#54 Why we love “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott (and why implementing it is so hard!)

We reference this book all the time. In today’s conversation we learn why Radical Candor resonates so much with us and how we’ve used it in our own work. The core principles of the book shouldn’t really feel radical, it should be commonplace to care about the people we work with and tell them our honest thoughts and feelings. And yet for many of us this is hard to do.

Radical Candor challenges us to be vulnerable with our emotions and more adaptable in our communication. This can be particularly uncomfortable for managers. We don’t like to hurt or upset people, especially those we care about. But our job can require us to give critical feedback. Or even firing people. Many managers can be tempted down the “it’s just business” path to protect themselves by maintaining strong boundaries and hiding their true feelings.

One of the wonderful gifts of this book is that it gives managers license to care. And we applaud that in the Management Café.

Being brave and honest in communication used to be a revolutionary concept to Tim, one of our hosts at the Management Café. It may sound simple on paper, but in practice, this kind of candor can feel quite groundbreaking, especially in professional settings.

A critique of the book “Radical Candor” arises from its original subtitle, “How to get what you want by saying what you mean.” Our other host, Pilar, suggests that the focus should not be about manipulation, but about caring for people. The essence of communication should be fostering mutual understanding and respect, rather than serving as a tool for achieving personal ends.

One of the most compelling anecdotes from “Radical Candor” is shared by Kim Scott, where she refrains from giving a team member critical feedback, culminating in their dismissal due to poor performance. The employee’s poignant question – “Why didn’t you ever say anything to me?” – underscores the importance of transparent communication.

One of Pilar’s key takeaways is the immense foundational work required before candid conversations can be truly effective. This might involve creating a culture of openness and trust, ensuring that feedback is not only shared but also welcomed.

A critical part of the book involves exploring the four quadrants of the Radical Candor framework. The novelty of the concept, according to Pilar and Tim, lies in embracing the emotional, human side of ourselves and those we manage.

In his journey, Tim experienced early successes implementing Radical Candor principles, particularly when preparing for difficult conversations, such as a one-on-one with an underperforming team member. It underscores the value of Radical Candor as a tool for navigating challenging discussions.

Roy Rappaport offers transformative advice on how to approach these tricky conversations, providing Tim with valuable insights. An important consideration in this context is the relational dynamic: we tend to receive criticism very differently when we know the person delivering it genuinely cares about us.

However, caring about the people we manage also brings challenges. As uncomfortable as it may be, firing someone without showing care negatively affects everyone involved, extending beyond the manager-employee dyad. Hence, empathy and understanding are essential in all interactions, even the most difficult ones.

Kim Scott’s assertion, “Emotional labor is not just part of the job, it’s the key to being a good boss,” resonates deeply with us. Indeed, caring, showing empathy, and investing emotionally in team members’ experiences should not be the exception – they should be the rule.

Implementing Radical Candor can be difficult, and its success heavily depends on the context and environment. However, its core principles—caring about our colleagues and sharing honest thoughts and feelings—should be commonplace, not radical. The book urges us to embrace vulnerability and adaptability in our communication, challenging managers to avoid the “it’s just business” mindset and show genuine care for their team members.

In the Management Café, we celebrate this empathetic approach to leadership, recognizing that the best managers are not only efficient but also caring. After all, the magic of “Radical Candor” lies in granting managers the license to care—an idea that we enthusiastically support.

What about you, dear listener? Have you read Radical Candor? Did it resonate with you? We’d love to hear about your experiences!

Get in touch through our Contact Form https://managementcafepodcast.com/contact/  or tell us on Twitter – we are @managementcaf 


00:15 min Pilar references Yen Tan’s Manager Book Club.

1:40 Being brave and honest in communication used to be a revolutionary concept to Tim.

2:20 Pilar doesn’t like the book’s original subtitle “How to get what you want by saying what you mean”. The message should be about caring for people, not manipulating them.

4:00 Kim Scott shares a powerful story where for a long time she didn’t give a person critical feedback. Eventually their poor performance meant she had to fire them. The employee said to her “Why didn’t you ever say anything to me?”.

5:00 One of Pilar’s key learnings was how much foundational work is required before you can have effective candid conversations.

7:10 We explore the four quadrants of the Radical Candor framework.

10:40 The radicalness of the book was in embracing the emotional, human side of ourselves and the people we manage.

12:45 Tim had his first successes incorporating Radical Candor into his preparation for scheduled conversations about difficult topics. For example a one-on-one with a person who was under performing.

15:30 Tim shares some transformational advice from Roy Rappaport about how to approach difficult conversations.

18:00 We receive criticism very differently when we know the person cares about us.

19:00 Caring about the people we manage brings some challenges. But being managed by someone who cares about us is exponentially better than someone who doesn’t. For example, firing someone without showing care isn’t just about the manager and employee, everyone nearby is impacted by it.

23:00 Pilar quotes Kim Scott “Emotional labour is not just part of the job, it’s the key to being a good boss”.

24:30 Radical Candor can be difficult to implement dependent on the context and environment.

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