How Leaders Can Master the Art of Radical Praise and Criticism

Noelle Ihli

Radical Candor Author Kim Scott Offers a Fresh Perspective on Effective Feedback

Giving feedback can feel like a double-edged sword for leaders and managers. Will too much praise lead to complacency? Will too much criticism lead to shutdown? 

According to Kim Scott, the trick isn’t how much you praise or criticize employees—but how effectively you approach the feedback process. 

Keep reading to learn the benefits and hallmarks of effective feedback and how “radical candor” can transform your team. 

The Benefits of Radically Candid Feedback

Why bother mastering the art of effective feedback? A few reasons. Praise can cultivate resilience and a growth mindset. A Gallup survey found that employees who receive effective praise are more engaged and satisfied with their jobs.  

Critical feedback can improve team health and productivity, clarify expectations, enhance collaboration by getting everyone on the same page, and set the stage for better performance. After all, if employees don’t realize that they’ve made a mistake, they’re likely to keep making it.

But not all feedback is created equal. Kim Scott’s research reveals that radical candor is the secret to offering constructive praise and criticism. 

What Is “Radically Candid Praise”?

Radically candid praise refers to giving honest feedback about team members’ accomplishments, behaviors, and habits. The goal is to create a culture of trust where employees recognize that positive behavior and habits are recognized and appreciated. 

Radically candid praise meets three requirements: specific, contextualized, and personal. For example, “I appreciate you taking the time to coach Bob on how to use Google Docs. You were patient and generous with your time.” This personalized, specific praise is far more impactful than “Thanks for your help the other day!” 

Scott encourages leaders to focus primarily on behaviors team members can hone rather than natural talents or personality traits they can’t develop or change.

What Is “Radically Candid Criticism”?

Like radically candid praise, radically candid criticism revolves around specificity, context, and personalization. Scott also notes the importance of kindness and directness. While offering or receiving such criticism can be uncomfortable at first, leaders and employees can learn to embrace constructive criticism as an opportunity for learning and growth. 

For example, instead of telling an employee who consistently misses deadlines to “start meeting expectations,” a manager might zero in on a recently missed deadline and provide specific feedback on how the shortfall impacted the team and company. The manager would then work with the employee to set clear expectations for changed behavior. 

Pitfalls to Avoid with Radically Candid Feedback

While radically candid praise and criticism can go a long way to building trust and accountability within any organization, Scott cautions leaders to beware of Obnoxious Aggression,” Ruinous Empathy, and “Manipulative Insincerity.”  

Obnoxious Aggression is characterized by argumentative, rude, or disrespectful feedback that attacks a person rather than a specific behavior. On the other hand, Ruinous Empathy shies away from direct critical feedback for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or embarrassing them. It can ultimately lead to poor accountability and stifles clear honest feedback.

Manipulative Insincerity can be just as detrimental to praise as obnoxious aggression, or ruinous empathy is to critical feedback. Feedback should be genuine, not just a way to pump someone up or as a prelude to asking a favor. Otherwise, employees quickly learn to beware of praise as manipulation. 

Remember: praise and criticism should help the team and company flourish and grow. Offer feedback out of genuine respect and support to create a more positive and productive work culture.  

Reflect and Apply

What’s a lightbulb moment you had while reading this article about radically candid praise and criticism? Share your favorite quote with us on Twitter using #RadicalCandor. 

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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