Book Review: Radical Candor

Radical Candor


Kim Scott

My Rating

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"A masterclass in improving yourself and all of those around you..."

When I was young and foolish I also had a tendancy to be ranty and petulant. On too many occassions I had feuds or grudges with my colleagues. As I started to mature, though, I realised this was unhealthy and unproductive, and it was stopping me from achieving my goals and being happy.

Through determined effort, I was able to eradicate much of my rebellious behaviour. Instead of getting involved in arguments about code quality, data access frameworks, and architectural choices, I would stay calm and restrained. If I didn't have anything nice to say, I wouldn't say anything at all.

I was so proud of my maturity. Each time I avoided getting into an argument I felt wonderful "wow - I'm an adult who can stay calm and chilled and leave the arguing to everyone else".

But over time, I felt uncomfortable with this behaviour. I had become passive. I had good ideas that could be useful but I wasn't sharing them with anybody. I wasn't enjoying my job because I wasn't having an impact or driving improvement.

For the past few years, I've been stuck in the middle. I don't want to go back to being argumentative and a disruptive influence on the team. But I want to get involved as much as possible and give everything I possibly can so that I look back and feel proud of my achievements and personal growth. I crave that feeling of accomplishment.

Finally, I now feel like I have taken a huge step forward in this area thanks to Kim Scott's Radical Candor framework.

The Radical Candor Framework

In Kim's framework there are 4 ways to give feedback. Firstly there is obnoxious aggression, being direct, aggressive, and saying what you really think with little care for people's feelings. I've been this person and it really didn't work for me. And anyone who treats me this way doesn't get any of my respect, either.

The opposite quadrant is ruinous empathy - giving false praise to make people feel good. It might make them like you, but you aren't giving them the honest feedback they need to grow. You might even be encouraging their bad behaviours.

One of my old bosses announced to our team once that we had won an award from senior management. To me it felt extremely patronising. Why did we win the award? What did we do right? How can we do more of it? Without any explanation, it just seemed like management wanted us to feel like we were doing a good job to keep us happy.

When I spoke to my boss and told him it might be useful to explain to the team exactly what we did to deserve the award he said "I had never thought about it that way". And that was a massive dent in my trust for that manager - he had so little respect for the intelligence of our team he thought he could just give us an award for no apparent reason and expected us all to be happy about it. 

There is also manipulative insincerity. I have spent too much of my life in this quadrant as I tried to avoid confrontation. I thought I was mature, but I was doing myself and everyone I worked with a huge disservice.

Manipulative insincinerity is holding back feedback. Not giving people clear feedback when they need it because you are scared to hurt their feelings.

It's so easy to be manipulatively insincere. Being honest with people can hurt their feelings and it might put us in an awkward situation. But if we don't give people feedback they can't improve and problems snowball out of control.

Finally, we have Radical Candor. The art of giving people honest and tough feedback. But it's not just about saying what you feel...

The Secret of Radical Candor

The secret to Radical Candor is showing other people that you care. Building relationships with those people so that you can give them clear, honest, and direct feedback. You need to show them that you care and that you are genuine.

To be in such a position, you need to solicit feedback from others, Kim argues. Ask your colleagues for feedback. Encourage them to tell you what you could do better and how they felt as a result of your actions.

Once you learn to take feedback and establish relationships, then you can start giving feedback.

None of this is easy, but it's not impossible. Everyone can do it and Kim has a lot of guidance in the book to help you.

Completely Changed My Mindset

I would love to meet Kim Scott. It would be my dream to have her as my coach. Instead, I just have her in my head all the time. All day at work, I'm continuously thinking about the Radical Candor framework. 

On one hand I'm reminding myself to build relationships and show people that I care about making them successful. On the other hand, I am absolutely challenging every thought in my mind that has a hint of runious empathy or manipulative insincerity. 

I'm not afraid to have the tough conversations, I'm not afraid to give people feedback, but I'm also not afraid to care about other people. Thanks Kim.

There is so much good advice in this book, and so many interesting stories from Kim's experiences at the world's top companies like Google and Apple. This is just a brilliant book in so many ways, and it is helping me to be more like the person I really want to be.


"Bosses get Radically Candid guidance from their teams not by merely being open to criticism but actively soliciting it."

"1:1s are your must-do meetings, your single best opportunity to listen, really listen, to the people on your team"

"it makes sense to begin building a culture of radical candor by asking people to criticise you."

"LITERALLY EVERY CEO, middle manager, and first-time manager I have ever worked with has struggled to figure out how to run a productive staff meeting with their direct reports."

"When your direct reports own and set the agenda for their 1:1s, they’re more productive"

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