Jason Rosoff on Radical Candor: caring personally and challenging directly (#35)

When you are part of a team other people’s work impacts you and that means that there are times when you may need to give some feedback to people in the team. If you are a manager, this is not optional: it is your job to review performance and give feedback.  

But we’re often caught between two extremes. We want to be nice because we want to protect the relationship. But we also want to be really honest because the quality of their work has an impact on us. It feels like we can either be nice or a jerk.  But is there a better way? 

Today we talk to Jason Rosoff on exactly this topic. We discuss the Radical Candor framework to give better feedback and become a better boss.   

Jason is the CEO and co-founder of Radical Candor. He has helped organisations of all sizes create a more Radically Candid culture where people lead with heart and get results.  Jason has previous experience in the product design of well-known products like Trello and Stackoverflow. And as Chief People and Chief Product Officer, he helped Khan Academy grow from 3 people to a few hundred in order to reach over 100 million students around the world.  

We were very excited to have Jason on the show and we hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did! 

You can connect with Jason via the Radical Candor website Twitter or email

You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Simplecast.

Show Notes

00:01:35 – welcome Jason Rosoff from Radical Candor.
00:02:19 – the feedback Jason got about his thinking face.
00:05:37 – why is it important to give feedback?
00:07:06 – challenging the importance of feedback: discussion on The Feedback Fallacy published by the Harvard Business Review.
00:13:01 – what is Radical Candor?
00:19:18 – feedback does not have to be calculated and does not need a model.
00:20:55 – do people default to ruinous empathy or obnoxious aggression?
00:23:48 – how to start implementing Radical Candor with your team?
00:28:47 – you can’t fake caring personally about people.”
00:32:35 – creating a culture where people do care about each other.
00:35:13 – what about advice saying you shouldn’t get too close to your employees?
00:41:55 – overcoming the fear of hurting the other person by challenging directly.
00:47:09 – most of a manager’s job involves emotion.
00:51:11 – how do deliver feedback in a way that avoids the fight or flight response.
00:55:03 – leaders who are not good at receiving feedback.
01:01:02 – getting indirect feedback about people not in your team.
01:03:52 – giving feedback in an open plan office.
01:05:57 – models to help give feedback instead of a value judgement.
01:07:47 – get in touch with Jason.

Links to References

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott 

The Feedback Fallacy by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall in The Harvard Business Review 

Fight or Flight Response 

Kim Scott 

Feedback Sandwich Technique 

Ruinous empathy 

Obnoxious aggression 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

Harm Reduction therapy 

Negativity Bias 

Judges are more lenient after breaks 

Value judgements 

The Great Resignation 

SBI (Situation Behaviour Impact) feedback model 

CORE (Context, Observation, Results, nExt stEps) feedback model 

Key Quotes

“People are paying attention to a lot more than what we say. As a leader, people are paying attention to our body language, to our tone… they are looking for the secret message behind their message…and that might not be fair for people to project that onto the leader… but it’s real. It’s the experience many people have.” 

“The simplest reason [feedback] is so important is because we are fallible. Human beings can do wrong. And the second reason It’s important is that we are corrigible – we can correct the things we do wrong.” 

“It’s hard to know the impact we’re having on other people without them telling us the impact we’re having on them.” 

“Feedback is an essential part of the fabric of society.” 

“I do think a lot of people get the idea of feedback wrong. They think feedback is sort of like advice: let me tell you what to do or how to do things in this particular situation…I think that is very rarely helpful.” 

“Excellence is unique. The point of feedback from my perspective is not to make people into something you have already imagined, but to give people information so that they can become the best version of themselves.” 

“Criticism is a very over-used tool.” 

“Our ratio of praise to criticism should be much higher than it is.” 

“We need to focus on the positives and there’s research to back that up.” 

“Radical Candor in its simplest form is this idea of caring for someone as a human being and being willing to challenge them to get better.” 

