Developer growth, Practice Empathy

Examples of “Radical Candor”

I recently wrote about candor as a better way to achieve truly open and honest communication. Candor Inc created the framework of “Radical Candor” as a way to categorize your feedback and communication.

Radical Candor chart.

What I didn’t do in my previous post, is dive into how the different ways of communicating actually would sound like. In this post I’ll explore the framework more deeply and also look at an example.

Communication types

Radical Candor

When you care personally and are in a place to challenge directly. Framing your words in a “HHIPP” way.

Defining Radical Candor with the acronym HHIPP.

HHIPP: “Radical candor is Humble, it’s Helpful, it’s Immediate, it’s in Person — in private if it’s criticism and in public if it’s praise — and it doesn’t Personalize.”


Obnoxious Aggression

When you challenge, but don’t care about how your words are received.

Ruinous Empathy

When you care, but don’t challenge.

Manipulative Insincerity

When neither care, nor challenge

Example: “You have spinach in your teeth”

Photo credit: EC1 Matt via / CC BY-NC-SA

This scenario is taken from one of Candor Inc’s workshops.


Michelle has had a spinach omelette for breakfast. She comes out of breakfast, flashes her smile and there’s a huge piece of spinach lodged between her front teeth.


Radical Candor: Gently grab her by the elbow, take her to the side and say: “Michelle, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you have a giant piece of spinach in your teeth. I would want to know, do I think you should take care of that in the bathroom.

Here you have the somewhat uncomfortable conversation with Michelle, yet you do so by showing empathy and being candid.

Obnoxious Aggression: Laughing out loud, you point at Michelle and say: “Look at this! Have she ever flossed in her life? Oh my god! Get that piece of spinach out of your teeth!”

This is obviously a horrible way to let Michelle know she needs to attend to the spinach in her teeth. At the same time though, it’s as effective, if not even more so than Radical Candor-approach. Michelle’s feelings may be hurt, but she is made aware of the spinach and can do something about it.

Ruinous Empathy: You think you don’t want to make her feel bad so you don’t say anything. It’s not a big deal… she’ll figure it out.

The problem is that Michelle then goes on to back to back customer meetings for the rest of the day. Afterwards she finds the spinach and thinks: “Oh my god! Have I just been talking to our customers with that sticking out of my teeth for the past 6 hours?”.

Manipulative Insincerity: You whisper to your friends: “Can you believe the spinach she has in her teeth? Does she even look in the mirror. Does she even own floss? If that happened to my teeth, I would have caught it.

Example: Your teammate released yet another feature with bugs

This is a more “real-life”scenario I’ve made up in attempt to solidify my understanding.


When rolling out a new feature that “Bob” made, it ended up causing more bugs and havoc than anything else. The problem is that this isn’t the first time Bob has created buggy releases.


Radical Candor: Ask Bob for a private conversation, where you say. “Bob, the latest release that went into production was buggy and has caused havoc for our customers. I found out it was code you had written that caused the error. This has been happening a lot with features you’ve worked on recently. I know bugs are a natural part of software development, but given the frequency and scope of the errors I felt I needed to let you know. I’d personally like to know if something I had written caused errors and how I could improve. Could we pair-program the bug fix together?”. The further conversation uncovers that Bob has been going through a tough time at home that has been draining him completely.

Here you have the somewhat uncomfortable conversation with Bob, yet you do so by showing empathy and being candid. You also learn the root cause of his poor work and realize Bob needs help to get back his focus, and can respond accordingly (take time off work, try to pair-program with others or ask for code-reviews to catch bugs earlier). Bob gains acceptance, thus leading to better quality work and the team delivers more quality software.

Obnoxious Aggression: When the build shines red on the build monitor, you turn around and sa loudly in the team room: “Oh no, someone’s broken production again. I bet it’s Bob again. HAH! JUST AS I THOUGHT! It’s Bob again. Listen Bob, get your act together, I’m sick of fixing your bugs”. This outburst is obviously a horrible way to let Bob know he needs to rise the quality of what he’s delivering. Bob understands he’s causing pain for the team and looks at ways to improve his code quality.

The problem here is that even though Bob is made aware of the issues with the code he produced, he may or may not choose to react to it, which would benefit the team. At the same time there would be arguments on the team, which would lead to the team under-delivering, and Bob with hurt feelings.

Ruinous Empathy: You think you don’t want to make Bob feel bad so you think: “Oh, Bob’s broken production again. I guess he should realize that he needs to work on whatever  it is that’s causing him to create so many bugs. He’ll figure it out”. Several weeks later, Bob is fired, and the team loses a great resource, despite the bugs he introduced.

Bob loses the chance to become aware that he’s been sloppy with some aspects of his work, he doesn’t have a chance to learn and ultimately he’s considered too poor to be of use on the team and is fired.

Manipulative Insincerity: You whisper to your teammates: “Can you believe that Bob introduced another bug that broke production? Does he even read the user story? What about testing his code?”

Final words

I’ve gone through a video example, and a more real-life example and broken down the key differences of how different approaches can lead to quite different outcomes. It was a good excercise to strengthen my own understanding.

With examples like these, it’s easy to see how slight changes in our behaviour can make large impacts for the other individual in question and how the group as a whole will benefit.

What are your thoughts about this breakdown? Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any thoughts, questions or criticisms. Or leave a comment below.

Cover image: giovanni_novara via / CC BY-NC-SA