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Radical Candor Intern

The Star Intern: A Mentor’s Radical Candor Journey


Radical Candor Intern

We recently heard from Dimitar Simeonov, who shared his story about reading Radical Candor while managing an intern when he was working at Twitter as a senior data scientist. While Dimitar’s no longer at Twitter, at the time he had been there for four years and was responsible for the intern’s technical mentorship. Thanks for sharing the learning and the love, Dimitar!


Two weeks in as an intern mentor, I had a dilemma. My intern was performing with the cadence and quality of a full-time engineer. I felt I needed to challenge him and help him learn further. I felt like he hadn’t reached his potential and I needed to help his growth. I thought if I didn’t do it, he might get bored and start underperforming, not get a return offer, or not be interested in a return offer. Most important, the internship wouldn’t have been worth his time.

Dimitar Simeonov

This was the first time I was a mentor, and I was quite anxious, feeling unease about providing personal criticism from a point of authority. I was happy with the progress, but also worried, because it made the task of giving critical feedback harder for me.

I didn’t feel like criticizing him at all. There weren’t many things to criticize. I was afraid that if I spent too much time on minor issues, I might come off as complaining too much. That he might feel discouraged, and we’d have a harder time building camaraderie.

To contrast personal and technical feedback, I am very happy to go into a technical argument, but very rarely, or never would go and criticize the approach of others. I was providing technical feedback to my intern all the time, on the code reviews, without having to wait until the next 1:1.

So technical feedback was not an issue for me — I could go into a technical argument with other engineers, focused entirely on technical merit, and emerge without me or them feeling personally insulted. The code is the code, but people are hard for me.

Having recently read Radical Candor, I knew that if I didn’t point things out, complacency could sneak in, and he’ll have a “meh” experience. I would have failed as a mentor to do my job.

I used two techniques for overcoming my dilemma.

The first technique I learned from the Radical Candor book, that if I am more receptive to feedback, and listening earnestly, then he in turn would be more receptive, because he’ll see that I care personally through my actions. During our one-on-one meetings I was trying to extract things I could have done better, asking the same questions every time, and providing enough pause so he could answer.

I asked for things I could do or stop doing to make it easier for him. I asked for feedback from him. I also repeatedly asked him about the direction of his career, whether he’d prefer to learn more about code patterns and how to write great quality code, or whether he’d be more interested in product development. 

I saw these kinds of career questions in Radical Candor, and I thought it would be a good way to break the ice and show that I care. After several weeks of bringing up these questions, my intern started answering them. He chose to focus more on the product aspects and I assigned him more product-related tasks. He provided feedback to me that having a written plan for the work we were doing together helped him understand more easily the scope and importance of the various tasks.

I heeded his comment. I made sure to always have a written up-to-date plan, which helped us collaborate more closely as his internship progressed. This written plan evolved into a wiki page containing all the current, past and future work on the project, broken up with milestones and tickets’ statuses. Having learned this from my intern, I used the same format for my other projects.

The second technique was to create a dedicated space for suggestions for improvement during our 1:1. I structured the meeting in a way that we talked about feedback and career prospects for him before discussing any kind of “status updates” or technical issues.

After the first few weeks, I told him, ‘Hey, let’s try the following approach. Every week, during 1:1, I will talk about one thing that you could have done better during the last week.’ This provided me a cover to discuss seemingly minor things without being petty. What’s more, focusing on a single thing per week provided more clarity to him about what I thought was important.

Instead of saying three things and noticing that the next week he has improved on two of them, but not the most important one, we would instead focus on the most important thing first.

One of the weeks he did a great job on his project, and I didn’t really have much critical feedback — he even made a presentation to the team that he delivered well. That week I gave him feedback that he did great and the only improvement that I see is that he used the word “study” incorrectly, instead of “experiment” during the presentation. This showed that I still paid attention to his work through the week and valued it, and still helped him make a minor adjustment.

