skip to Main Content

It’s Not Radical Candor If You Don’t Care Personally

What makes Radical Candor radical is that it’s a deviation from the norm, which tends to fall somewhere between acting like a jerk and avoiding confrontation altogether. The purpose of Radical Candor is to create a new normal where guidance is both kind and clear, not to reinforce bad behavior. This means that if you don’t Care Personally about the person you’re delivering feedback to, you’re exhibiting Obnoxious Aggression, not Radical Candor.

Ever since the book Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity was released, Radical Candor has become a bit of a buzzword, which is exciting.  However, it’s often being used incorrectly, which leads to a misunderstanding of the true meaning of Radical Candor.

Case in point, a recent Wall Street Journal article that depicts obnoxiously aggressive internal tactics at Netflix as Radical Candor, as well as the Silicon Valley episode and Dilbert comic that do the same.

Let’s get one thing clear, Radical Candor is not brutal honesty. It’s not an invitation to act like a jerk, and just because you preface something with “in the spirit of Radical Candor,” if you fail to Care Personally, then you’re actually being obnoxiously aggressive — not radically candid. You’re acting like a jerk.

Obnoxious Aggression Means You’re Acting Like A Jerk

In short, Radical Candor means saying what you think while also giving a damn about the person you’re saying it to. This means you have to Care Personally while also being willing to Challenge Directly.

If you don’t challenge directly, you’re displaying Ruinous Empathy, and neither Obnoxious Aggression nor Ruinous Empathy are Radical Candor.  In order to practice Radical Candor, you need to do both. If you neither care nor challenge, you’re engaging in what we call Manipulative Insincerity.

Radical Candor Is Both Kind & Clear

As people toss around the phrase Radical Candor more and more, it’s important to remember that if you don’t care about the object of your candor, you’re doing it wrong. I’m not saying command and control can’t work, it works especially well in a totalitarian regime or a baboon troop.

But in a radically candid workplace common human decency is something we owe to everyone. We try to find the best people for the job, and we respect all the people and all the jobs. If you want to learn more about what is Radical Candor and what isn’t, this is required reading.

Because, if you’re not a kickass boss, your team likely wants to kick your ass.

Kim Scott

Kim Scott is co-founder of Radical Candor, LLC and has been an advisor at Dropbox, Kurbo, Qualtrics, ReelGoodApp, Rolltape, Shyp, Twitter and several other Silicon Valley companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense, YouTube and Doubleclick Online Sales and Operations at Google.