Paul Mestemaker
Published on

Radical Candor Takeaways


In my quest to become a better manager, one of several books I read was Radical Candor by Kim Scott. Kim outlines her management philosophy based on two key principles: caring personally and challenging directly. In other words, it's about being honest and direct with people while also showing that you care about them as individuals.

Core principles

Care personally: Show that you care about people as individuals. This means taking an interest in their lives, listening to them, and showing empathy when they're going through a tough time.

Challenge directly: Be honest and direct when giving feedback or criticism. This means being clear about what you expect from people and not sugarcoating things when they're not meeting those expectations.

Avoid ruinous empathy: Don't avoid difficult conversations or withhold feedback because you're afraid of hurting someone's feelings. This can lead to people not knowing where they stand and ultimately hurting the team or organization.

Embrace radical candor: Be willing to have difficult conversations and give direct feedback, even when it's uncomfortable. This can lead to more trust, collaboration, and growth for everyone involved.

Actionable steps for implementing these principles into your role as a manager

Take time to get to know your colleagues as individuals. Ask about their hobbies, interests, and families.

Practice active listening. When someone is talking, give them your full attention and try to understand their perspective. There is little more demoralizing than if you're trying to have a critical conversation and the person you're talking with is distracted. Especially during 1:1s, I put my computer into Do Not Disturb mode, so I won't be distracted by notifications from Slack/Discord. If a notification does come through, I'll apologize and say that I need a minute to turn off notifications.

When giving feedback, be clear and specific about what you're asking for or what needs to change. I've found that providing examples of what was observed and how it was interpreted helps the person receiving the feedback understand how it negatively affects the team/project.

Don't avoid difficult conversations. If you need to give feedback or address a problem, do it as soon as possible.

Check in with your colleagues regularly to see how they're doing and if there's anything you can do to support them.

Remember that radical candor is a two-way street. Encourage your colleagues to give you direct feedback as well. If you're a manager, 1:1s are a great place for this. When requesting feedback from your directs, I've found giving them a prompt a day or two ahead of time can help give dramatically better results. A lot of people (especially individual contributors) are uncomfortable giving direct feedback, so giving them some time to process and write down their thoughts ahead of time.