At the end of the internship, he did a presentation about his work and there was a slide in it that made me happy. The slide was about what he learned during the summer. He started mentioning things that would appear as bullet points on the slide.

But when the space on the screen was full he kept on going … new bullet points appeared all over the place, overlapping at angles with the pre-existing ones, faster and faster.  It was a pour of learnings. He said, “I learned so much.” Everyone laughed and clapped.

I cannot claim credit for all the learnings, but as his mentor I’d like to think that my behavior and feedback during the 1:1 meetings helped, and that Radical Candor helped me challenge directly and care personally.


You can continue following Dimitar’s journey on his blog and on Twitter. And let us know how you are bringing Radical Candor to your team, too!

Self-Awareness and the Candor Gauge

A question from one of our readers:

I was facilitating an internal assertiveness workshop, and one of the dynamics I noticed was that, while everyone was engaged, and I think took away some useful insights, there was a thread of lack of personal awareness that seemed to stop some folks. People said things like, “I’m already pretty assertive, but I could see how this could be helpful.” This isn’t a new phenomenon in my experience. I’ve been doing workshops and teaching adults for over a decade. But as we wrapped up, I thought, in what ways can we provoke and help facilitate self-awareness from the inside out? Then I thought, radical candor may be a key insight.

The difference I’m trying to tease out here is between: 1. My boss shared a keen, helpful insight with me (even if it was hard to hear) which is important and valuable and 2. I’m doing the work of investigation myself, truth-testing with others of course, but some sort of “personal radical candor”.

Any insights?

– Craig

Craig, thanks for the great question. You really just nailed a very hard part of Radical Candor: how can we be Radically Candid with ourselves?

Truth-testing with others is key to “personal Radical Candor.” Radical Candor is not like a Myers-Briggs personality test. It’s best used not to judge yourself or somebody else, but as an assessment of how something you said landed for somebody else, or for a group of people.

How can we understand how we are perceived generally, and also by specific individuals? After all, if I say the same thing to two different people, one may think it was Radically Candid, but the other may find it Obnoxiously Aggressive. How can we adjust our style to work with different cultures? I was raised in the South — I sometimes joke I was born and bred for Manipulative Insincerity. When I was working for an Israeli start-up, I had to adopt a very different style.

Since Radical Candor gets measured at the listener’s ear not the speaker’s mouth, and since we often have very little idea of what’s going on in another person’s mind, knowing whether one has been Radically Candid requires not just self-awareness but also relational-awareness and cultural-awareness.


Being Radically Candid with yourself requires self-awareness. You can build this Radical Candor “self-awareness” by understanding how most people perceive your feedback, how your feedback lands in general. If you give feedback to 10 people, maybe 7 of them would gauge your feedback in roughly the same way. Let’s say they found your feedback Radically Candid. So overall, as a self-aware person, you know your feedback is generally Radically Candid. That is super-important to know. And hard.

To give Radically Candid feedback — to be aware of how our feedback lands — we need feedback on our feedback. Very meta :)  But having a meta conversation every week could make giving feedback harder than it already is. That is why we’re developing the Candor Gauge: to quickly and painlessly give you an indication of what is happening at the listener’s ear, in their minds, and even in their hearts.

Here’s how it works: if you give feedback to people every week, you can send them an app version of the Radical Candor framework and ask them to tap the quadrant(s) where your praise and criticism landed that week. We aggregate the results for you each week and give you a window into how your feedback lands overall. It takes them ~30 seconds to gauge your feedback, and you just a quick moment to see where you stand and get a quick tip for improving.

For example, here are ratings I might get in my Gauge:



In this case, I might think I’m being assertive, or Radically Candid, but learn that I’m showing up as Obnoxiously Aggressive when I offer criticism. This is a report where some people chose to gauge me anonymously, so it helps with self-awareness but not with more specific relational-awareness of how my praise/criticism landed differently for different individuals. I have two tasks ahead of me (probably not unrelated): learning to show I Care Personally when giving criticism, and also building trust so that people quit gauging me anonymously.


