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Radical Candour: A New Way to Thrive Through Difficult Conversations

Updated: Feb 13

Author: Rhona Eslava, Wellness Works Canada Intern

Workplace psychological safety is often defined as a culture that allows people to take interpersonal risks, be curious, admit fallibility, challenge the status quo, innovate, learn, and grow. It is also one that encourages the term that Kim Scott promotes - Healthy Radical Candor.

Providing feedback, admitting fallibility and challenging others can be intimidating and difficult, not only for the workers but also for leaders.

Kim Scott, the author of Radical Candour, proposed the radical candour approach, which combines being sincere in one's care and being forthright. It stems from a true desire to ensure that the other person hears your message, even if it makes them uncomfortable, to help them improve.

Why is Feedback Important?

According to a study by Hardavella (2017), through constructively addressing underperformance, feedback tries to raise performance to a higher level. It will cost us if we do not provide input. The learner can proceed with their practice as usual by assuming that everything is fine. This creates a mistaken view of their own skills and abilities and leads to a false assessment of them.

It is preferable to work with someone who has trust in your talents and tells you to accomplish something wonderful while pointing out that you can make it even better than a boss who never provides feedback and you know something is not quite right, but you do not know what it is or how to find out.

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health cited that when giving negative feedback, keep in mind that it is intended to influence behaviour and should be constructive, targeted, and timed.

What Makes Radical Candour Different

  • Obnoxious aggression can cause harm and trigger a fight-or-flight response. They cannot hear what you are saying. This is a type of front stabbing of the individual.

  • Manipulative insincerity is where false apologies and passive-aggressive political behaviour happen. It is a type of backstabbing and can cause a toxic workplace.

  • Ruinous empathy is when we care so personally for people that we fail to challenge them directly.

Giving Radical Candour in an Effective Manner

Here is the process that Kim Scott recommends:

  1. ASK for input before providing it. Create your own inquiry, “What can I do or stop doing to make it easier to work with me?” Depending on the person and your relationship with them, modify your query.

  2. WAIT. No matter how insightful the query is, it will likely be uncomfortable. You have six seconds to wait for the other person to speak.

  3. LISTEN with the goal of understanding. Instead of tormenting them with sarcasm, you ask a follow-up question or quote what they said back to them.

  4. REWARD the Candor. If you agree, take steps to correct the behaviour or have a more in-depth discussion of your objections. If you can't agree with everything, start with the 5–10% that you can. Then remove the remainder and make a commitment to think about it.

Making Sure the Conversation Goes Well

  • Solicit first. Don't forget to consider both the positive and negative aspects of people. It is crucial to grasp the issue, and you also want to make sure that you express your desire to be helpful.

  • Be timely; giving difficult feedback becomes harder the longer you wait. Instead of waiting for the ideal time, give feedback straight away.

  • Perform synchronous dialogues about feedback. Never send it by email or message. Whether making a phone call or speaking to someone in person is preferable. Speak to them and pay attention to what they are saying. Remember to concentrate on the positive aspects and voice criticism in private.

  • Use the Context-Observation-Results model in providing feedback. Never pass judgment on someone's intentions or characteristics. Maintain discipline by only considering the facts.

The goal is to be curious and respond rather than react during a challenging conversation. A 90-second pause can mean the difference between a reaction and a response. When we react to a difficult conversation, the result may be unwelcome. If you need that 90-second break, go grab a glass of water or go to the washroom to breathe, name how you feel, put your ego aside, and think through the consequences.

Simple Tips to Practice Radical Candour

  • Leaders can aim for weekly one-on-one sessions with their direct reports. If that isn’t possible, try bi-weekly or monthly and provide ample opportunity for communication in between.

  • Always use "clean escalation", which calls for disagreements to be discussed openly with the other party without discussing them behind their backs or going around them to their superiors.

Ways to De-Escalate

  • Use empathetic listening

  • Intervene calmly

  • Help people feel safe

  • Give space

  • Be receptive and helpful

  • Use silence

  • Use reflective questioning

Rules for Challenging Conversations

There are a few rules suggested by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health:

  • Discuss ideas not people

  • Culture of learning – it’s okay and expected to fail in a culture of innovation

  • Allow everyone to contribute

  • Never shame or blame

Tips on Giving Effective Feedback in a Difficult Conversation

  • Plan in advance

  • Give the feedback promptly, right after the event if possible

  • Use I statements

  • Think about what you want to achieve and drive discussion accordingly

  • One-on-one feedback is preferable

  • Start gently

  • Be specific

  • Encourage self-reflection

  • Be aware of nonverbal clues

  • Self-reflect after the feedback session is completed

Choose the Right Words

Giving feedback to someone else without hurting them can be uncomfortable but it benefits the receiver in the long run. They will appreciate you being more radically candid in helping them better themselves as individuals.

By carefully selecting your words, you can prevent coming out as dismissive, critical, combative, or insensitive. This is crucial when speaking with someone who is agitated, unhappy, or anxious. You run the danger of the person shutting down, getting defensive, or getting upset in these circumstances. You're less likely to exacerbate a situation when you deliberately choose your words.

Learning skills for difficult conversations take time. Workplace training can help. Check out our training options to get your team on the same page using skills that work.

References and further reading

O'Connor, Tim. “Unleashed E41: Kim Scott - Radical Candor.” Results, Business Strategy Tips and News, 20 June 2022,

Hardavella, Georgia, et al. “How to Give and Receive 
Feedback Effectively.” Breathe (Sheffield, England), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2017,

Scott, Kim. “Feedback Coaching, Consulting and Training.” Radical Candor, 4 Apr. 2023,

Baynton, Mary Ann, and Joti Samra. “Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.” WSMH, 1 Jan. 2011,

Baynton, Mary Ann. “Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.” WSMH, 19 Feb. 2021,

“Workplace Training.” Wellness Works -



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