Learn How to Refine Your Corporate Culture Through Radical Candor and Inclusivity with NY Times Best-Selling Author Kim Scott
Welcome to On Record PR. I’m your host Gina Rubel. Today, I’m going on record with Kim Scott, the author of Just Work and Radical Candor and co-founder of a company that helps people put the ideas in her books into practice.
Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University, and before that, she led Google’s AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick teams.
Kim co-founded the executive education company Radical Candor with Jason Rosoff. Radical Candor is a team of passionate professionals helping organizations move from a culture of command and control to one of collaboration and inclusivity.
What is Radical Candor?
Radical candor is what happens when you care personally and challenge directly, at the same time. It’s probably easiest to understand what radical candor is, to talk for a second about what it is not.
Sometimes we remember to challenge directly, but we forget to show that we care personally, and that is obnoxious aggression. And sometimes there’s a little bit of confusion about radical candor. People will charge into a conference room, and they’ll say, “In the spirit of radical candor,” and then they will proceed to act like a garden variety jerk. And that is not the spirit of radical candor. That is the spirit of obnoxious aggression.
Now, I don’t know about you, Gina, but when I realize that I’ve landed in obnoxious aggression, when I realize I’ve acted like a jerk, it’s not my instinct to show I care personally. Instead, it’s my instinct to go the wrong way on the challenge directly part of radical candor.
And then I wind up in manipulative insincerity, the very worst place of all. If obnoxious aggression is front stabbing, manipulative insincerity is backstabbing. Manipulative insincerity is where passive-aggressive behavior, political behavior, all of the things that make a workplace most toxic, sort of creep in.
It’s fun to tell stories about manipulative insincerity and obnoxious aggression, because that’s where the drama is. But in my experience, at least, and I bet in yours, the vast majority of us make the vast majority of our mistakes when we do remember to show that we care personally. Most people are actually pretty nice people, despite everything you read on social media.
So we do remember to show that we care personally, but we’re so worried about not hurting someone’s feelings that we failed to tell them something they’d be better off knowing in the long run. And that’s what I call ruinous empathy. So that’s what radical candor is, and what it is not.
Gina Rubel: You talk about Bob in your book, and I have so many Bob stories in my life. I am the ruinous empathy queen. Here’s the funny thing. And as you know, Kim, our legal marketing agency serves mostly law firms and general counsel, and as a former litigator, the funny thing is, I’m non-confrontational. I found myself more in ruinous empathy. What I take from that is not giving direct, candid, care-filled feedback to help people succeed. I would say that was probably the first 10 years of my career running a business.
Kim Scott: Yeah. Mine too, honest. That’s why I wrote the book.
Gina Rubel: Right. And I love the license to know that it’s okay to be direct, while being sincere and kind.
One of the things you said in the book that I really love is “Leave three unimportant things unsaid each day.” Tell us more about that please.
That’s one of the mistakes that people sometimes make about radical candor, is that they think it’s like a license to nitpick. And it’s not. I mean, it is hard to be radically candid. It’s really easy for me to say, “Be radically candid. Care and challenge, that’s all there is to it.”
But it’s actually very counterintuitive. And I think one of the things that really helped me sort of get over my ruinous empathy instincts was that was telling that Bob story.
I would encourage all of your listeners to think about their stories because we all do this. We all do this from time to time. And a lot of us do it probably every single day.
So here’s a story, one of many thousands of stories from my life, where I was ruinously empathetic. And just trying to be nice, I actually hurt someone much worse than I intended to. So this happened pretty early in my career, and I had just hired this person named Bob, and I liked Bob a lot. He was smart, he was charming, he was funny.
He would do stuff, like we were at a manager offsite playing one of those endless Get to Know You games. And Bob was the guy who had the courage to raise his hand and to say, “I’ve got an idea. I can tell everybody’s stressed out, and this will help us get to know each other. It’ll be really fast.”
Whatever his idea was, if it was fast, we were down with it. So Bob says, “Let’s just go around the table and confess what candy our parents used when potty training us.” Really weird, but really fast. Weirder, yet we all remembered Hershey kisses right here. That’s what my parents used.
And then for the next 10 months, every time there was a tense moment in a meeting, Bob would whip out just the right piece of candy for the right person at the right moment.