General self-awareness will move things in the right direction for me, but it won’t solve an issue that I may be having communicating with a specific person.

In the case where 7 of 10 people gauged my feedback as Radically Candid–well, that’s good. But, what about those other 3 people? The plot thickens…To improve there, I need relational-awareness.

General self-awareness might even trip me up when it comes to relational awareness in a specific relationship. For example, I might in general give feedback that is Radically Candid, but when I work with a particular person who’s really sensitive, my Radical Candor lands as Obnoxious Aggression. And when I work with a person who is so super confident that they’re practically deaf to criticism, my Radical Candor might turn to Ruinous Empathy. But because I am self-aware, I consider myself to be a “Radically Candid” person–and this view of myself, not inaccurate in aggregate, might cause me to totally miss the signals from these 3 people who do not experience my feedback as Radically Candid. I might have high self-awareness–I’m right that most people see experience my feedback as Radically Candid. But that self-awareness might blind me to how these specific people find me. My high self-awareness might contribute to my low relational-awareness.

For example, I may think that I’ve been crystal clear, but the other person hasn’t understood me at all. Let’s say I just had a conversation with Alex. I criticized Alex and am worried about having been a jerk. But, unbeknownst to me, Alex still isn’t even aware of the problem that I raised. I was worried that the criticism was so harsh it was Obnoxiously Aggressive. But Alex didn’t hear any criticism at all.

Or, I may think I’ve been kind, but the other person feels I’ve just stomped all over them. Now let’s imagine that I’m now having a conversation with Margaret. I think very highly of Margaret and make sure to say so, but also make one tiny suggestion for how Margaret could have done better. Margaret walks away utterly demoralized and thinking I am a total asshole. Others on the team don’t see me that way. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters for my relationship with Margaret is how Margaret feels. I have to find a way to get through to her.



And of course it’s not just self-awareness and relational-awareness, but there’s also cultural-awareness to consider as well. I might finally figure things out with a team of 10 here in California. And then I might move to Tel Aviv, where people in general would experience my feedback as passive aggressive. 7 out of 10 people on my new Israeli team might find my feedback Manipulatively Insincere. This would blow my mind at first because it would run so counter to my perception of who I am and who I want to be. If I have good relational-awareness, it will help me more than good self-awareness to make the necessary adjustments. I know I’m not a chameleon. I know that I need to do different things with different people and in different cultures to show I care and to challenge people directly. And I’m willing to adapt my style because I hold those ideals–caring and challenging–as important at an absolute level. That will help a lot if I move from Tel Aviv to Tokyo. It will also help me if I move from a company with one strong culture to a company with a very different kind of culture.


Both relational-awareness and cultural-awareness explain why Radical Candor is not a personality type. Nobody is always in just one quadrant with everybody all the time. The Gauge is not a personality test. Instead, it offers a way to describe a specific interaction between two people.

Since every person is different, and everyone they are speaking to is different, we quickly get into an N to N problem that might at first seem impossibly complicated to describe, or to give advice on. If this sounds impossibly complicated, do not despair. It’s not actually as complex as it sounds. You can get a snapshot of how your feedback is landing without spending hours of conversation soliciting feedback on your feedback.

The Candor Gauge offers you self-awareness, relational-awareness, and cultural-awareness. That small glimpse into what others are thinking about your feedback will helps you self-correct. We send tips to help you improve and stories to help you feel less alone — but you’ll probably get better automatically, and that’s what really feels good.

Try it out and let us know what you think.

Gauge Your Feedback

We want to help you create a culture of great feedback. In order to do that, we think you need to give feedback, get feedback, encourage feedback and gauge your feedback.

Feedback: Give it. Get it. Encourage it. Gauge it.

Give it

Give feedback that shows you Care Personally and are willing to Challenge Directly. Try our HIP approach to giving Radically Candid feedback.

