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Radical candor is a direct challenge but with personal empathy

Chapter 2 Candor and debate lead to creativity and innovation


A key skill for encouraging disagreement is the ability to challenge the ideas of others. But it is no secret that challenging others can lead to conflict if done in a heavy-handed way. However, conflict is not the only risk of inappropriate communication. In Radical Candor , Kim Scott Share this expert KS Kim Scott describes four different communication types in a two-by-two matrix along the axes of caring personally and challenging directly. Scott believes that the most effective form of communication is both caring and challenging — she terms it Radical Candor .

Forms of Communication from Radical Candor

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Empathy is a key success factor. Positive relationships allow individuals to anticipate the reactions of others to a challenge and adjust their communication to account for it. However, it is important that empathy does not get in the way of the challenge itself e.g. for fear of insulting or embarrassing someone or somehow hurting their feelings. Scott calls this Ruinous Empathy.

Without empathy, a challenge can seem blunt and mean-spirited. Although it may be in the best interest of the common goal it can be too brutally honest and elicit a negative response. Scott terms this Obnoxious Aggression. The worst case, however, is where the challenge is concealed deliberately in order to manipulate someone, Scott refers to it as Manipulative Insincerity.

The key to challenging directly is to be humble and kind, but always in the search of objective truth. Being humble means accepting that even strongly held beliefs may be proven wrong.

It is possible to distill a few principles for how to apply candor:

  • Don’t hold back a challenge for fear of hurting someone (be frank)
  • Do expect and welcome a reciprocal challenge (be humble)
  • Don’t be brutal, don’t be a jerk (be kind)
  • Don’t overshare or get too personal (be authentic)
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