Bob brought a little levity to the office. One problem with Bob, he was doing terrible work. I was so puzzled because he had this incredible resume. I learned much later, that the problem was that Bob was smoking pot in the bathroom three times a day, which may be explained all that candy that he had.
It does not help you with detailed work. It might help you with some kinds of things, but not the kind of work we were doing. I didn’t know that at the time. And when Bob would hand in his work to me, shame in his eyes, he knew it was not nearly good enough.
I would say something to him, along the lines of, “Oh, Bob, this is a great start. You’re so awesome. We all love working with you. You’re so smart. Maybe you could make it just a little bit better.” Which of course he never did.
So let’s pause for a moment, and think about why I said something so banal to Bob in that moment. I think part of it was really ruinous empathy. I really did care about Bob, and I really genuinely did not want to hurt his feelings.
But if I’m honest with myself, there was also more than a little bit of manipulative insincerity going on, because Bob was popular. And Bob was also sensitive. And there was part of me that was afraid if I told Bob, in no uncertain terms, that his work wasn’t nearly good enough, he would get upset. He might even start to cry, and then everybody would think I was a big, you know what?
The part of me that was worried about my reputation as a leader was the manipulative insincerity part. The part of me that was worried about Bob’s feelings was the ruinous empathy part. That goes on for about 10 months and eventually the inevitable happens.
I realize, if I don’t fire Bob, I’m going to lose all my best performers because they’re frustrated. Not only have I been unfair to Bob by not telling him, but I’ve also been unfair to the whole team. Now deliverables are late because his deliverables are late. They’re not able to do their best work because they’re having to spend a bunch of time redoing his work. They’re fed up. They’re going to go someplace and work where they can do their best work.
I sat down with Bob to have a conversation that I should have begun, frankly, 10 months previously. And when I finished explaining to him where things stood, he kind of pushed his chair back from the table. He looked me right in the eye, and he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
As that question was going around in my head with no good answer, he looked at me again and he said, “Why didn’t anyone tell me? I thought you all cared about me.” And now I realized that by not telling him, I thought I was being so nice, but now he’s getting fired as a result of it. Not so nice after all.
But it was too late to save Bob. Even Bob agreed he should go at this point, because his reputation on the team was just shot. All I could do in the moment was make myself a very solemn promise that I would never make that mistake again. And that’s what really sort of set me down this radical candor path, because it was a very common mistake, not only for me, but for all the managers who I worked with. So that’s why I’m talking to you.
How do you encourage lawyers to be better managers?
I will tell you a secret. One managing partner at a big law firm said he hated managing people because he had never been taught to do it. And you spend a lot of time in law school and learning to be a good lawyer, but then a good chunk of your time is spent managing your organization, but you’ve had no formal training.
He said to me, “I will pay you any amount of money you ask if you’ll manage all my lawyers.” I said, “You can’t outsource management to me. I am not a lawyer. I will not be a good manager of these lawyers.”
It’s like saying to somebody, “I will pay you any amount of money if you’ll go to the dentist on my behalf.” It’s something you can’t outsource. You’ve got to do it if you’re going to lead a team, but nobody gets trained.
Gina Rubel: That’s part of the problem. And it’s one of the things, one of the reasons we started our company, not so much to train lawyers on how to manage, because there are many great legal coaches, people like you and your organization, that can teach better ways of management. And teach me all the time. We teach them the art of proactive communications, which none of us were taught any of this in law school, let’s face it. And everything is overly verbose and demanding.
One of the things you said in your book, Radical Candor, is that “Relationships don’t scale but culture does.” What did you mean by this and why does it matter?
One of the things, when people ask me about, “How can I, as a boss, show that I care personally? What’s the right way to do that?”
One of the stories I tell is about a boss that I had, Sheryl Sandberg, and the ways that she showed me she cared. She would do things like, when I first moved from New York to California to take the job at Google, I was really lonely because I didn’t know anyone here in California. All my friends were back in New York, and I was 35 and single.
She could tell that I was lonely. She introduced me to a book group. I’m still friends with a bunch of those people to this day. And then a few months after I took the job, my father was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, and I was devastated.
She could tell that I was devastated. She said, “Look, your team and I are going to write your coverage plans. That’s what teams, great teams, do for one another. We’ve got your back, but you need to go be at home right now. Don’t stay here. You’re not doing anybody any good here. You need to be with your family right now.”