Get it

You have to work hard to get candid feedback from the people you work with, especially if you’re the boss. Hearing no criticism from your team doesn’t mean there isn’t any – it just means they’re not sharing it. Start with a simple question, such as “Can you give me some advice?” and then shut up and listen with the intent to understand.

Encourage it

Feedback becomes an integral part of your company culture when you encourage it among all team members. Help everyone learn to give each other in person, impromptu praise and criticism so that your organization can improve itself quickly and your team can be even more engaged than they already are.

Gauge it

Radical Candor is not measured at your mouth; it’s measured at the listener’s ear. Gauging how your feedback is landing will enable you to know how other people are experiencing your feedback and will help you move toward being more Radically Candid.

Trainings and workshops are important, but we’ve found that their impact tends to be ephemeral. The absolute best training day sees the students run out of the room, eager to change behavior and implement new ideas with haste.

Maybe a week later, though, the enthusiasm wanes and your students are back to old habits. It’s a disappointing cycle and sometimes can make even the best training sessions feel like a waste of time and money.

Similarly, when you go to your semi-annual cleaning at the dentist, you walk out of the building feeling like the Pearl Drops lady. Included with your cleaning is a finger-wag from the hygienist about your need to brush and floss more often – because that’s where the real impact comes from. The cleaning matters, but it can’t hold up on its own.


So how can you make sure that a culture of feedback persists in your company, after you introduce the concepts of Radical Candor? Gauge your feedback regularly.

Why Gauge Your Feedback?

  1. Get the superpower to know what others think – Of course you want to know what others think about your feedback. You know that Radical Candor is measured at the listener’s ear and not at your mouth, so you need the listener’s perspective. Asking them to gauge your feedback will show you whether you’ve been Radically Candid – or not – in the last week.
  2. Knowing is half the battle – GI Joe said “Knowing is half the battle.” If you ask people to gauge your feedback each week, it will help you remember to give impromptu praise and criticism. Plus, just knowing how people rate your feedback will help you naturally improve.


  1. Small investment, big rewards – It takes less than a minute for you to ask people to gauge your feedback, and even less time for them to do it. And when they do gauge your feedback, you’ll both notice a big improvement in your working relationship.
  2. Get tips and advice – When you learn how your feedback is perceived, you’ll know what you need to improve and can check out specific tips for moving towards Radical Candor.

You can learn how people feel about your feedback by printing out the Radical Candor framework and asking them to mark their ratings.


Setting a Tone of Radical Candor with a New Team

I recently received this question from one of our readers:

Hi Kim,

I’m just moving into a new role at a new company, and I have a clear opportunity to set a tone for Radical Candor within my function team / direct reports on joining. I wonder if you might be kind enough to offer some advice as to how you would create the optimum conditions for Radical Candor within my new team. I’m a relatively transparent line manager, and my gut says to literally talk them through the model as I meet and get to know them in the first 90 days, but I’d love to hear your professional opinion.

– A Reader

Congratulations on your new role!

Yes, of course I’d be happy to help–I love this idea, and I love talking to people about how they are rolling it out to their teams, and helping think through how to overcome obstacles as they arise, which they inevitably will. It’s easy for me to say be Radically Candid, but really hard for you to do it. I want to hear about the hard parts, and figure out how to make it easier for you and for others.

Here is my advice: show the video from the talk at a team meeting, and then ask people for their reactions. Encourage them to say what they like about the idea, but also to be open about any skepticism they have, or to call BS if they disagree with the ideas.

If there is overall agreement with the approach, ask your team to rate your praise and criticism each week. You can either print out the 2×2 and put “praise” and “criticism” stickers nearby it and ask people to put the stickers where they feel your guidance landed after each interaction. Or, if that seems awkward, we’re building an app. More on that coming soon.

If this goes well, you can also encourage your team to give each other more guidance, and to ask their peers to rate their guidance.

Finally, here is a link to some stories and tips to help you move towards Radical Candor if you happen to find yourself in any of the other three quadrants.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!



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