key ingredients:
Ruinous empathy means caring personally but not challenging directly. Despite your best efforts to be kind, your lack of direct honesty causes problems, and ultimately breaks the trust you’ve been trying to build.
When you create false reassurance for people it can lead them to fail.
Here’s an example: You asked someone to complete a task, but it was full of basic errors. Instead of sending the work back to them, you fix the mistakes yourself, and tell them, "Thanks for working on this! It looks great!"
This is sometimes our default position, because we have been taught our whole lives that if we don’t have something nice to say, then we shouldn’t say anything at all. We need to undo this training, and realize that giving feedback propels growth in the people we care about.
You may find yourself drawn into ruinous empathy when you’re keen to encourage someone, and therefore avoid direct critique. However, by not offering critique where it is required, that person may miss out on an opportunity to learn and improve.
Obnoxious aggression means challenging directly but not caring personally. In this case, you may have skipped the work of building a baseline of rapport and trust with the other person. The lack of trust and respect from the other person is likely to mean that they disregard the critique you offer, even if it is valid.
Here’s an example: Jill has a reputation for putting her own needs first, and has not taken the time to get to know any of her co-workers. As a result, they find her standoffish and aloof, and they don’t trust her intentions. Jill gives Emily legitimate feedback on work that she has done, but she dismisses it because, “Jill is rude and doesn’t understand my situation.”
The hard part about this is that Jill does care, but finds social interactions awkward, and doesn’t know how to show that she cares in an effective way. In this case, Jill needs to work on building relationships, so that people trust and listen to her.
You’re unlikely to set out to engage in obnoxious aggression—but it can sometimes emerge when we are stressed and pushed for time, especially if that coincides with first meeting a person. Aim to center yourself before those early interactions so that you can bring your best self to the situation.
Manipulative insincerity means not challenging directly and not caring personally. In this scenario, your behavior can become poisonous to those around you. The other person becomes aware that you don’t care, and your feedback is hard or impossible to understand and process. The result is that you end up being seen as self-interested and manipulative.
In all three of these cases—ruinous empathy, obnoxious aggression, and manipulative insincerity—we make ourselves part of the problem.
Ultimately, the kindest thing we can do for anyone else is to help them grow. This is best achieved through clear, direct, and compassionate feedback. Simply put, because we care so much, we need to aim for radical candor in all of our interactions.
At times, and particularly when first “trying” it, offering feedback with radical candor can feel daunting, if not downright terrifying. You may worry about hurting your students’ feelings, or coming across as negative or over-sensitive. You may be concerned about how the other person will react.
As you find the courage to give feedback with radical candor, remember that, like all things, it will get easier the more you do it.