Those were the kinds of things she could not do for all 5,000 people in her organization. No matter how talented you are, you can only have a small number of relationships. But when a leader does that kind of thing for their direct reports, it makes it much more likely that their direct reports, in turn, are going to do that for their direct reports. And that does create a culture of scaling.
The way that a leader treats the people who they interact with is going to have a big impact on how those people treat their people. And it’s leading by example. And it does create a culture of caring, and that does scale. That is really important.
When people know that they can come to work, and that they’re allowed to have a personal crisis without being punished for the personal crisis, that makes a world of difference, because we all come into work with our personal traumas, with back work traumas, and traumas in our personal life. And when we feel cared for, then we can do our best work. So there’s some enlightened self-interest, as well as, it just feels better.
When putting radical candor into practice, one of my big questions is how do you marry emotional intelligence with radical candor, especially for people who are completely non-confrontational, or live in a state of denial?
First of all, I think that sort of EQ and IQ are dangerous concepts because there tends to be this assumption that these are innate attributes that we have. And I think we all have the capacity to be rational, and we all have the capacity to be emotional.
When we communicate, we communicate on an emotional plane, and on a rational plane, at the same time. And I think that if you think about what sort of moves us down on the care personally dimension at work, it’s often this notion that emotions have no place at work.
Be professional means showing up at work like some kind of robot with leaving your emotions, leaving who you really are, leaving your humanity, leaving everything that’s best about you at home. And showing up at some kind of robot. And you can’t possibly care personally about others if you’re showing up some kind of robot.
It’s really important to remember that both dimensions matter when we communicate. That, if you just say, “Don’t take it personally,” what you’re sort of saying is, “Don’t show any emotion.” If you reject all the emotional signals that are coming at you as somehow not okay to show at work or not professional, then you’re just not going to communicate very well.
Sometimes people ask me, “Is radical candor much easier for people who have high EQ? Or is it much harder for people who are on the spectrum, for example?” My experience is that sometimes people misuse their high emotional EQ for evil, and they’re more apt to wind up in manipulative insincerity. To think then when people have power, they think they’re getting away with it, but they don’t understand that people see through them.
I also found that, I work spent most of my career in tech and work with many engineers, and in fact, I’m married to an engineer. Very often people whom you would not attribute high EQ to are very radically candid. They can actually be better at it, because they don’t overthink as much the, “Oh no, if I say this, I’m going to hurt their feelings.” But they do care, and they know how to show they care.
I’ll share something that my father said to me about radical candor in the early days. He was a litigator. He said to me, because I was like, “Just say what you think.” He had a tendency to say what he thought. But he was very challenged directly. He wasn’t always so adept on showing that he cared, but he really did care.
He said, “I get in real trouble when I say exactly what I think.” And you could tell it really upset him. This had been a lifelong issue for him. He was often unjustly accused of being an asshole.
He had a really work on taking an extra beat to show that he cared with people at work. And I think that that was hard for… I mean, you tell me, I have a theory that part of the reason why it was hard for him is that as a litigator, in his professional life, when he was making arguments, there was no need to show he cared in the law.
But with human beings, there was a need to take an extra beat. And not tons of extra time, but “I can tell you really care about this brief that you’re writing, and I want to give you some advice that I think will help make it better.” That’s all.
Gina Rubel: One of the things that I think is important with radical candor is understanding, my belief, and correct me if I’m wrong, that you really are referring to objective feedback, as opposed to subjective feedback.
Kim Scott: Yes.
Gina Rubel: Judgmental feedback. There’s a big distinction there. I’m finding, even today, people in general who are very focused, and we’re going to talk a little bit about DE&I in a moment, but people are becoming more afraid, because they don’t know what falls in objectivity and what falls in subjectivity. What I try to tell people in giving direct feedback is making sure you can back it up with evidence, making sure that you have something objective. Otherwise, it may be one of those three things that are better left unsaid.
Kim Scott: Yes, yes. Or where you need to really question your thinking. I think one thing that helps me is what I call hippie corn. So these are acronyms. So remember when you go into these conversations, you want to be Humble. You want to state your Intention to be Helpful. You want to have the conversation, if possible, In person. If not, you want to have it synchronously. You want to offer this feedback right away. The longer you wait, the bigger deal it seems.
So that’s HHII. And then PP, you want to Praise in public, but criticize in private, and you don’t want to offer people, either praise or criticism, about fundamental personality attributes. Not about personality, the last P, is not about personality. And that’s where CORN comes in, in order to make sure that your feedback is not about someone’s personality, that it’s about something they can change.
