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Mental Models
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Radical Candor Framework

‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ That message was likely ground into you throughout your childhood. At the same time, you don't have to look far to find examples of obnoxious feedback under the guise of being ‘brutally honest.’ Fortunately, you don’t just have to choose between polite silence or rude honesty.  Radical Candor is the ability to simultaneously challenge directly and show that you care personally. GIVE A DAMN, PISS PEOPLE OFF. Kim Scott’s Radical Candor Framework encourages you to ‘give a damn’ for the people around you, and constructively speak the truth, even when it pisses people off. It’s essentially a call to action to be both caring and direct by combining bluntness with empathy.  Helped by the model’s compelling origin story from the corridors of Google (see In Practice below for Scott’s story), the model has become popular in big tech and agile organisations as a means to enable high-performing teams and a culture of feedback.  THE FRAMEWORK. The quadrants of the Radical Candor Framework are mapped on two axes:  the ‘care personally’, or the ‘give a damn dimension’ versus  the ‘challenge directly’, or the ‘willing to piss people off dimension.’  In addition to the sought after Radical Candor quadrant, the three remaining quadrants are:  Obnoxious Aggression. The quadrant of high challenge but low care. It’s that place of ‘brutal honesty’ generally resulting in praise that doesn’t feel sincere or meaningful, and criticism delivered rudely or insensitively. Let’s face it, this is the ‘jerk zone.’  Ruinous Empathy. The quadrant where you can be ‘nice’ in the moment, but undermining in the long run. You care, but you’re staying silent because you’re worried about the impact of challenging the person you want to help. This results in your praise being general, and your criticism remains unsaid or is so sugar-coated that it’s unrecognisable. This is the quadrant that enables dysfunction until the final, inevitable blowup, at which point the person will reasonably ask, ‘why didn’t you tell me this before?’  Manipulative Insincerity. This is the worst of all worlds and often manifests as passive-aggressive behaviour and a toxic workplace. Praise and criticism are thrown around as tools for manipulation, and Psychological Safety plummets.  A GUIDE, NOT A LABELING DEVICE. I see what you’re doing — you’re listing off the people you work with and putting them in one of the four quadrants. Stop it!  Yes, I know it's fun — but Scott points out that everyone, including you, will shift between quadrants in different contexts and conversations. As a result, she advocates using her Framework to understand and improve the types of conversations you're having rather than applying it as an unchanging label on any individual.  For example, when you notice yourself in the Obnoxious Aggression quadrant, it’s typical to react by reducing challenge and shifting into Manipulative Insincerity. The real aim in such situations should be to refocus on caring so you can move to Radical Candor.   EASY BUT HARD, OBVIOUS BUT RARE.  Radical Candor really shouldn’t be radical. It’s what everyone should do all the time. But that’s a lot of ‘shoulds’ and, back to the reality of life, the model serves as a much-needed wake-up call that can be hard to implement in complex, emotionally charged contexts.   Scott points to the importance of using the Radical Candor Framework to develop a shared language and one that managers must bring to life through role modelling. Indeed, she encourages managers to develop a safe and challenging environment where people nurture real, caring relationships and are empowered to be honest and direct. See the Actionable Takeaways below for more.  NOT AN EXCUSE TO BE A JERK… OR CREEPY. Scott is quick to point out that Radical Candor is ‘Not a licence to act like a jerk or get creepily personal.’ Which points to some of the model's challenges when not implemented effectively. Indeed, she notes that “Feedback is not measured at your mouth but at the other person’s ear.” In other words, Radical Candor's application is subjective and depends on culture, context and personality — which makes for many challenges. See the Limitations section below for more, but the main point here is that the model's application can be problematic in toxic environments — particularly in the context of sexism, racism and bullying. In such situations, it might need deeper support and coaching.    IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.  Pitched as an approach for managers, this model can be broadly applied in friendships, parenting and any relationship.  One of the main models to consider with Radical Candor is Psychological Safety and the need to provide a blame-free environment of trust. It’s challenging, and you might even want to use the SCARF Model to better understand people’s reactions and drivers.  It’s interesting to view this model in the light of Nonviolent Communication, as a related way to communicate challenging requests; and Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence, when considering influencing versus head-on conflict.  You might want to consider how to apply Radical Candor differently across the 5 Stages of Teaming, particularly during the forming and storming stages versus the latter stages. And, in terms of broader relationships, consider applying this model disproportionately with different sorts of connections using Dunbar’s Numbers as a guide. 

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