“There’s this belief that exists in a lot of people that you can either be kind or be competent…but the idea of the framework is to throw that away.” 

“When I do think about the best relationships in my life and my career, they are not the ones in which people only ever showed me love, right? They’re the ones where people have challenged me and said: “you can do better, or I need better from you”. Those are the relationships that are long lasting in my life.” 

 “A lot of people hear ‘radical’ and think ‘extreme’ but the other definition of ‘radical’ is ‘rare’.” 

“Radical Candor is where you are caring personally and challenging directly.” 

“When you challenge and fail to demonstrate that you care, we call that obnoxious aggression. Sort of like brutal honesty…in early versions of the book she lovingly referred to it as the asshole quadrant.” 

“Manipulative insincerity is the moment where we become more concerned about our reputation as opposed to really helping the other person.” 

“Where you do care but you fail to challenge, we call that ruinous empathy.”  

“It’s a very vulnerable thing to tell someone from your heart how you felt about this thing that just happened.”  

“It helps to remember that this is an act of courage. This person is putting themself out there to share their perspective with me.” 

“When people are hanging out in ruinous empathy, it is very rare for them to shift to Radical Candor. Usually they move from ruinous empathy to obnoxious aggression.” 

“Manipulative insincerity: people often wind up i9n that quadrant because they feel unsafe. They don’t feel safe approaching somebody else.” 

“The first step in implementing Radical Candor is eliciting feedback.” 

“There is no way around the awkwardness [of asking for feedback]. This is a muscle that I have built up over time: to manage myself through that awkwardness.” 

“My general management principle is the principle of least surprise. What I learnt was that most of my management headaches over the course of my career have come from me surprising people on my team with whatever it is I’m trying to do.” 

“Asking specific questions and admitting that you’ve made a mistake are two things combined can work really well together [to solicit feedback].” 

“If you want to be a great speaker, be a great person first.” 

“People have great bullshit detectors. People are quite sensitive to false sort of care.” 

“I want to be able to care about the people I work with because I spend a lot of time with these relationships.” 

“As a leader I also have observed that collaboration, innovation, idea generation only happen in an environment where people feel safe, where people feel connected to one another as human beings.” 

“I need to create an environment where people can do highly collaborative, creative work which means creating true bonds of care and trust to enable that.” 

“It has to start with you. You actually have to give a shit.” 

“The baseline is common human decency and respect.” 

“We are better off building great relationships and losing some of those relationships over time [as opposed to keeping our distance with people at work].” 

“Learn what people care about and then show genuine interest in those things.” 

“If I don’t know what to do [to address an issue with another person], getting curios and asking questions usually yields far better results.” 

“What we say matters…but far more important is how you respond when the other person tells you what you just did that really bothered them.” 

“You are going to get it wrong. You are going to make mistakes. It’s really what happens after you make the mistake that matters the most.” 

“Have enough guts to sit in my emotion with me for five minutes. Have the fortitude to be with me for a moment.” 

“Even those tough moments where I’ve screwed up terribly end up being relationship building moments.” 

“In the world of innovative and creative work where you are generating new ideas, emotion is an important part of that process because there’s no real separation between emotion and intuition.” 

“Emotion is a signal, it is data we use all the time to make decisions.” 

“If I had to boil down a good feedback conversation to its elemental parts, I would say it is: ‘here’s how I see things, how do you see things?'” 

“My goal is that the other person sees my input as kind and clear.” 

“When you are in a position of authority or power you have an obligation to the people over whom you wield that authority or power to hear what they have to say, even if you don’t like it.” 

“Take a deep breath and physically relax my body and that often put me in a better state of mind to hear what the other person is saying.” 

“We want feedback to be data. We don’t want it to be judgement.” 

“The only data we are really an expert in is our own perception. So we want to make sure that we are framing [feedback] from our own point of view and being clear about that. So, ‘in this situation, when you did this, I perceived it in this way or it had this impact on me’.” 

About the author

Divan and Mark are co-hosts of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.