Because remember, fundamental to all of this is a growth mindset that I’m not saying to you that you are worthless. I’m saying that there’s some mistakes in this piece of work, right? There’s a big difference.
And so you want to offer CORN stands for Context Observation Result Next Step. So for example, I’ll share some feedback that I’ve gotten in my career. One bit of feedback was it, I said, Um too much. “So in the meeting when you said every third word, it made you sound stupid, go visit the speech coach.”
So that’s context, observation, result, next step. But it also works for praise, in the meeting when you offered both sides of the argument, it earned you credibility, do more of that. So that’s the idea of CORN, is you want to make sure that it’s about something that the person can change, not some sort of fundamental attribute that they cannot change.
What can you tell our listeners about how Chat GPT can be used in management and if it should be used to answer questions about management?
I am experimenting with it. One of the things that I have found, in my career as a coach, is that when people ask me management questions, I often will go to Radical Candor, or to my next book, Just Work, and I’ll grab a few paragraphs, or even a couple of pages and email it to them.
I feel that I am a router of information, which is probably not the way I want to spend my time. I’d rather be writing the next book. We’re doing an experiment, the Kim Bot or the Radical Candor Bot. We’ve got an instance of AI that is focused on Radical Candor, on the book. We fed it in the text. If you ask it a question, it’ll spit you back the right page in the book. This to me has great promise.
To me, the thing that the ChatGPT, or other similar versions, the Google product, and all of the other AI products that people are working on, offer is a better way to understand the question. I think, though, getting it to write answers itself is problematic because it’s bullshit on a scale that we’ve never seen before.
Gina Rubel: Can you imagine putting that on a college or grad school essay? Footnote: reasonable sources.
Kim Scott: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Or can you imagine writing a legal brief saying, “I don’t know which case this comes from, but I read all the cases. And here’s what I think.” We don’t understand yet how to use it. One thing that people have said is, “Oh, I can get ChatGPT to write my performance reviews for the people who work for me.” That is a horrible idea, in my opinion.
Gina Rubel: I recently wrote an article on generative AI in legal. ChatGPT is a good starting place for ideas. “How can I say this?” “How can I give this type of feedback?” But the output is only as good as the input. It’s only as good as the question you ask, and where it’s pulling data from.
Kim Scott: And the source, yeah, you need to know the sources of data. I think.
Gina Rubel: I have tested it, I have played with it. I do find it’s a good place to look for, “How can I say this differently” or “I’m trying to say this, how do I convey that?” Usually, it’s the way you type the message in the first place, but it still helps you also validate some of your thoughts.
I just do want to mention to our listeners, since many are from law firms, what you put into generative AI is in their records at all times, so you must always be mindful. And this is to anyone listening, especially in HR, do not put in names. Do not put in any personally identifying information, because you could be violating anything from employment agreements to HIPAA requirements to legal confidentiality. It does come with its risks, as well.
But it is a good starting point. It’s a new way. It’s kind of like asking Google a question, right? And you get all these different articles to read. Well, this is just going to those articles and saying, “Oh, by the way, this is the general consensus out there.”
Kim Scott: The interesting thing is that if you are doing searches on Google, you kind of have to know how to interact with Google. Whereas with ChatGPT, you can just write like you talk and it’s really surprisingly good at interpreting the question. I don’t think it’s very good at writing answers.
It’s bullshit on an unprecedented scale. It doesn’t know. It has no notion of whether what it’s saying is true or not. And there’s a great essay on bullshit, and it’s worth rereading that essay, right now, because of this problem with ChatGPT.
So it has no notion of whether what it’s saying, what it’s writing, is true or not. And it also doesn’t, for the most part, at least so far, it doesn’t show its work. It doesn’t reveal its sources. And that’s really problematic. And if you ask it what its sources are, it says “Reasonable sources.” It’s like that is not an acceptable answer.
Gina Rubel: No, definitely not. But it’s getting better. Interestingly enough, I was at the ALM LegalWeek conference in New York at and it was almost all about generative AI. Several of the platforms, including ChatGPT, were used to take the bar exam and other exams. And the first rendition of ChatGPT scored rather low, the ChatGPT-4, passed the bar in flying colors.
