Why Every Company Needs to Adopt The Radical Candor Principle

If you’ve ever worked or chatted with us at ThreeSixtyEight, you know that we’re a fun-loving group that will always tell it like it is. The reason why we’re so candid with our feedback is that we not only truly care about the work create but we also truly care about each other. This care comes in the form of Radical Candor – a communication principle that’s coined by management guru Kim Scott.

In this guest post, we feature Kim Scott, co-founder of Candor, Inc., on why incorporating the communication method of Radical Candor is very important to any company’s culture. We talked with Kim and summarized some of the thoughts she shared with us below. Don’t forget to pre-order her book Radical Candor and listen to her podcast  – we guarantee there’s tons of good stuff that can help you grow as a leader.

FYI: You may have noticed that the ThreeSixtyEight team has embraced the “Radical Condor” as an unofficial office mascot. This was done on purpose since we use this principle regularly in critiquing ourselves and our work. The condor reminds us to keep it real [btw, if you want a sticker, swing by our office].

Without further adieu, here’s our conversation with Kim Scott:

Are you a leader who gives a damn about your team?

If so, you already have the most important ingredient of Radical Candor. But even when you care about your team, it can be hard to accept feedback from them and encourage it between them. If you can learn to do that better, it will help you grow to become the best manager that you can be.

So what is Radical Candor and why should you incorporate it into your culture?

In a nutshell, Radical Candor is the ability to challenge directly and show that you care personally at the same time. If done correctly, it will help you and all the people you surround yourself with do the best work of your/their lives and build trusted relationships throughout your career. While constructive feedback might sound like something that is obvious for growing a team’s trust and communication in one another, in reality it is scarce.

The reason Radically Candid feedback (praise and criticism) is rare is because people do not want to come off as insulting or harsh. Most people have been told some version of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” When they become a boss, the very thing they have been taught not to do since they learned to speak is suddenly their job. Additionally, most individuals, since they got their first job opportunity, have been told to be “professional.” What does that even mean? Too often, being professional translates to leaving your humanity at home. But to give praise and criticism effectively, you have to Care Personally. You have to bring your whole true being to work – leaving nothing at home.

[Note from Kenny: We work in the creative + marketing industry where ideas and execution are everything. If you or someone’s idea is bad, then you need to be able to say so. You will get mauled if you don’t speak up against the bad ideas in our field. The best people in this industry have a strong sense of humility and will admit their ideas are bad, yet will relentlessly defend the ideas they believe are great.]

So how can you make the unnatural feel more natural?

Because Radical Candor often feels like an “unnatural act,” Candor, Inc. has developed a graph that can help you keep it effective and constructive during the heat of the interaction. This 2×2 graph below is a tool that you and your team can use to guide your interactions and to help gauge feedback (whether in praise or criticism).

One of the best ways to make Radical Candor easier to adopt is to consider what happens when you fail to Care Personally and Challenge Directly. Candor named the quadrants colorfully to help you remember to move toward Radical Candor, but it’s key to remember that these are not titles for individuals; they refer to a particular interaction or behavior. Rest assured that EVERY individual spends some time in each of the quadrants, and that’s perfectly ok as long as you make the effort to get to the green.

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.

[You can read more stories and examples here to better understand each of these quadrants.]

How you guide yourself towards Radical Candor makes the difference.

Three Ways to Get Started with Radical Candor

So how do you get started with Radical Candor at your company/team? Kim and Candor recommend you begin to build behavioral trust and feedback habits with the below three steps:

  1. Get feedback from others — create the example that you welcome and deliver constructive feedback.
  2. Give feedback and Gauge feedback — Challenge Directly and Show that you Care Personally.
  3. Encourage feedback — Create actual processes that allow team members feel comfortable voicing their feedback between one another.

[Note from Kenny: We adapted this principle of Radical Candor since the beginning of our merger between Big Fish Presentations and Hatchit to become ThreeSixtyEight. It’s very important in Radical Candor that your company recognizes the term and owns it. The first time we introduced the concept of Radical Candor, it was shocking at first, as some people tend to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. There was also the argument that instead of calling it radical candor, we should just tell the specific person how we feel without putting a label on the interaction. In theory that sounds reasonable, but in action it’s a bit harder. Radical candor reassures you that it’s ok to be candid with someone – whether you’re an intern or the CEO of the company.

We learned that in order to maximize the impact of radical candor, we had to own the term and make sure that everyone in the organization had a voice. This was shown in a particular example when Tara, who was one of our interns at the time (now a strategist for ThreeSixtyEight), confronted me on my reasons not paying interns. We had a perfectly fine discussion, and after hearing her viewpoint, we now pay all our interns! She told me she was nervous to talk to me at first, but having discussed radical candor, she felt reassured that I would listen.]

Three Important Things to Realize about Radical Candor

In creating a culture of Radical Candor, three things must be constantly on top of mind in order to make sure your comments are taken well.

1) There must be a shared vocabulary that’s understood.

Start by explaining the idea of Radical Candor and the graph to your team in your own words. It is important to establish shared vocabulary so that everyone on your team can understand the goal and feel comfortable modifying their behavior.

2) You must lead by example

Tell your company that you think you have not been Radically Candid enough, and that you’re going to try to make a big change to help not only yourself do a better job, but others as well. By communicating that you want to improve, yourself, you’ll show your team that you’re serious about the cultural shift. Prove that you mean it by asking for their help. Ask them to rate your feedback — to tell you when they feel you are veering into one of the other three quadrants. Remind them, these are not labels for people, they are labels for behavior.

3) You must commit to the Journey

You won’t become Radically Candid overnight, and it’s almost impossible to be Radically Candid 100% of the time. Kim’s personal experience with changing behavior is that she generally has to overshoot. In other words, if she’s convinced that her behavior is consistently Ruinously Empathetic, she’s probably going to have to feel like she’s being a real jerk before she gets to Radical Candor. That is really uncomfortable. But if you’ve communicated to your team why you’re changing and asked them to rate your feedback, they’ll understand and help you improve.

The important thing is that you explain to your organization that you are going to start saying what you think a lot more clearly, and that you’re not doing it to be a jerk, or to hurt anyone’s feelings, you are doing it because you care about each person you work with personally, and you want to help them do the best work of their careers.


To follow Kim and her company Candor, Inc. check out her website here or follow her on Twitter at @candor. Also, don’t forget to read pre-order her book Radical Candor coming out in March. Pre-orders can be found on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Read more about ThreeSixtyEight’s experiences with Radical Candor at the Candor, Inc blog here.

Kenny Nguyen

Kenny builds partnerships with powerful brands and shares his entrepreneurial tips with the community through outlets like TEDx, Forbes and Huffington Post. He co-founded Big Fish Presentations after hearing the “worst presentation he had ever seen” and now leads ThreeSixtyEight in its mission to help brands rediscover their creative confidence.