Dec 13, 2022

Nine Steps to Building a Culture of Radical Candor

Nine Steps to Building a Culture of Radical Candor

Bestselling Author Kim Scott Reveals the Path to a More Honest, Vulnerable Workplace

When Kim Scott first introduced the idea of “radical candor,” she fielded many questions. One of the most common: Is this concept a license to be a blunt jerk in the workplace? 

If you’ve read Scott’s book, Radical Candor, you know the answer to that question is no. Instead, radical candor is a leadership practice that sidelines manipulation and insincerity in favor of honest, vulnerable communication.  

Scott says, “...collaboration and innovation flourish when human relationships replace bullying and bureaucracy.”

Ready to cut through the BS and pave the way to healthier communication with your employees? Keep reading to learn the nine steps leaders can follow to build a culture of radical candor.

1. Listen Generously

Practicing radical candor begins with listening to your team members’ ideas, challenges, and feedback. It’s impossible to sincerely engage with each other without tuning in to what everyone is saying. 

While it’s certainly easier to pay attention to the people with the loudest voices, take extra care to hear the quiet ones. Your goal is to listen generously to ALL of your team members.

2. Clarify and Ask Follow-Up Questions

So many powerful ideas slip through the cracks because leaders fail to draw them out through clarification. To avoid this pitfall, ask your team members what they mean when they touch on an idea or quickly move past an intriguing statement. 

Research shows that leaders who ask lots of follow-up questions (while listening generously!) and ask employees to expound on their thoughts and ideas see more innovation and an uptick in rapport.  

3. Don’t Shy Away from Debate

Scott encourages leaders to embrace debate but warns them to focus on understanding ideas rather than protecting egos when evaluating proposals or resolving conflicts. Avoid getting into who is right and work to determine which plan is right for everyone involved. 

If things get heated, don’t be afraid to pause, infuse some humor into the debate, or refocus the conversation on solutions. 

4. Make Decisions Based on Facts, Not Hierarchy

Scott advises leaders to reject the notion that they should be the gatekeepers of all team decisions. Instead, she encourages them to allow team members with the best information to step into the role of decision-maker (after some healthy debate and listening, of course!).

This approach honors each person’s specialized knowledge and experience instead of stifling good ideas and smart decisions through a focus on hierarchy.   

5. Embrace the Art of Persuasion

Scott’s research reveals, “Authoritarian bosses tend to be particularly weak persuaders; they don’t feel a need to explain the decision or their logic—‘Just do it, don’t question me!’”

When making decisions and discussing ideas, projects, and strategies as a team, encourage everyone (including yourself) to explain their reasoning with contextual information. This approach can shift conversations away from “because I said so” and into evaluating the strength of each idea. 

6. Give Your Team Time to Execute 

The energy and passion involved in listening, debating, and aligning on good ideas can quickly wane if your team members don’t get time to execute those ideas. Rigorously shield your team from unnecessary meetings and arbitrarily tight deadlines that devalue the work you’ve done to align with each other on projects and goals. 

7. Learn from Mistakes

A culture of radical candor requires psychological safety, where team members feel safe owning up to mistakes and taking risks without fear of reprisal. 

Lead by example by admitting your missteps and being transparent about how you intend to learn from them.

Build time into one-on-ones and team meetings to get honest about what is and isn’t working, what can be learned from any blunders, and celebrate persistence in the face of challenges.

8. Review Patterns

It can be easy to get hyperfocused on the day-to-day, week-to-week, project-to-project grind in a busy workplace. 

Set aside regular (monthly and yearly) time to pinpoint your team’s communication, collaboration, and productivity patterns. Listen to each other’s perspectives, ask follow-up questions, and encourage team members to speak up about how they might disrupt unproductive patterns.

9. Reflect

Don’t let the insights from team discussions get lost when you get busy. Instead, take note of “ah hah” moments or breakthroughs, and reflect on them at the end of the week. Then share additional learnings the next time you meet with your team members. This practice helps solidify the idea that accountability extends beyond team meetings. 

Which of these nine steps to a culture of radical candor stood out to you while reading this article? Share a quote or insight you’ll take back to your team on Twitter using #radicalcandor.