It is learning from the perspective of it’s getting new data every day. However, that doesn’t mean it learns like the human brain. I want to make sure our listeners know that, but enough on ChatGPT and generative AI, I just had to ask it.
What prompted you to write Just Work? And I want people to know that Just Work is about how to root out bias, prejudice, and bullying to build a kickass culture of inclusivity. So what prompted you to write that?
I was at a tech company in San Francisco giving a radical candor talk, and the CEO of that company had been a colleague of mine for the better part of a decade, is a person who I like and respect enormously. And she’s one of too few black women CEOs in tech, or in any other sector, frankly.
And when I finished giving the presentation, she pulled me aside, and she said, “Kim, I’m excited to roll out radical candor. I think it’s going to help me build the kind of culture I want. But I got to tell you, it’s much harder for me to roll it out, than it is for you.”
And she went on to explain to me that as soon as she would offer anyone, even the most compassionate, gentle criticism, she would get slimed with the angry black woman stereotype. So people were giving her what they thought was feedback for her, by telling her she was an angry black woman.
And so this really got me to thinking, really, five different things. First of all, the extent to which bias, prejudice, and bullying masquerade as feedback is something that I didn’t consider enough when I wrote Radical Candor. And that was kind of what prompted me to sit down, and think about writing this book.
And then it also made me realize a bunch of different ways that I had failed in my career. The first was that I had failed my colleague as an upstander. I had not been the kind of colleague that I imagined myself to be, that I aspire to be. I hadn’t been an upstander for her. I hadn’t intervened when people were… And that was not the only thing that people ever said to her that was biased, or prejudiced, or bullying.
I’d sort of been in denial about what was happening to her. I’d failed even to notice the extent to which she had to show up unfailingly cheerful and pleasant, in every meeting we were ever in together, even though she had what to be ticked off about at work, as we all do. And she couldn’t show her emotions. It hadn’t occurred to me the toll that must take on her. That was number one, is I hadn’t been the kind of upstander that I aspire to be.
The second thing that I realized when she told me this was that, not only had I been in denial about the kinds of things that were happening to her, I was also in denial about the kinds of things that were happening to me, as a white woman, in the workplace.
I had pretended that a whole host of things were not happening to me that were, in fact, happening and kind of hard for the author of a book called Radical Candor to admit. But there it is. I just was pretending that this stuff wasn’t happening to me. And I think I pretended that, because I didn’t want to think of myself, I also didn’t want to think of her, as a victim, because we have such strange attitudes about being a victim in our culture.
But the third thing I realized was that, even less than wanting to think of myself as a victim, that I want to think of myself as a culprit. And so I had been most deeply in denial about the times when I, myself, had been biased, or had had a prejudice, or had bullied others, which we are all bound to do.
These are all very human behaviors. It doesn’t mean they’re good behaviors, but we need to acknowledge them. As my son’s baseball coach said, “You can’t do right if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.” And so I needed to stop and think about my role as the person who caused harm sometimes.
And then last but not least, I think as a leader, I always imagined I was creating these BS-free zones where bias, and prejudice, and bullying wouldn’t happen. And I kind of imagined they wouldn’t happen, because I was the boss. But of course, just because I was the boss didn’t mean that human nature was different. So I hadn’t done enough as a leader to prevent those things. And that was kind of what prompted me to write Just Work.
How can we disrupt bias?
It’s really important to disrupt bias in the moment, and to disrupt it publicly. I say criticize in private, but disrupting bias, that’s not criticism. It’s like just correcting. It’s making a in course correction. And correction is something you have to do in public.
I recommend three-step process. The first is to sit down with your team and think about what’s a shared vocabulary. So with my team, I like to wave a purple flag. If I say something biased, and I realize it, I’ll wave the flag on myself. Or if someone else says something biased, I’ll say, “Purple flag.”
We all understand that it’s a friendly purple flag. It’s not a yellow flag, it’s not a red flag. But this is the vocabulary that we use to disrupt bias in the moment. Other teams I’ve worked with have different things they do.
One team throws up a peace sign, and says, “Peace” as a way to invite someone in to notice their bias. It needs to be supportive, and there needs to be a shared understanding, as well as a shared vocabulary, that we’re all going to say and do biased things. This doesn’t mean we’re horrible people. We’re having a growth mindset about this.
