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“Radical Candor”: What I’ve Learned about Honesty

Radical Candor.

Have you heard of it? I certainly hadn’t, at least up until June. I was sitting in a meeting when it was first introduced to me, surrounded by some of my very best friends in the world who I was about to spend the summer working with. Prior to returning to Kenyon, I spent 10 weeks working as a camp counselor at my summer camp of 10 years. Yet this summer—and this meeting in particular—introduced me to an aspect of camp that I had never encountered before: feedback. 

Yes, I was being briefed on ways to give constructive criticism to some of my closest friends. After listening to a TED Talk and hearing some older staff members break down what giving feedback would look like, we began to discuss one particular method by Kim Scott: radical candor. It turns out that there are four different ways to give feedback: ruinous empathy, manipulative insincerity, obnoxious aggression, and radical candor. The first three techniques all have faults of their own: some come on too strong, others fail to address the problem headfirst, and sometimes don’t even establish trust. Radical candor, on the other hand, is one way to give feedback that perfectly aligns with deeply caring about someone enough to challenge them directly and push them to be the best version of themselves. Instead of blasting people for everything that they’re doing wrong or being too soft with them to get to the point, you find a way to strike the perfect balance that allows the recipient to see how much you care. It’s constructive criticism handled in the best way: you feel secure knowing you can say what you need to say without fear that the recipient will handle it poorly. Indeed, working on receiving feedback is one of the most important parts of radical candor: you need to hear feedback as much as you give it, and work to accept it openly rather than feeling ashamed and shutting down. 

Kellyn Simpkin-Two Girls Sitting
Kellyn Simpkin / Her Campus

I’m someone, who, personally, always felt extremely awkward whenever I was given feedback, both inside and outside of camp. While it all came from a good place, it always made me feel insecure: as if I was consistently failing to live up to a certain standard. It didn’t matter what the feedback was, even if it revolved around the most tedious thing like picking up my shoes (sorry, Mom). I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way. But it wasn’t until this meeting (and the whole summer, actually!) that I realized the power of being honest with those around you—and, more importantly, accepting feedback as an element on your journey to personal growth. 

Life doesn’t start when you’re stagnant by just existing the way that you are. Think about it. As humans, we rely on the guidance of others to help ourselves grow. Our elementary school teachers paved the way for our secondary educations. Our parents instilled in us values of what was right and wrong. Interacting with friends helped us learn social cues. We’ve experienced guidance for most of our lives: so why is feedback—or, honesty, for that matter—so awkward? Well, simply because it’s uncomfortable to be hear your faults relayed face-to-face. But the idea of ‘radical candor’ instilled faith in me when I realized that any feedback I was given came from a place of love, not hate. It came from others wanting me to be the best version of myself that I could be so that I could be the best role model for my campers. 

While the first few times I received and gave feedback may have been awkward, I soon realized how empowering honesty can be. I held my head higher after each round of feedback with my co-counselors, realizing the supportive unit of women that lived around me each day. We all wanted to make each other better. With each piece of feedback, I became more confident by realizing that others wanted to hear me and understand how they could be better. Even when feedback wasn’t taken well, I was assured knowing that I had done my part to strengthen my fellow staff members. 

Radical candor didn’t just apply to giving feedback to my fellow counselors, but to my friends as well. Even when we weren’t giving feedback, I started being more open and honest with those around me. If there was every any confrontation, I addressed it right up front, and we would work collectively with our new skills to find a resolution. I felt more comfortable opening up to those around me about any hard days that I had; all of the staff soon morphed as a collective unit that was always honest and clear with those around them. Because of it, we were better. There were never any unresolved disputes: radical candor taught us the importance of putting aside any petty awkwardness or disputes and working to be our best selves for the sake of our campers. I, personally, felt like a giant weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. While I didn’t go around projecting every thought inside my head 24/7, I certainly had a renewed appreciation for openly and effectively communicating with those around me. 

I can already see how this has translated into my life at Kenyon: I’m more clear and confident when I don’t understand something in class, rather than staying quiet and doubting myself. I’m not afraid to communicate with my friends and roommates when I need some space or time alone, or also to promote new suggestions for things to do as a group. All in all, radical candor has renewed my sense of confidence and made me into a more versatile version of myself. While honest confrontation can sometimes be awkward, I’ve come to appreciate some good awkwardness for what it brings in the end: a better version of yourself. Whether you practice radical candor or not, my advice is to try living your life freely and honestly. I’m sure you won’t regret it. 

Libby Foley

Kenyon '24

Libby is a sophomore at Kenyon College from Wellesley, Massachusetts. She's interested in Political Science and Psychology, but can be found hiking, singing, or spending time with friends in her free time. She's an avid fan of The West Wing and any kind of dessert.
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