Is Radical Candor the new buzz word in management?

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Just like how the word agile was turning up in every conversation, whether people truly understood or followed the workings of being agile or not, they would use it to sell ideas or to sound like they are up on the latest methodologies. Boy howdy do people love to drop the word agile. I worry that Radical Candor is following down that same path, however, with a different tweak in that it’s being used as an excuse for certain behaviors.

I’ve always believed in candor. It simply is who I am. I hate fluff and tiptoeing and believe getting to the point is the most expedient approach, especially when you lead a large team. That doesn’t mean it’s always been received well. Sometimes people will automatically be defensive, they can’t handle the direct approach. However, after working with me for a bit they begin to realize that my candor is about achieving outcomes and never about shaming someone or being an aggressive ass.

I have, however, seen some managers throw around the term radical candor as an excuse to be aggressive, manipulative or to create competition between peers. Which is the exact opposite of embodying radical candor. I mean really, the actual definition is “…caring personally while challenging directly. It’s guidance that is kind and clear, specific and sincere” according to the radical candor website.

Radical Candor Framework from

So what isn’t radical candor?

Brutal Honesty

Radical Candor is not being brutally honest where you attack the person or persons. In order to live up to the term radical candor, you must actually care about the people you are giving feedback to. Your words and behavior can be direct, but they must also be kind. Notice that I also said behavior. It doesn’t do any good to say something nice if you are saying it through your teeth as you stand over the person you are talking to. Your behavior must be congruent with your words. So, how can you deliver the message and show you care?

  1. Ask clarifying questions. And I don’t mean, “why in the hell did you do that?” I mean, “so what lead you to head in that direction?” Clarifying questions not only gives you a true and clear picture so you aren’t working off of assumptions, and it also creates a dialog. This allows the conversation to move in the direction it needs to go with both parties on board for a positive outcome or lesson learned.

  2. Keep the outcome top of mind. Let the person know what issues their decisions or actions created. Speak to the outcome, not to the individual. For example, “I understand that you felt overloaded with work, but your decision to ignore this deadline without any notification means you have put the rest of the team in the situation to where they either miss their deadline or they have to work overtime.”

  3. Everything is a lesson learned. A good way to be kind or care about your team is to view every problem as an opportunity to learn and grow. “how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” or “what can we learn from this?” and simply stating that mistakes are ok as long as we learn from them will absolutely relieve the tension so there is an open conversation. However, you must actually mean what you are saying.

Letting things slide calls this Ruinous Empathy. Radical Candor is not letting things slide because you don’t want to hurt someone's feelings. We often will make excuses for people’s behavior instead of just nipping it in the bud. In my opinion, this also means you don’t really care for the person. It’s just as damaging as being aggressive. Sure you empathize, but letting someone head down a road that is going to cause you, they or the team pain and suffering is just wrong and can definitely mess with their self-esteem. So, how do you deliver the message and still empathize with their situation:

  1. Get over yourself. Your job isn’t to coddle. Coddling isn’t the same as caring. If you care, then you will make sure they are doing the right things to make them the best person they can be or to reach their goals.

  2. Speak to be heard and understood. Tell them that you know they are going through a hard time or that what is being asked of them is challenging, but that you want the best outcome for them in the long run.

  3. Be creative. Sometimes as a leader, you just need to think differently when someone is going through a challenging time. You might need to partner them up, remove the pressure or maybe even have them take some time off. But this approach does not supersede having a candid conversation. They still need to understand what the issue is.

Being Manipulative

Radical Candor is not being fake, insincere or being passive-aggressive to get the behavior you want. First of all, there are two people in this situation so you should always be looking for the best outcome overall, which includes the other person. If you are manipulating someone, they either have no clue that there is a problem (which is a problem) or they will see you for who you are which is a giant ass. So, how do you provide feedback that’s not manipulative:

  1. Ditch the compliment sandwich. People know when you are buttering them up or not being sincere. Just say what needs to be said, however, make sure it’s said in a way that it can be heard. Don’t attack, speak to the outcome.

  2. Watch your body language – People can read you whether you think they can or not. There is nothing worse than looking at someone who has a disapproving look on their face but refuses to say what’s on their mind. (Cue the eye roll, followed by an “oh, nothing”.) Also, people know something is up if your body language isn’t congruent with your words. Both of these are a really quick way to lose trust.

  3. Say it face to face. Nothing hacks me off worse than a manager who sends an email to discuss an issue instead of doing it face to face. First, you don’t give them an opportunity to learn or to clear up an assumption or misinformation. Second, it’s a bitch ass move. Just don’t do it.

So, my suggestion to you is that if you toss around the words radical candor, then check yourself. Do you actually walk the walk or are you a manipulative bully? Remember to challenge, but care. And if you are on the other end of someone who says they are using radical candor and you know it’s not, then privately talk to them about what Radical Candor actually is and is not. Heck, send them this article.

Be a Connected Leader.