Radical Candor for Agile Managers

To help teams become high performing, as an Agile Manager, you will need to give feedback to individuals from time to time. Feedback is important to guide individual growth and improvement. This will also help resolve and manage conflict in teams. Radical Candor is a concept that can be used in these situations.  This feedback approach is good for manager to employee, employee to employee, and even employee to manager conversations.

Kim Scott introduced this concept in a talk and used her experiences as a Google executive to use Radical Candor.  She recently wrote a book called: Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

What is Radical Candor?

There are four ways of giving feedback and this can be pictured as quadrants where one axis is the degree in which someone challenges directly.  And the other axis is the degree that someone cares personally.

Ruinous empathy is where someone cares personally, but does not challenge.  This person is too nice and essentially does not give any useful feedback. Without any constructive feedback, an individual most likely will not change his/her performance or worse, the individual may think he/she is doing a great job and continue.

Manipulative Insincerity is where someone does not care personally and does not challenge directly.  This person would say something to your face and then another thing behind your back. It could create a toxic environment and feedback may not be taken seriously.

Obnoxious Aggression is where someone challenges directly and does not care personally, this person could sometimes be viewed as an a-hole or someone that gives mean feedback. There may be truth in what is said, but the delivery could use work and would likely fall on deaf ears.

Radical Candor, the preferred approach, is where someone cares personally and challenges directly, this is constructive feedback. It’s an effective approach in changing performance.

Radical Candor Grid

This scenario below may help in understanding each type.


  • There is a software upgrade project which will impact many cross-functional teams since they use the same system in different ways.
  • The software needs to be upgraded because the company will no longer receive support on the current version.
  • The Product Owner (PO) for this project has set-up a kick-off meeting with leads from various cross-functional teams.
  • On the day of the kick-off, one critical Team Lead does not show up and does not let the PO know ahead of time that he would not attend.

Key Players:

  1. PO for the project
  2. Team Lead that did not show up
  3. Agile Manager that is the direct manager for the team lead.

What would you do as the PO for the project? What do you do as the Agile Manager for the project?

Outcome #1:

The Agile Manager and PO discuss and agree the Team Lead should either have attended the meeting or sent a decline out of courtesy/respect.

Instead of saying anything to the Team Lead, the Agile Manager decides to talk to others about the situation and talks poorly about the Team Lead for lack of respect.

→ This is Manipulative Insincerity.

Outcome #2:

The Agile Manager does not agree with the feedback from the PO and becomes defensive.

The Agile Manager says nothing about the kick-off meeting to the Team Lead and tells the Team Lead that he/she is doing a great job.

→ This is Ruinous Empathy.

Outcome #3:

The Agile Manager actively listens to the PO and will take action.

When the Agile Manager sees the Team Lead, the Agile Manager starts yelling at the Team Lead to attend all meetings in front of others.

→ This is Obnoxious Aggression.

Outcome #4:

The Agile Manager actively listens to the PO and will take action.

The Agile Manager talks to the Team Lead 1:1 and discusses the kick-off meeting that was missed. The Agile Manager provides context on why it’s important to attend meetings or let the organizer know he/she cannot attend.

→ This is Radical Candor.

From the four outcomes, Radical Candor has the most effective result and is the best approach.  It could take some more time or action, but it is worth the effort.

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