Radical Candour: learning to give effective feedback

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“I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.”

Jack Welch

Communicative culture and organizational culture

One of the main challenges that all organizations face when it comes to improving their effectiveness is to improve their internal communication habits. These are a set of practices and unwritten rules that are part of all corporate cultures and that are normally strongly rooted in them.

The lack of effective communication habits is a serious hindrance to any other change and improvement process intended to be carried out in the organization. So much so, that it substantially affects the transmission and understanding of what is to be done, why, and what for, or how you want to do it.

There is no effective change without effective communication

Unfortunately, most internal communication departments in organizations rarely question the effectiveness of their communication habits, such that innovation in this field is often limited to trying new increasingly technified channels that don’t bring significant changes in the communicative culture.

Kim Scott, ex-director of Google, is the author of the book titled, “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity”. Her thesis is that effective feedback must be honest and direct, without frills or beating about the bush, avoiding the easy temptation of doing the “politically correct” thing to focus on transmitting useful and relevant information in the most appropriate way to be understood, assimilated and converted into action by the other person.

Communicating with radical candour

Kim proposes a simple matrix in which she combines what she considers the two key factors of effective communication: “caring personally” and “challenging directly”.

To “care personally” is to have genuine interest and concern for helping the other person. Instead of the apparent value of cold and impersonal communication— the so-called “professional communication”—an alternative is proposed in which you speak sincerely and closely with the other person just as you would, if the other were a friend of yours.

To “challenge directly” is to say things as they are, without sugar-coating or silencing them, but avoiding value judgments. For example, if we want to make another person realize that their intervention has been boring, we could mention it in passing based on the facts, for instance, “I’ve seen several people yawn several times”, or as opinions such as “I found I was bored with your presentation” or “Your presentation seemed boring to me”. What must be avoided should always be value judgments, such as “Your presentation was boring” or “People were bored in the presentation”.

By combining the absence or presence of these two factors, Kim Scott comes up with four possible types of communication which she labels:

  • Manipulative Insincerity” – This occurs when both elements are absent. The person does not care and we do not want to get into trouble either. We tell the other person what’s most comfortable for us, knowing that they will find it of little use or none at all.
  • Offensive Aggression” – This occurs when challenging directly is done without personally caring. We communicate in a sincere and open manner, but without having shown beforehand to the other person that we care and that we really want to help him or her.
  • Ruinous Empathy” – This is the most common mistake in organizations, and it occurs when there is a genuine concern for the other person, but challenging directly. Ruinous empathy is a form of selfish communication, where we communicate ineffectively with the excuse of not hurting the other person. In fact, we do so, because saying things like they make us uncomfortable.
  • Radical Candor” – This is the effective communications model proposed by Kim Scott. It consists in making it candidly clear to the other person that our desire to help is genuine, that we care, and that it is from this sincere or candid interest that we offer real and relevant information with the conviction that it may be useful.


The error is the basis of learning. Errors are useful because they provide information that allows us to change behaviour and try new ones which bring us closer and better to the desired results.

To decide what other behaviours to try out—as with any decision-making process—it is important to have useful and relevant information from previous behaviours on what works and what doesn’t. Some of this information we know, but not the rest.

Quality feedback allows us to complete the information we need to better decide what to do differently from now on. This is how “manipulative Insincerity”, “Offensive Aggression” or “Ruinous Empathy” are ineffective forms of communication which don’t provide the right information needed or do so in a way that is useless by triggering rejection.

To say things the way they are, but with humanity, is the most effective way for useful and relevant information to reach others. This form of communication through this “Radical Candor” is a skill, and so it follows that anyone can learn and practice effective feedback.


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