How Radical Candor Can Transform Your Team


Management styles vary, but if you can’t communicate, you can’t lead. Being able to give direction, feedback, and criticism to your team in a constructive way is fundamental to managing for success.

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done. 

No one likes being criticized. Done incorrectly, negative feedback can make an employee feel attacked, victimized, or unfairly treated. None of which is helpful when you’re trying to create a harmonious and productive workplace. 

If you’re having trouble with your team it might be time for a dose of radical candor.

What is radical candor?

Radical candor is a management technique developed by former Apple and Google executive Kim Scott who defines it as “caring personally, while challenging directly.”

The idea behind radical candor is that a person is much more likely to accept difficult feedback from someone who cares about their wellbeing. If a stranger on the street says your sweater is ugly, you’d be offended. If your best friend says it’s ugly, you’d probably thank them before changing into a different top.

Putting it into practice

In her 2017 book, Scott defined radical candor by what it's not - highlighting three common pitfalls that are the opposite of the radical candor model.

  1. Obnoxious aggression - also known as brutal honesty, this is when managers share feedback devoid of compassion so it becomes insincere praise or unkind criticism.
  2. Ruinous empathy - this occurs when managers care too much, watering down criticism so it becomes too weak and confusing or heaping on undeserved praise.
  3. Manipulative insincerity - managers who neither care nor challenge indulge in manipulative insincerity, which can include backstabbing or passive aggressive behavior.

Radical candor is the antidote to these three models, offering leaders a way to walk that delicate line between too much honesty and too little. 

Integrating radical candor into your workplace isn’t something you can do overnight. It may be quite a change from what your employees are used to, especially if you’ve been relying on a softer style, so it’s best to brief them beforehand and give them the chance to share any concerns. 

This isn’t a top-down model, everyone on the team needs to know they have a voice and that it’s okay to be candid with colleagues, regardless of where they sit in the company hierarchy.

Managers must take the lead in putting radical candor into practice however, inviting employees to let them know when they veer into any of the three negative practices outlined above. Show them that you’re serious about this new approach, that you’re committed to improving, and that you’ll need their help to make it happen.

The benefits of radical candor

Respect and honesty are just as crucial to relationships within the office as those outside it. 

According to research from analysts McKinsey & Company, relationships with management are the biggest consideration for employees when it comes to job satisfaction, and 75% of those surveyed for the study said the most stressful part of their job was their boss.

All business is personal, according to Scott who says radical candor starts with seeing the worker at their desk as a person, not an employee. Studies show this type of human-first management can help improve employee self-esteem and morale, as well as make them more goal-oriented. 

There’s a clear link between communication and productivity, and an equally clear line between empathy and effective management. Combine those two elements under the radical candor banner, and you can lead your team to sustainable, long-term success.

Our productivity intelligence tool, Prodoscore, gives you everything you need to understand your team’s productivity from a single, secure hub. Monitor their progress, identify troublespots, and improve accountability through the Prodoscore dashboard. Contact our team today to find out more or request a demonstration.

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