The second part of disrupting bias is teaching ourselves how to respond when it’s our bias that’s being corrected, disrupted. Because I don’t know about you, but when someone points out to me that I’ve said something, or done something that’s biased, I feel deeply ashamed. I can tell you in my body where I feel shame. It’s the tingling in the backs of my knees. It’s the same physical sensation that I get if my children walk too close to the edge of a precipice. It’s a primal fear.
rarely respond at my best when I’m in a primal fear kind of brain. Now my lizard brain has taken over. So what you want to do is teach people how to reengage their executive function so they can respond well. If someone’s bias has been pointed out, teach them to say, “Thank you for pointing it out.” That should be the knee-jerk. “Thank you for pointing it out.” Gratitude.
Then one of two things. Either I get it, I’m working on not doing it; or “Thank you for pointing it out,” but I don’t get it. I don’t even know what I did wrong. That second thing is really hard to say because now I’m doubly ashamed. I’m ashamed because I’ve harmed someone else, and I’m ashamed because I’m ignorant. I don’t even know what I did wrong.
That’s going to happen. It’s going to happen often, actually. Normalizing this. “Thank you for pointing it out. I don’t know what I did wrong. Can you tell me after the meeting?”
The reason to talk about it after the meeting is that the promise of bias disruptors is that this is a way to disrupt bias. It’s not going to disrupt the whole meeting. You’re not going to have to spend the whole meeting talking about bias. You’re going to talk about what you intended to talk about, but you’re going to disrupt bias.
The reason to do that in public is that bias is sort of a pattern. If we don’t disrupt it in the moment, then we reinforce it. And we make it more likely that it’s going to repeat and even escalate.
And it’s also not fair to the people who are harmed by the bias because they’re like getting this 15 times a day. It becomes almost like a repetitive stress injury. We all want to be conscious of disrupting the bias so that we can change it.
Gina Rubel: I know we can have a much longer conversation on this. I will share with our listeners, another resource that I love is Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist. I think it’s a great book on disrupting bias.
In other ways. I like the idea that you bring to the table as well. And also, in the show notes I will put a link to our website. I wrote a very long article, based on research on language and its origins, because there are things that I said every day that, it turns out, can be interpreted as racist.
There are a lot of idiosyncrasies in the American language that we don’t realize are considered biased. And so I researched it. I reached out to all my social media networks, and I got all of these phrases and which ones, and did the background.
Kim Scott: Another great resource is Textio, send it to Kieran Snyder, who is the CEO of Textio, because Textio will automatically flag biased language in your writing. And it’s really helpful.
Yeah, I mean, there’s phrases like master bedroom that I’ve tried to stop using.
And we have to be patient with ourselves, but also persistent. As I was writing Just Work, I hired someone to bust my biases, to disrupt, to point them out to me. And one of the phrases that she pointed out to me is that I tend to use sort of sloppy sight metaphors. Meaning I would use the word “see” when I meant “notice,” for example, which is sort of unfair to people who are blind, who notice things, probably more acutely than people who have sight.
And so I thought I got it. And I really cared about this because one of the people who was helping me to edit the book is blind, in fact. So the last thing I wanted to do was use sloppy sight metaphors. I wanted to honor him, and respect him. And I didn’t want to do it in general, because words matter, and I care about words.
Anyway, I thought I got it. I understood the idea, and I thought I had, and then I decided right before I turned the book in, that I would do a search. And that I would try to make sure I hadn’t used any sloppy sight metaphors. So after I got the feedback, after I thought I understood, guess how many sloppy sight metaphors were in a 350-page book?
Gina Rubel: A lot.
Kim Scott: 99.
Gina Rubel: And that’s the thing, we learn. It’s just like I’ve gone back and re-edited my book Everyday PR in the last rounds where it said his or her, and it’s now “their.” And those things that we were taught differently. We’re all a work in progress, and I think that’s most important.
What advice do you have for managing across the organizational chart?
In theory, radical candor works the same way, up, down, sideways, even at home. You can try this with your spouse and your kids or whoever is at home with you, but of course it feels different. Let me go through the order of operations and then talk about how to do this with peers or cross-functionally. It should always start with soliciting feedback. Don’t dish it out before you prove you can take it.
The other nice thing about soliciting feedback first is that you get to lead by example. You get to show that you’re open to it, that you really do view it as a gift, and it can help you avoid the mistake of criticizing someone’s personality. Because when someone is doing something at work that’s frustrating me, it’s tempting to say, “They cut me off in traffic because they’re an asshole, or they’re doing this because they’re arrogant,” or to attribute the problem to some personality aspect. There’s something very satisfying about doing that. It’s problematic because it’s usually not accurate and it doesn’t allow us to notice what we might be doing that’s contributing to the situation.
