April 22, 2023




The Radical Candor Framework

At a glance

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Today’s Fast Summary

  • Radical candor involves caring personally and challenging directly. It involves showing empathy while making a point.

  • Radical candor isn’t brutal honesty. Brutal honesty is direct, but, at times, ineffective.

  • Those practicing radical candor are transparent in their feedback, and offer areas of improvement with suggestions without sugarcoating their words.

  • Radical candor is an effective framework both in and outside of the workplace.

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The Radical Candor Framework

Children, in general, are honest—I certainly was. I was no older than five or six when a girl in my class (let’s call her Sally), came to school with red paint on her t-shirt. Not only that, but she’d managed to get paint on her nose and in her hair.

We were in a reading group, and I listened quietly while she did her reading out loud, staring at the paint in her pigtails. I didn’t say anything at recess either, even though we were on the same team for kickball. I didn’t want to be mean, so I said nothing at all!

When I got home, I proudly told my mom about Sally and the paint—I’d gone a whole day without saying anything mean.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” She asked me, confused.

“I didn’t want to be mean to her,” I told my mom, a little puzzled by her reaction.

As kids, we’re often taught that, if we don’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all. I didn’t want to be mean to Sally, so I didn’t tell her about the paint in her hair.

The point is this: Not saying anything doesn’t equate to kindness. It equates to omission. The two are quite different. Sally didn’t get the chance to wash the paint from her hair, and, had I told her, she could’ve.

Kim Scott, New York Times Bestselling author and former CEO coach for companies like Twitter and DropBox, preaches what her book coins ‘radical candor.’

According to Scott, radical candor is caring personally but challenging directly. It challenges us to balance the other person’s personal needs with our own needs in a personal or professional setting.

Scott refers to the ‘care personally’ as the ‘give a damn’ dimension of the radical candor framework.

When we enter the workforce, we’re told to be professional. To many of us, the word professional translates to ‘stoic,’ and we leave our empathy, identity, and kindness at home.

But you’re not a robot. We can’t be the best version of ourselves at work if there’s no ‘self’ that walks in the door!

To cultivate empathetic, human relationships in the workplace, we can’t be robots. Being yourself isn’t unprofessional—you’re still a person, even at work.

Nevertheless, work is still work. The other important dimension, ‘the challenge dimension,’ translates to what she calls, ‘the willingness to piss people off.’

From an early age, we’re taught not to ‘rock the boat’ or anger others; I didn’t want to anger Sally, and there are many who are afraid to make a little noise or upset those around them.

It’s not easy. On one hand, we’re taught to leave ourselves at the door, and to abandon the kindness that makes us human. And on the other, we’re told not to anger others.

This is why radical candor is so difficult to implement in the first place: It’s a bit of a dichotomy.

The first mistake people make when discussing radical candor is to think it’s brutal honesty. Brutal honesty comes with a negative connotation: We can’t be completely honest all the time regardless of possible consequences. That’s unrealistic.

In her blog, Scott addresses brutal honesty and calls it, ‘obnoxious aggression.’ While radical candor is thoughtful and helpful, obnoxious aggression is hateful and is only helpful in certain cases.

Scott and her team have created a graphic to help us understand radical candor:

Radical candor exists in the quadrant between ‘care personally’ and ‘challenge directly,’ as we discussed earlier.

Obnoxious aggression involves a direct challenge but doesn’t take into account the care aspect of the model’s framework.

Manipulative insincerity is similar to passive aggression; Scott equates it to backstabbing.

Lastly, ruinous empathy, the one I was guilty of in my example, is kind in the traditional sense but is unhelpful.

So how do we implement radical candor?

To implement radical candor, we must first discuss what it is and what it isn’t. Radical candor involves thinking about others and showing them empathy; it’s the practice of showing others human decency in the workplace while remaining transparent.

In the workplace, we can show radical candor in our feedback: Instead of ‘beating around the bush,’ we take the other person to a private place and clearly lay out the parts of their proposal, presentation, or offer we like, among the ones we don’t like.

The next step in Scott’s Radical Candor Framework is paying attention to the other person’s reaction. If the other person reacts positively, move on. If they don’t, acknowledge what they’re feeling, but don’t let their reaction deter you from making your main point.

It’s easy to swing along the axis, however. You might find yourself falling into ruinous empathy, then overcompensate and say nothing at all, which falls into the ‘manipulative insincerity’ category.

The same process can happen on the other axis: You can act with radical candor, and eventually, start being overly kind, which is ruinous (pun intended) in and of itself.

Those practicing radical candor are transparent in their feedback, and offer areas of improvement with suggestions—they don’t sugarcoat it, but they think about how the other person will take the news.

Radical candor goes far beyond the workplace—we can practice it in our personal lives and achieve great results.

Let’s say your friend has a piece of spinach stuck in their teeth while a group of you are out and about one night. You could do as I did with Sally and say nothing, or you could implement what some call the ‘fifteen-second policy.’

The fifteen-second policy applies mostly to physical appearance but is a powerful practice of radical candor you can implement in your personal life.

In short, if a problem can be fixed in fifteen seconds, tell the person about the problem. So, if your friend, partner, or family member has something in their teeth or their shirt is untucked, tell them so they can quickly fix it.

But, if there’s a larger problem (maybe the color they’re wearing is unflattering), don’t say anything. Telling them now won’t make them feel any better, and it can wait.

Radical candor exists within personal relationships well beyond the fifteen-second policy.

Let’s say you have a friend who is going through a particularly difficult time for a few months or so. They haven’t called or messaged you, and, when they do, it’s to talk about what’s going on in their lives—they no longer ask about you and your needs.

Instead of becoming angry, passive-aggressive, or insincere, use the radical candor framework.

In this case, you can be direct, and tell them you understand what they’re going through and care about them, but need the relationship to be two-sided. Everyone is going through something—you’re no exception!

This is simply one example, but radical candor can be implemented in most, if not all, situations where conflict may arise.

It’s the practice of being transparent, but sharing in a way that makes the other person know and feel that you care.

It’s time to reflect on radical candor and how it fits into our day-to-day. Take out a pen and paper and meditate on the concept, the times you’ve practiced it, and the times you should’ve. As always, be honest with yourself—show yourself radical candor as you would others.

  1. Write about a time you showed another person radical candor.

    a. Did you show radical candor at work, school, or in a more personal setting?

    b. How did you show radical candor?

    c. What happened, what was said, and what was the result?

  1. Write about a time you didn’t show another person radical candor, and meditate on how radical candor might’ve changed the result.

    a. Similar to the last prompt, write down the setting, what was said, and the result. Was the result fruitful?

    b. Consider what might’ve happened had you shown radical candor. Would you have avoided more mistakes or conflicts? How would radical candor have changed the outcome?

  1. Write about a time someone didn’t show radical candor to you.

    a. What happened? Once again, note the setting, what was said, and the context of the event.

    b. How did you feel? Not good, most likely!

    c. Did their lack of radical candor improve or negatively impact the outcome?

    d. If they had shown you radical candor, what would’ve happened?

It’s time to stop sugarcoating your feedback and gain the results you desire. Use radical candor in the workplace and in your personal life to change the ways others react to you and to change your outcomes.


I’d love to hear from you:

Question 1: What do you think about radical candor versus brutal honesty? To you, what’s the difference between them?

Question 2: How can you show radical candor to your co-workers?

Question 3: How can you implement radical candor into your personal life?

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Until next week,


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