Radical Candor: What is it and how does it work?


Do you ever want to be honest, but are worried about being too honest? Radical Candor™ allows you to establish a management framework where you can challenge your co-workers directly while caring for them personally.

Being professional often means biting your tongue. But sometimes the truth needs to be said. A failing of many organizations is the lack of honest communication. Programs or initiatives are sometimes executed poorly because nobody felt like they could point out flaws. This isn’t just an issue with big multi-national corporations with thousands of employees.

Impact Hub Vienna has also looked to Radical Candor for guidance. After our introduction to the core concepts of Radical Candor, we chat with Dušan Janković, Community Catalyst at Impact Hub Vienna to dig into a first-hand practical application of Radical Candor to see how it has impacted his team.

What is Radical Candor?

Radical Candor comes from the book, Radical Candor: Be a Kickass boss without Losing your Humanity, by Kim Scott, a former Google employee who led AdSense and YouTube, who was inspired by the leadership of her boss at that time, a certain Sheryl Sandberg of now Facebook and Lean In fame.

How does it work?

Given our general propensity to beat around the bush, we have been taught to talk around things instead of talking about things. This is in part due to the desire of avoiding any social awkwardness, which we all know can be quite uncomfortable. Radical Candor sets up an environment where the things that need to be said, will be said.

At its core, Radical Candor has 2 dimensions: Care Personally and Challenge Directly. You put those two together and you get this very nice equation for the math people out there who don’t like numbers: Radical Candor = Care Personally + Challenge Directly. It’s not about confrontation or awkwardness. It’s about getting to the truth of the matter.

What is Care Personally?

Care Personally is about caring for your team and caring about the work. In order to facilitate a caring relationship with your team, you need to open up to them and talk more than just shop. You are a person who is more than their job so don’t be afraid to show your team that.

What is Challenge Directly?

Challenge Directly is about challenging your team to do their best. You also need to set the tone of being direct and honest. Your co-workers and subordinates will pick up on that and embrace how you cut straight to the point. Keep in mind though, the goal is not to be mean, it’s to be helpful.

How do you do it?

Like anything, practice makes perfect. Implement it in your team and do the 3 P’s of practice, practice, and practice. It might feel uncomfortable at times, especially at the start, but that might mean you’re taking it personally which is what you shouldn’t be doing. But hey, don’t listen to me, I just write about it. Let’s check in now with Dušan to see how Radical Candor really works.

What inspired you to implement Radical Candor?

I wanted to look into how we can embody the benefits of Radical Candor at Impact Hub Vienna. I wanted to develop a culture of direct and clear feedback that would be shared instantly while creating stronger personal bonds within the team. If we can achieve this, we would be able to continuously grow as individuals and as a team, allowing us to have more impact.

Have you noticed any disadvantages?

We’re adopting a phased implementation so it’s still too early to say anything definitive but I have not seen any major disadvantages so far. There are challenges though, mainly to do with getting other people on-board and changing the team culture. Although people who are part of our team are open-minded and fast learners, changing the culture is always tough! So for anybody out there taking their first Radical Candor steps, a good starting point is to make sure to introduce everyone to the concept and have buy-in from the entire team. After that, it’ll still take some time so be patient with the culture change.

How has Radical Candor changed your relationships and meetings?

So far, we’ve only had one “all hands” meeting where we were sharing what worked in the previous period (successes) and what could have been better (learnings). People really enjoyed it! Right now, we’re looking into how to integrate this as part of our regular agenda during our “all hands” meetings. I feel that with this framework, we’re becoming more effective in terms of the way we communicate

When it comes to relationships, what helped me was the clear distinction between the “care personally” and “challenge directly” concepts that Radical Candor is based on. So on a personal level, I feel that the quality of interactions and the time spent with the team has improved.

Do you plan to continue using Radical Candor?

Definitely! Although, we’re not going line by line by the book. We’re adjusting the approach as we go so we can learn and use the things that work for us. The next step would be to take it outside of our team and spread it throughout the organization.


Header Photo: Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Baldwin Tong Impact Hub Vienna
Baldwin Tong A writer who wears many hats, mostly metaphorical ones.