It’s always good to start with soliciting feedback. When you solicit feedback from your peers, you’re demonstrating that you’re not giving them feedback because you’re trying to establish dominance, to show that you’re better than them, or to behave like they’re your boss. You’re soliciting it because you know that they’re noticing things that can help you improve. Then when you give it, it becomes more likely that it will be heard with open ears.
Next, give radical candor. I think one of the criticisms I’ve gotten, which is fair, is that I tend to focus on criticism and not on praise, but radical candor is just as much if not more about praise as it is about criticism. The purpose of praise is to tell people what to do more of. The purpose of criticism is to tell them what to do less of. It turns out that you want to offer more praise than criticism. You want to focus on the good stuff. You want to take a moment to share gratitude, to express appreciation that you feel for the people who work with you. Cross-functionally, we don’t do this often enough. We don’t invest energy in doing this. I think part of the reason is that it’s easier to look smart when you criticize people’s work than when you praise them.
There have been a number of studies. For example, there was one psychological study done about movie critics. People were asked to judge the intelligence of the movie critic, and they tended to think that the critics who hated the movies were smarter than the critics who loved the movies. That’s a different version of the negativity bias. The purpose of your praise is not to prove how smart you are, but to express appreciation and gratitude for the other people, and also to let people know what to do more of. Solicit criticism, and give praise. Now you’ve created the conditions for giving criticism cross-functionally. This is not some kind of six sigma process. You can do all these things even in just one conversation or over a couple of days.
When it comes time to give the criticism, you want to remember that hippie corn: humble, helpful, in person if possible, otherwise synchronously. You want to offer it right away. Don’t hang on to it because it tends to build up if you hang onto it. Immediately, you want to praise in public, criticize in private, and not give people praise or criticism about their personality, but use context, observation result, and next step.
That’s giving it. Remember that giving it is not a monologue; it’s a dialogue. The third step is to gauge how it’s landing for the other person. It is important to remember that radical candor gets measured not at the speaker’s mouth, but at the listener’s ear. When you’re giving praise or criticism, but especially if you’re doing it cross-functionally, you want to pay attention to how the person is responding. If they seem sad or mad, move up on the care personally dimension. If they’re brushing you off, move over on the challenge directly dimension; maybe move over even further than you’re comfortable going on the challenge directly dimension.
Then, last but not least, you want to encourage radical candor. Basically, all I mean by this is don’t talk badly about people behind their back. Definitely don’t write criticism of people down. Don’t email with some colleague about some other colleague because invariably, that email’s going to get forwarded to them. Then they’re going to be like, “Why won’t those people come and talk to me directly?” That does not create a culture of radical candor.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
So somebody asked me that the other day. I don’t think I have an all-time favorite movie. I will say that I watched all 18, now 19, seasons of Grey’s Anatomy with my daughter during COVID.
What is your superpower?
I can really recollect anecdotes, small anecdotes from life. I think that’s what really helps me. That’s what helped Radical Candor come to life, were the anecdotes.
If you could have dinner with any living person, whom would it be?
I really love having dinner with my children and my husband every night. That’s what I do. And that’s what I would continue to do.
What are you currently reading?
Is there an essential resource – book, blog, or podcast other than your own – that you want people to know about?
I wish that more people would go to LinkedIn and use it the way they used to use Twitter. That’s what I’m going to encourage people to do because Twitter has lost it. And I think we need to re-find community. So that’s my suggestion.
Gina Rubel: I like that. And knowing your background, and where you’ve worked over the years, I will take that advice to heart, and we’ll leave it there.
Kim, I’m so grateful to you to be here. I will have, on the show notes, various ways for people to reach you, your website, Twitter address. Are you still on Twitter?
Kim Scott: I am. I am, but much less than I used to be. But we do post tweets. I just read less. I still post there.
Gina Rubel: Yes. Okay. So just be mindful, listeners, LinkedIn’s probably the best place to connect with Kim. And one of the things I will say is that I’m honored that you shared your time, your knowledge, your insights, your stories, your vulnerability, all of that is living proof of Radical Candor. And I thank you. I look forward to our next chat.
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