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Revising Your Radical Candor with Kim Scott

By Site Strategics
February 4, 2020

Our special guest for episode 341 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast was Kim Scott, Co-Founder of Radical Candor. Host Erin Sparks spoke with Kim about how to make workplaces better by knowing how to do feedback the right way and being able to challenge coworkers while at the same time caring personally. Here’s what we learned: 


Kim Scott: Her Background and Experience

Kim Scott is a Co-Founder of Radical Candor and author of the book, Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. She has been a leader at AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick Online Sales and Operations at Google and then joined Apple to develop and teach a leadership seminar. Kim has been a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and several other tech companies. Before all that, Kim was the co-founder and CEO of Juice Software, a collaboration start-up, and led business development at Delta Three and Capital Thinking. Earlier in her career, she worked as a senior policy advisor at the FCC, managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo, started a diamond cutting factory in Moscow, and was an analyst on the Soviet Companies Fund. Kim received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her BA from Princeton University. She is the author of three novels. Kim and her husband Andy Scott are parents of twins and live in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Radical Candor and Second City

Kim found out that if you write a book about giving feedback, you’re going to get a lot of feedback about your book. What surprised her was how many people would say that radical candor sounds so simple. And while it’s very easy to say “be radically candid,” you quickly find out it is very hard to actually do it. It doesn’t come naturally for a lot of people and can be a struggle. After the book came up, Kim was on a podcast being hosted by Kelly Leonard of Second City. Kelly’s point was how improv can help people develop the practice of radical candor. Later on Kim contact Kelly and they decided to work together to develop some improv exercises and drills to help with radical candor skills such as listening with the intent to understand, soliciting feedback before it’s offered, gauging how your feedback is landing, and so on. You can’t get good at improve without learning to listen with enormous compassion, and that’s a primary skill in radical candor. And here’s what many people don’t understand: Radical candor is measured not at your mouth but at the ear of who is receiving the feedback you’re giving. And improv games help you understand what’s going on in someone else’s head. And you have to practice it, just like any other skill, to get better at it and maintain or improve your skill level. And yet we rarely practice giving feedback except when we’re actually doing it, which is too late. 


Defining Radical Candor

Radical candor is caring personally at the same time that you challenged directly. Another way to approach defining it is by examining the many ways people can screw it up, which everyone does all the time. Here are some of those:

  • Challenging directly without showing you care personally, which is obnoxious aggression or the asshole quadrant. 
  • Backing off the challenge and wending up in the worst place of all, which is the manipulative insincerity quadrant. Sometimes this happens when you realize you went into obnoxious aggression and over-compensate by backing off too much. This is where toxic backstabbing, political, passive aggressive behavior happens. 
  • Caring personally without challenging directly is the most common mistake of all, and it can be called ruinous empathy. You don’t want to hurt a person’s feelings with feedback, so they don’t get the feedback they really need to hear.

Another big mistake people make is that they think the concept of radical candor basically gives them free license to act like a total jerk, but that’s not radical candor, it’s obnoxious aggression. Below is a good visual that captures those quadrants mentioned above. Only one quadrant qualifies as radical candor, and the rest are those mistakes mentioned above:

Image Credit: https://www.radicalcandor.com/our-approach

If radical candor isn’t compassionate, then it’s not really radical candor, it’s more like obnoxious aggression. Compassion is saying, “I understand that what I’m about to say may sting a little bit, but I’m going to tell you because I care about helping you fix this problem.”


Radical Candor in the Workplace

There’s an order of operations to radical candor, and the place to start no matter what your position is—whether you’re the boss, the employee, the peer, the spouse—The place to start is to solicit radical candor, and in particular to solicit criticism because that gives you an opportunity to lead by example, and to show that you viewed this kind of criticism as a gift. You want to make sure you’re listening with the intent to understand, not to respond, and that you reward the candor, which doesn’t mean you’re always going to agree with the criticism. And it’s your responsibility to reward candor, and if you agree with some or all of the feedback, then show how you’re making changes. If all you do is you say, “Thank you for the feedback,” what the other person hears is, “F-you.”

Sometimes the best reward is just an explanation of why you disagree, but a respectful explanation. You want to solicit feedback first. Next, you want to focus on the good stuff. Another mistake people make about radical candor is they think it’s all about the boss giving criticism to the employee. It’s first about soliciting criticism, and next it’s about focusing on the good stuff. Your job, if you’re the leader of a team, is to paint a picture of what success looks like. You want to describe what’s possible, and praise is actually a much better tool than criticism for doing that. But criticism is essential because if somebody’s going the wrong direction, it’s your job to tell them to change course, to offer guidance rather than feedback. 

When it’s time to offer some criticism, make sure you’re offering it in impromptu two-minute conversations. Don’t save it up for your one-on-one conversation, and definitely don’t save it up for your performance review. Radical Candor is not about formal performance management. It’s about developing people through those two-minute conversations that take no extra time and don’t cost any money. And although it’s fast and free, it does take enormous emotional discipline. You have to make it clear that your intention is to be helpful, so be very humble about it. After all, you could be wrong about what you’re saying. Offer it as a gift. It will either be right and give the person insight into something they need to change, or you’ll be wrong and give the person a chance to change your mind. They keys here are to be helpful, humble, and immediate. And it has to be face-to-face, not through email or texting, because body language is important. If you can’t do it in person, at least do over live video so the person can see you. Texting criticism is simply never a good idea. It always goes wrong.

Things that can really get in the way of radical candor is the workplace tendency treat your peers like enemy combatants, to treat your boss like a tyrant to be toppled, and to treat your employees like pawns on a chessboard. If all of us can check those tendencies and treat people like human beings with respect and compassion, radical candor will have a greater chance of succeeding.

Also, be careful of feeling like you have to do something people call the “feedback sandwich.” In this approach people just assume praise is how show you care personally and criticism is the challenging directly part. But even when offering praise it can also be a direct challenge to make it clear you want to see more of the good behavior.  The other problem with the feedback sandwich (sandwiching criticism between praise) is that it forces you to give out praise, which can easily come off as insincere, and that’s the worst thing to do. The feedback sandwich can end up being a scenario where you start with praise you don’t really mean and sounds insincere, and then you say your harsh criticism, and then you follow that up with another insincere praise. That’s not a good approach. Praise has to be both specific and significant to be authentic. And you should put as much thought into giving praise as you put into giving criticism.

My first recommendation for everyone is the same. That recommendation is right now take a moment, and think about what’s going to be your go to question for soliciting criticism. Because if all you do is you say, “Do you have any feedback for me?” I can already tell you the answer, “Oh no, everything’s fine,” nobody wants to give you criticism. What is going to be your question? The one that I like to use is, “What could I do, or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?” But a woman, Christa Quarles, who I work with, she was the CEO of Open Table, she said, “I could never ask that.” My question is, “Tell me why I’m smoking crack.” So there’s a lot of different ways to ask a question. You got to ask it in a way that is authentic to you, and that shows the other person you really want to hear it.

Connect with Kim Scott and Radical Candor

Twitter: @kimmalonescott (https://twitter.com/kimmalonescott)

Twitter: @candor (https://twitter.com/candor)

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/candor-inc

Facebook: @radicalcandor (https://www.facebook.com/radicalcandor)

Instagram: @randicalcandorofficial (https://www.instagram.com/radicalcandorofficial)

Website: https://www.radicalcandor.com

The book: https://www.radicalcandor.com/the-book


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