Radical Candor

I’ve recently finished reading the book Radical Candor by former Google and Apple manager Kim Scott and wanted to share some thoughts.

This first half of the book gives the premise behind Radical Candor, full of real-life examples from Kim’s time at Google and Apple among other companies. The second half is more practical in nature and gives some excellent tips on how to achieve Radical Candor in the workplace.

It’s not just for managers

Although the book’s subtitle “Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” seems to emphasize the boss / manager role, I felt there was something in there for everybody. I found that many of the experiences and insights Kim shares can be adopted and practiced within and outside of work.

Build radically candid relationships

A radically candid relationship starts with a basic respect and common decency that every human being owes each other regardless of worldview. — Radical Candor
Relationships, not power, drive you forward. — Radical Candor

From what I understand, being “Radically Candid” in the workplace is the idea that cultivating open and meaningful relationships with those over, under, and at your level will help your team “achieve results collaboratively that you could never achieve individually”.

I would describe an open and meaningful relationship as something that takes a lot of care, effort, and time. The goal is to develop a trust between yourself and your colleagues to where you can be candid with one another without taking it personal. If we can be upfront with one another while keeping each individual’s best interest in mind, people are happier, and things get done.

Care Personally -> Challenge Directly

In the book, Kim shares a helpful chart which she uses in many of her examples:

Each quadrant represents the various ways we might interact with others with the primary goal of moving towards that top right quadrant.

Obnoxious Aggression
is what happens when you challenge but don’t care. It’s praise that doesn’t feel sincere or criticism that isn’t delivered kindly.
Ruinous Empathy
is what happens when you care but don’t challenge. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good or criticism that is sugarcoated and unclear.
Manipulative Insincerity
is what happens when you neither care nor challenge. It’s praise that is non-specific and insincere or criticism that is neither clear nor kind.

I found the above descriptions quite helpful! After some self-assessment and introspection I feel that I frequently fall under the Ruinous Empathy category more than the others. I grew up believing that having conflict with your peers or challenging authority was a bad thing.

Unless you’re from another planet or an AI reading this in the future, you’re a human. And if you’re a human, conflict and differences of opinions will inevitably arise. As for me, I’d usually take the over-forgiving sugarcoated road by saying things like “What you did was not that bad…” or “What you said didn’t offend me, we’re cool.” This is something I’m frequently working on and understood about myself before reading Radical Candor but it was helpful to place myself and have some insight on how to manage it.

To Care Personally is to show you’re willing to sweat the details, sacrifice some time, listen with the intent to understand, and to really get to know someone.

  1. How’s their family doing?
  2. What are their hobbies?
  3. What dreams do they have?
  4. How was their vacation?

To Challenge Directly is to talk straight and not beat around the bush. The flip side of Caring Personally is to also speak the truth even when it hurts. If you see a friend doing something destructive, it’s your responsibility to bring it to their attention out of care for their well-being. However, if you haven’t showed this friend you genuinely care for them, your voiced concerns may be less effective and could potentially be perceived as obnoxious aggressive.

Sincerity

Worry more about praise, less about criticism — but above all be sincere. — Radical Candor

Radical Candor is not just about dealing with situations where you’re giving or receiving criticism. It’s also about complimenting and giving praise with sincerity. Critique and praise are equally important and necessary, but developing a relationship with someone is key to making it most effective.

For me, probably one of the most helpful tips Kim suggests in the book is the following approach to giving feedback.

When giving praise or criticism, try to describe:

  1. Situation
  2. Behavior
  3. Impact

Instead of giving a blanket statement of praise like “good job on that thing you did today”, go the extra mile and provide some detail. What was the situation? How did the person handle it; or what was their behavior? And finally, what impact did their behavior have in this particular situation?

By describing what was good or what was bad, you are helping a person do more of what’s good and less of what is bad, and to see the difference. — Radical Candor

Whether praise or criticism, I think the above suggestion is valuable because it shows that you care enough to take the time to describe what actually happened.

Summary

There were a lot of really great gems in this book. I think if I was to boil it down to a few good points they would be:

  1. Focus on relationship
  2. Ask for criticism before giving it
  3. Offer more praise than criticism
  4. Don’t make it personal

Care personally before challenging directly. Listen, cultivate, and go the extra mile to show someone they matter. Be open to criticism before giving it. Lead by example and serving others.

Thanks for reading,
-Andrew Del Prete