Radically Candid Conversations

Dr. Mia Cary, CEO & Change Agent, Cary Consulting

Communication Wins

Radically candid communication is a valuable approach for leaders managing challenging conversations, including those that center on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) related topics. Author and impact expert Kim Scott developed the radical candor (1) model of caring personally and challenging directly. This approach to direct, authentic communication creates a firm foundation that when aligned with seven other communication smartcuts results in successful and sustainable communication wins.

Communication Smartcuts

Smartcuts are tools and resources that mitigate the gap between where we are and where we want to be. The following communication smartcuts will help prepare us for navigating challenging DEIB-centered conversations and guide us on our journey to an inclusive culture where feedback is viewed as a gift.

Assume the best.

Not everyone is a jerk. Some people are, but not everyone. Assume that the other person in any conversation is doing the best with what they have to work with – their experiences, their knowledge, their perceptions. If you approach the conversation with an open, growth mindset (2), then those you interact with will be more likely to do the same.

Activate allyship.

Allyship in its most basic sense is when someone from a non-marginalized group uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group or individual. We activate our allyship when we educate ourselves, when we get comfortable being uncomfortable and leverage our privilege, when we ensure allyship centers on the oppressed, and when we are all in.

Be radically candid.

When we are being radically candid we care deeply. We care about what is being discussed and we care about who we are discussing it with. We do not have to love or even like the other person. We should, however, recognize them as a fellow human being worthy of our attention during the time that we are conversing with them. Speaking with radical candor can lead to profound growth and change because a foundation of trust is being established.

Lead with humility.

When we approach our work and each other with humility we know that we are not the smartest person in the room and that others have ideas to contribute. Humility makes us better listeners and increases our powers of empathy.

Leverage the power of the pause.

We must get comfortable with silence and leverage the power of the pause. This gives us time to stop and think before we act or speak. This also gives time for the other person to absorb and consider as well. The pause can simply be the time it takes for one deep breath. This is a powerful way to center yourself and ground your thoughts.

Listen deeply.

When we actively listen we listen with intent to understand, not to respond. As Stephen Covey emphasized in his timeless classic “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”(3), we must seek first to understand, then be understood. Leveraging open-ended questions, those that cannot be answered with a yes or no, will help create a space where others are encouraged to share their perspectives. This is a critical aspect of cultivating a culture where feedback is viewed as a gift. I learned my personal favorite go-to question for soliciting feedback from Dr. Jen Brandt, Director of Wellbeing and Inclusion Initiatives at the AVMA, “What’s working well, and what could be even better yet” (WWW EBY)?

Respond situationally.

As with leadership, effective communication is also situational. If you hear someone do or say something offensive, a response is sometimes appropriate in the moment and in front of the full group. In other situations it will be more appropriate to wait until you have the time and space for a private one-on-one conversation. Take for example a frustrated and vocal client in the reception area of a busy veterinary clinic. Inviting the client into an examination or meeting room to continue the conversation often diffuses the situation and at the very least minimizes the disturbance for others in the area.

Leverage resources.

You are not alone. Ask for help and tap into the wide variety of resources and tools, including those listed below, available to support your communication journey.


Following are two scenarios viewed through the lens of the 8 communication smartcuts.

Not Dr. Miller

A new client says, “My dog doesn’t like Black veterinarians so please do not put us with Dr. Miller”.

Assume the best. The client made a racist remark but may not realize she has done so.

Activate allyship. Leverage your privilege and address the situation.

Be radically candid. Care deeply and speak directly.

Lead with humility. You do not know the context around this statement.

Leverage the power of the pause. As you enter the exam room take a deep breath while smiling to help ground yourself in the moment.

Listen deeply. Enter the conversation with intention and listen to your new client. Make eye contact and have an open approach.

Respond situationally. If your workplace has a relevant policy in place and you have been trained on how to respond to this type of remark, follow your training. Example: “Dr. Miller is the available veterinarian and will take great care of you and your dog. If you do not wish to be seen by her then we will not be able to help you at our practice.”

Leverage resources. If you are unsure how to respond and what to do, ask for help. Excuse yourself and ask a more senior staff member, the practice manager, or practice owner to help. If your workplace does not have policies in place to manage this type of situation, collaborate with senior staff to create them and provide training for all team members.

Gender Uncertainty

You enter the examination room and suspect your new client is transgender.

Assume the best. Greet your new client with warmth and a smile.

Activate allyship. When introducing yourself it is ideal that you always share your pronouns, not just with those that you think may be transgender or nonbinary. This makes it clear that the environment is inclusive and that all are welcome. The client may then choose to share theirs if they wish. “Hello! My name is Dr. Cary and my pronouns are she, her, hers. It’s nice to meet you.”

Be radically candid. Does it matter if your client is transgender? What you need to know is how your new client wishes to be addressed, which is how they will introduce themselves and the name they have documented on the client forms.

Lead with humility. Focus on providing the best possible care for your client and new patient.

Leverage the power of the pause. As you enter the exam room take a deep breath while smiling to help ground yourself in the moment.

Listen deeply. Listen to how your client introduces themselves and utilize the name and pronouns that they share. If they do not share their pronouns that is ok! Refer to them by the name on the client form unless they instruct you differently.

Respond situationally. If you lose your grounding, excuse yourself from the room so you can gather your thoughts. Return with a warm smile and introduce yourself.

Leverage resources. Leverage the tools and resources below to expand your knowledge.

Next Steps

We are all at different places in our DEIB journey. Commit to continuous learning and growth while giving yourself the grace and kindness that you extend to others. What is one next SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant time-bound) thing that you will do next to support your journey of growth? Perhaps you will keep the eight communication smartcuts top of mind or share one of the resources listed below at the next staff meeting. Do what is best and most relevant for you and your journey, and remember you are not alone!

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” –James Baldwin


  1. Scott, K. Radical Candor. St. Martin’s Press, 2019.
  2. Dweck, C. What Having a ‘Growth Mindset’ Actually Means. Harvard Business Review, 2016. Available here: https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
  3. Covey, S. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Free Press, 1989.


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