How to Guide for Success: Applying the Radical Candor Feedback Approach

Beatriz Boavida
Jan 22, 2024
4 min read

Giving feedback could be considered an art. As a leader, to guide someone effectively implies an intricate dance between what is being said and how it is being said.

Are you talking too much? Listening too little? Afraid to hurt your team’s feelings? Leaving out important details? Being too kind? Being too harsh? Always telling the truth?

How do you know when you have delivered great feedback?

Kim Scott, former Google and Apple executive, has become famous for having the answer – A leader to succeed needs to be kind and clear as well as specific and sincere. She created a feedback approach called Radical Candor and we are going to take you through each step so you can apply it with your team.

Feedback does not work if not given right.

When you value sincerity over caring, you can come across as being brutally honest. This can then create friction with the employee or peer you are giving feedback to. Scott calls this Obnoxious Aggression and it can either include praise that is not perceived as sincere or criticism that lacks kindness.

The other opposite of the spectrum is also harmful to your team. When you are not specific enough or you sugarcoat your criticism, you are engaging in Ruinous Empathy. And being extremely empathetic has long-term implications, as it can set the path for bigger failures.

Another leadership strategy that actively contributes to a toxic work environment is Manipulative Insincerity. This happens when you find yourself praising someone while giving harsh criticism behind their back, either because you want to be liked or you are simply too overwhelmed or tired to deliver honest feedback.

If your goal is to empower your team and support better results, you need a more effective method to guide your conversations with your team. And here we are talking about Radical Candor.

Radical Candor means caring while challenging.

This approach comprises two of the main dimensions you, as a leader, need to balance and demonstrate in your role:

The 6-step formula to become a Radical Candor leader:

Communication is key and it works both ways. So, effectively giving feedback should not be just your individual goal. To foster sincere and mindful interactions within your team, you must introduce them to Kim Scott’s feedback approach and teach them how to do it.

Here are the 6-steps to master this strategy:

  1. Share your personal stories. Personal stories are a powerful way to inspire change. Pick the ones that illustrate the power of being sincere and kind when giving feedback to introduce the Radical Candor concept to your team.
  2. Ask for feedback. Ask your team to criticize you before you criticize them. Try making this a daily practice with one-to-two-minute chats. Embrace the discomfort of the first few times and move past it. Also, pay attention to who is not saying much about you.
  3. Have career conversations. Support your team in their career path. Understand what motivates them and how their job fits into their life goal. Set your schedule to have three conversations with them:

    1. Conversation 1 – What are the motivations, their values, and what drives them? (focus on their life story)
    2. Conversation 2 – Where do they want to be at the peak of their career? (focus on their dreams)
    3. Conversation 3 – What can they start doing now to build up to their dream? (help create their Career Action Plan)

    Each conversation should have a week or two in between.

  4. Master 1:1s. Think of these as grabbing a coffee with someone you are eager to know better. Figure out when and where the best time and place is to have these meetings – Is it over lunchtime? Walking? – You can decide on a different environment for each team member.

  5. Focus on giving true guidance. Remember to criticize without discarding the positives. Also, remember that different people can have different perceptions of the same talk.
  6. Self-evaluate. Ask yourself what is (not) working, what you can do differently, and who you turn to for support.

The 3 most common mistakes to avoid:

When applying the Radical Candor approach, there are three mistakes you need to watch out for:

  1. Mistake: Showing kindness but remaining silent on criticism.

    Solution: Prepare your feedback to guarantee you are always telling the truth that needs to be told. Also, avoid postponing feedback.

  2. Mistake: Using the sandwich framework with Radical Candor.

    This may leave each employee confused about the weight they should give to the criticism or praise. If the praising is not connected to the criticism, they may feel that you are being insincere when recognizing their efforts. And if you praise them too much, they may ignore the criticism.

    Solution: Be objective, tell the truth with kindness, and make sure you are giving actionable feedback.

  3. Mistake: Not being mindful of your tone or the environment.

    Solution: Adapt your tone to each person, select a calm environment for the conversation, and make sure the employee is open to receiving the message.

Key takeaways

Great leaders are the ones who show they care while pushing their team with honest feedback. Invite your team to embrace the transition to Radical Candor by following the 6-step formula:

  1. Share your personal stories to inspire and move to action;
  2. Ask your team to give you feedback (before you criticize them);
  3. Support your team by having career conversations and ultimately defining their Career Action Plan
  4. Master your 1:1s with each team member;
  5. Focus on giving true guidance – adapt the tone and message to each member;
  6. Self-evaluate and keep improving yourself.

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