Radical Candor, by Kim Scott

Why I read it:

This one had been on my reading pile for a couple of years. Kim Scott offers a direct title and even clearer subtitle: ‘How to get what you want by saying what you mean.’ This isn’t just about having ‘tough conversations’, though, it’s a principle for leading teams that puts relationships, trust, and honesty first.

In summary:

As shown in the quadrant below, Scott explores different types of relationships and conversations that we often have with colleagues or those we lead, in order to improve team performance. To achieve radical candor, one needs to both care personally and challenge directly. The book gives a wide array of experiences and case studies about how to stay in the ‘compassionate candor’ area of the framework, and how to avoid the others. Yes, there is guidance about how to invite and give feedback, but there is more holistic advice for leading and working within thriving teams throughout the book.

Radical Candor aspires to help the reader achieve the following:

• Care personally: Bring your whole self to work, and care about each of your team members as whole persons with lives and aspirations beyond their work.

• Challenge directly: Give/receive feedback, make tough decisions and uphold high standards. Eventually, trust and understanding is built and people feel safe to challenge one another to solve problems and uphold standards without your intervention.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Ruinous Empathy – we attempt to build healthy relationships and be empathetic and kind. Often that empathy focuses us on the moment, such as not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, which in turn avoids telling them something that may benefit them, and those around them, in the future. Scott describes how compassion can be more important than empathy: empathy helps us understand the feelings of others, whereas compassion will provoke action to help them. In other words: compassion is empathy + action. In Scott’s words ‘compassionate candor engages the heart (care personally) and the mind (challenge directly)’.
  2. Developing trust: radical candor – Scott argues that when you combine caring personally with challenging directly, you build radical candor. When people trust you and believe you care about them, they are more likely to: accept and act on praise / criticism, tell you what they really think of your work, conduct similar relationships with other team members, embrace their role, and work on achieving great results.
  3. What radical candor is not in her revised edition, Scott worries that some people have misapplied being ‘radically candid’, using it as an excuse to be gratuitously harsh, obnoxious, straight talking with colleagues, or ‘just being a jerk’ without following the nuanced layers of the framework, or building relationships / trust. She provides some advice about misconceptions and how we can avoid these if we are ‘rolling out’ the principles of the book across an organisation.
  4. Steps to radical candor – Scott provides some steps to introduce the framework. 1: prove you can take it before dishing it out by asking colleagues for feedback about your own work. This is a vital piece of the puzzle as you model to your staff how open you are to feedback and how you act on it. From there, Scott outlines a process to start giving feedback of the compassionate candor variety, with specific methods to apply in team and 1:1 meetings.
  5. A few other gems – in no particular order, other key takeaways include: Creating a culture of open communication is at the heart of radical candor; start by asking for criticism, not giving it; with praise or criticism, always be sincere and precise; don’t make feedback personal – critique the idea or the work, not the person behind it.

There are many more chapters in the book, with sections on listening, giving guidance, teamwork, and motivation to name a few.

Favourite quote

‘The ultimate goal of radical candor is to achieve collaboratively what you could never achieve individually, and to do that you need to care about the people you’re working with’

Asking a question about your own work: ‘what could I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?’

Favourite moment:

To help those on the path to adopt radical candor, Scott provides a list of questions and advice about how to use them in meetings. Often these questions appear uncomfortable to the one asking – they require humility and courage to ask. Some of these are real winners:

In the last week, when would you have preferred me to be more or less involved in your work?

What’s a blind spot of mine you have noticed?

I feel like I didn’t do as well as I could have in x situation. Can you help me figure it out?

Read this if:

You want to build a culture of trust, honesty, and transparency in a team

You want to help your team become more productive and effective

Support bookshops and buy it here

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