radical candor podcast

Podcast Season 2, Episode 8: The Go-To Question

Being the boss doesn’t mean you automatically get respect from people, but the authority does have an automatic impact on what people will say to you. Unfortunately, people are primed to mistrust you based on all the preconceived notions against bosses. As the boss, you’ll tend to get more flattery than critical feedback that can help you learn and grow. On this episode of the Radical Candor Podcast, Kim, Jason and Amy talk about how bosses can get real talk from employees by asking a go-to question.

Listen to the episode:

It’s hard to get “real-talk” as the boss

While you may not think of yourself as an intimidating person, know that your role as “boss” is intimidating. You have the power to fire people and to hand out lousy, or great, assignments! This means people will hesitate to tell you what they really think.

When you’re the boss, it can feel awkward to ask your employees what they think of your performance. If you have a go-to question that you feel comfortable asking, it will flow more easily.

Fred Kofman, author of Conscious Business and philosopher and vice president at LinkedIn, has suggested a question like, “Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”

Andy Grove, former Intel CEO, would say, “I want to ask you a favor. It’s a big one, and it is the most important thing you can do for me. I really need you to tell me what I am doing wrong, how I am screwing up.”

Bill Berry of Tacoma Power says, “Give me some advice.”

Here are a few more variations:

  • “How can I support you on this project?”
  • “What’s bothering you?”
  • “What’s the one thing you’ve been wanting to tell me but have been holding back?”

If any of these examples feel natural to you, adopt them. If not, find one that does and keep it in the back of your mind at all times. You never know when you’ll have the right moment to ask for criticism, and you want to be prepared when it comes. Learn more about asking a go-to question >>

Understanding the SCARF Model

Developed by Neuroleadership visionary Dr. David Rock, the SCARF model is based on minimizing threat and maximizing reward using five areas of the human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. In an article published in the NeuroLeadership Journal, Rock says explains how the model is helpful for leaders.

The SCARF model provides a robust scientific framework for building self-awareness and awareness of others amongst leaders. Many new leaders may negatively impact the domains of SCARF by accident. They may know how things should be done, and subsequently provide too much direction and not enough positive feedback, thereby affecting people’s status. They often don’t provide clear expectations, impacting certainty. They micro manage, impacting autonomy. They want to maintain a professional distance, impacting relatedness. And, they may impact fairness by not being transparent enough.”

“When the opposite happens and you meet someone who makes you feel better about yourself, provides clear expectations, lets you make decisions, trusts you and is fair, you will probably work harder for them as you feel intrinsically rewarded by the relationship itself. Spending time around a leader like this activates an approach response and opens up people’s thinking, allowing others to see information they wouldn’t see in an avoid state.”


  1. As a boss you need to show up and be present. Not just physically (or virtually), but actually listen to what your direct report is saying.
  2. Use your 1:1s to solicit criticism from your direct reports. Practice your go-to question (The Feedback Loop is a great way to master the go-to question)!
  3.  If you’re only getting good news, you’re not getting criticism, or your people keep canceling, these are some warning signs your direct reports don’t feel comfortable having a real conversation with you.

Radical Candor Podcast Listeners Get 10% Off The Feedback Loop

Improvising Radical Candor, a partnership between Radical Candor and Second City Works, introduces The Feedback Loop (think Groundhog Day meets The Office), a 5-episode workplace comedy series starring David Alan Grier that brings to life Radical Candor’s simple framework for navigating candid conversations.

You’ll get an hour of hilarious content about a team whose feedback fails are costing them business; improv-inspired exercises to teach everyone the skills they need to work better together; and after-episode action plans you can put into practice immediately.

We’re offering podcast listeners 10% off the self-paced e-course. Follow this link and enter the promo code FEEDBACK at checkout.

The Radical Candor Podcast theme music was composed by Cliff Goldmacher. Pre-order his book: The Reason For The Rhymes: Mastering the Seven Essential Skills of Innovation by Learning to Write Songs.

Pre order Kim’s new book, Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair, to learn how we can recognize, attack, and eliminate workplace injustice―and transform our careers and organizations in the process.

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