PM wears the radical candor hat!

5 min readMay 16, 2021

Imagine the problems in your product team. As a Product Manager, we are affected by all these problems. And in turn, the organization has unhappy customers who could churn. Many a time, there is:

  • A manager who does not know how to counsel when the team members are at loggerheads.
  • A disgruntled member who is currently low on morale as his/ her promotion did not happen as anticipated, and so isn’t delivering.
  • Friction between teams causing quality issues in the product releases.
  • A last-minute change by a stakeholder in requirements and the team is not happy about it.
  • A team of stars always overtly ambitious when committing to work, irrespective of their previous experiences, but isn’t able to complete it.

On the other side, there is always this question in the minds of team members. What does a product manager do? It is a question for a lot of people.

What do bosses/managers/leaders do? Go to meetings? Send emails? Tell people what to do? Dream up strategies and expect other people to execute them? It’s tempting to suspect them of doing a whole lot of nothing.

Product managers do not typically have any direct reports, and that makes it a lot trickier. Product Managers need to have skills to influence without authority. Saying it is easy, but how does one get there?! Maintaining good relationships with all the members of the team might be a good start in that direction. But we need to take care of the results too. Guidance plays a crucial role in this. Radical candor can be an answer to building such a culture where there is kindness and at the same time openness.

The radical candor framework is by Kim Scott, a CEO coach for various organizations like Dropbox. The ideology behind the framework is to establish healthy and better relationships at work while delivering the results. It creates the right balance between caring for someone and yet challenging them in the right way.

As seen above, there are four quadrants of the framework. All of them point that candor leads the way when making better decisions instead of power or authority. There are only two dimensions in this; ‘Care personally’ and ‘Challenge directly’. “Caring personally” is all about creating a personal connection at work, and it does not have to involve creating a personal relationship. It is better that way. Having personal relationships could be counterproductive at work. A few aspects of caring personally include acknowledging what is important to individuals and having real conversations often. “Challenging directly” is essential to achieve better results. This process involves being a critic of someone’s work or thought process, sometimes even before you have established yourself as a trustworthy person. The other part of challenging directly is to have people feel the empowerment to question your decisions as a Product Manager. The more people reciprocate healthily, the better it is.

From a Product management perspective, let’s understand the differences by looking at these quadrants.


“Oh, there is a new emergency requirement. We need to squeeze this into our release tomorrow. Unfortunately, there is no choice. Please get it done.” Have you got stuff done from your team without much thought for their willingness? There is no care for people in this. It is just being aggressive without any kindness. Next time when you think about doing something like this, why not give some thought to priorities in advance and see if it is possible to avoid such instances.


This quadrant is the spot to be in for a product manager. One should not shy away from praising the team or an individual in public, substantiating the reasons for the praise. When in not-so-good situations, talk to them personally and indicate the trouble brewing. Empathize and yet drive home your point. Doing so opens avenues for conversations and establishing trustworthiness. The other person also feels at home to deliver critical feedback that they were hesitant to provide given that there was no personal connection earlier. Collective intelligence comes to the fore, and relevant information gets considered for making the best decisions.


In this quadrant, the Product managers neither care nor challenge. They would possibly indulge in office politics trying to save themselves from uncomfortable situations. They would not critic the actual people directly but often shift blame to them while talking to someone else. The product manager, as well as the team, loses credibility due to such actions. Lack of transparency creates havoc for the careers of all. Manipulative Insincerity is a segment to avoid at all costs. People would know about how manipulative you are tomorrow, if not today.


Let’s say there has been a string of defects in each of the past releases and the customers are extremely unhappy. If the PMs anticipate that the next release will be good instead of having conversations with all involved, it will lead to many more failures. Trying to be in the good books of everyone pleases no one. Mutual feedback is necessary to progress. Caring enough but not challenging when needed will create problems forever.

If conversations are fuelled only by data, they might lead to correction but not prevention in the first place. But Radical candor allows for frequent communication and feedback that helps with both angles. One can start with simple steps such as using Kudos cards, for example. Build empathy muscles for sure, but with a pinch of salt. And be open to receive feedback.

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