Obnoxious Aggression

GP Oakland was the first event where I actively worked to practice radical candor. Two interactions stand out.


Sometime during the weekend, I happened to overhear a conversation between “Carl” and some of his friends. I didn’t know Carl personally, but I knew that he was a judge from the Southwest region who had been having difficulty getting on staff for events. As I was walking by, Carl said something to his friends that, to my mind, was precisely emblematic of the reason why TOs were reluctant to staff him for their events. At this point, I really wanted to insert myself in the conversation, and explain why Carl’s behavior was problematic…but I held off.


On the last day of the GP, I was at dinner with a couple judges, including “Kevin,” a judge from my region who I work with frequently. Sadly, Kevin had a bunch of messages from his airline that his flight home was delayed. “Brad” suggested that Kevin call the airline right away to ask them about his potential options for getting home. Instead, Kevin spent a while using his phone to look up other flight options.

This wasn’t the first time I’d noticed Kevin taking a while to accept and act on other people’s good advice — and, honestly, I was a little tired of it. After a few minutes of Kevin just spinning his wheels, I looked Kevin in the eye and said, “You keep not doing very helpful things people tell you to do.”

That got his attention! And to be honest, I caught Kevin more than a little off-guard — especially in the middle of dinner. But it accomplished the result I was after. Kevin switched gears, gave his airline a call, and, lo and behold, discovered why Brad had suggested calling right away: the wait time to talk with an agent was twenty minutes.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Several delays and rebookings later, Kevin did get home — and, later, he messaged me on Facebook to thank me for being so honest with him.

What’s the difference between these stories?

In the second scenario, Kevin and I knew each other very well. I had previously given Kevin advice and mentored him on multiple occasions. While the setting for my feedback wasn’t perfect, Kevin could tell that my advice wasn’t about my ego or proving a point: it was about helping him improve — and, even more immediately than that, helping him get home. In other words, my interaction with Kevin was a good example of radical candor in action.

In the first scenario, meanwhile, if I had stepped into the conversation, I would not have been practicing radical candor. I had never really interacted with Carl before, and while we might know each other by reputation, that’s very different from demonstrating that you’re genuinely invested in someone’s success.

The big difference, therefore, is simply this: Caring personally.

When you challenge someone directly but don’t demonstrate that you personally care for them, that’s obnoxious aggression.

If you can’t deliver radical candor, Kim Scott believes that obnoxious aggression is the next best thing. Sure, no one likes to work with a jerk. But it’s better to actually communicate with your team members, even if you come off as a jerk, than to fall into the trap of ruinous empathy and say nothing.

Is that advice as suitable for judges as it is for company managers? I think it is — but it requires some adaptation, as the cultural context of the judge program is very different from an office environment. One of the biggest issues I see is that, especially for someone who isn’t yet well-established in the program, it can be very difficult to feel empowered to “rock the boat” and risk their own reputation (and future staffing opportunities) by giving really honest feedback.

However, this is an element of our culture that we can change. It’s already very common (as it should be) for head judges and team leads to ask their staff for feedback. But this good intention needs to be accompanied by powerful actions. This could include things like specifically asking individual judges for their feedback, really engaging with that judge to discuss and dissect their opinions, and ultimately thanking them for their contribution. During this conversation, it’s important not to get upset with how things are phrased or worded — even if they strike you as obnoxious. Starting a dialogue is the whole point, no matter how rough it starts out.

That being said, let’s not settle for second-best. I hope that all of you find ways to care personally, challenge directly, and practice radical candor in your own lives.

Take the next step and learn more about radical candor. Visit the official Radical Candor website.

One thought on “Obnoxious Aggression

  1. This was a distinction that really helps solidify what you wrote about in the Radical Candor article. The difference between those two scenarios made it a lot clearer for me. Thank you.

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