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Season 02, Episode 24

How To Create A Culture Of Candid Conversations At Work

with Author and Co-Founder of Radical Candor, Kim Scott

About the Episode

In this episode, I had a conversation with Kim Scott, Author and Co-Founder of Radical Candor, about the concept of Ruinous Empathy and how to use her Radical Candor method in the workplace. This episode is a little bit different from the episodes we typically have here on the show. It’s a live recording from our Training With Empathy event we hosted in partnership with Gary Vaynerchuk’s Empathy Wines last month. 

If you haven’t read the book, definitely pick up a copy. Previously, Kim led AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick Online Sales and Operations at Google before joining Apple to develop and teach a leadership seminar. Kim has been a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and several other tech companies.

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Full Transcript

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Kim:

Sometimes, if you take empathy, quite literally, it means you’re literally feeling what the other person is feeling. So if someone is drowning and you also feel like you can’t breathe, it’s harder for you to help. So sometimes empathy can cause burnout, whereas compassion, which is really about what can I, I understand that you’re in pain and what can I do to help, uh, is, is energizing. I mean, certainly the moments that I have felt the best throughout this crisis is when I’ve been helping other people deal with what they’re doing.

Chris:

What’s up everybody. I’m Chris Ronzio, founder, and CEO of Trainual. And this is Process Makes Perfect as always, we’re talking with experts in process creation, automation, and delegation. Basically, the people that make business easier, you just heard from Kim Scott and this episode is all about the process of using radical candor in the workplace. Kim is the author and co-founder of radical candor. If you haven’t read the book, definitely pick up a copy. Previously, Kim led ad sense, YouTube and DoubleClick, online sales, and operations at Google before joining Apple to develop and teach a leadership seminar. Kim has been a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrix, Twitter, and several other companies. This episode’s a little bit different from other episodes that we typically have on this show. It’s a live recording from an event that we did called training with empathy, which we hosted in partnership with Gary Vaynerchuk’s Empathy Wines. Last month. In this episode, I had a conversation with Kim about the concept of ruinous empathy and how to use radical candor in the workplace. I hope you enjoy it.

Chris:

I’ll speak on behalf of everyone and say that I am super excited to have you here and to talk with you. So everybody welcome Kim Scott to the virtual stage. Our team actually read this book last year in Q3, we started a book club just for the company. And this was the first book we picked. Yeah, it was amazing. And so for everyone else, if you haven’t heard of Kim, Kim Scott’s the co-founder of an executive education company and workplace comedy series based on her New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Radical Candor, previously Kim led ad sense, YouTube and DoubleClick, online sales and operations at Google before helping Apple develop and teach its leadership seminar. Kim’s also acted as a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrix Twitter at several other companies. It sounds like we need you here at Trainual.

Kim:

It looks like you’re doing pretty well. Thanks. Thank you. It’s really great to be here and, uh, enjoyed the last session as well.

Chris:

So everybody’s already posting, they’re excited to hear from you, but for anyone that hasn’t read the book, I think everybody’s heard of it, but for anyone that hasn’t read it, can you give us a brief intro of just where this concept of Radical Candor came from?

Kim:

Sure. So radical candor basically means caring personally at the same time that you’ve challenged directly, or if you want to abstract up even a little more, it’s about love and truth at the same time. And I think all too often, we feel like we have to choose between love and truth. And the fact of the matter is when we really care about people, we tell them what we really think. And when we tell people what we really think in a way that’s effective, we’re also showing them that we care at the same time. So the two things are inextricably linked. I think one of the things that can be helpful in explaining what radical candor is, is to explain what it isn’t. So, in fact, the most, if you write a book about feedback, you’re going to get a lot of it. And some of the most common feedback I got is that very often people confuse radical candor with what I call obnoxious aggression.

Kim:

And I’m not just aggression is what happens when you do challenge directly. But you fail to remember to show that you care personally. And I used to call this the asshole quadrant because it seemed, I dunno, more radically Shani. Yeah. Say more clear, but I quit doing that for a very important reason. And the reason was that as soon as I did that, people would use the radical candor framework, like some kind of new Myers-Briggs tests, like some kind of personality tests. And I beg you don’t do it this way. We all act like jerks multiple times a day. Unfortunately. So, and, and the key thing is what you do when you realize you’ve landed in the obnoxious aggression quadrant. When you’ve, you have challenged somebody and you’ve forgotten to show them that you care. And unfortunately it is our instinct to move the wrong way on challenge directly instead of moving the right way on care personally.

And then you wind up in the worst place of all and manipulative insincerity, where you’re neither caring nor challenging. You’re just trying to sort of offer a false apology or, or offer some passive aggression or, or whatnot. And it’s fun at work, especially, but in life in general, to tell stories about obnoxious aggression and manipulative insincerity, this is where the drama of life comes from. The fact of the matter is the vast majority of us make the vast majority of our mistakes when we do remember to show we care and we’re so worried about not hurting someone’s feelings that we don’t tell them something they’d be better off knowing. And that I called ruinous empathy. So that’s what radical candor is and what it isn’t.

Chris:

So for everyone, that’s a visual thinker like me picture the spectrum, you know, it’s on, it’s on the book here and you’ve got the, the axes of how much you’re carrying and then the axes of how you’re, you’re directly, you’re being open and, and not confrontational, I guess, but just, just direct with someone. When I was listening to the book, I was running around my neighborhood and I was laughing at the example you gave about someone’s fly being down. I think that’s a really easy way to describe this. So everybody’s been in this situation. So how, how does, how does that represent each of the quadrants?

Kim:

So you, in fact, it’s a really good, the reason why I use that example of your fly being down is because one of the things that can make radical candor easier is if you, if you think about a simple example, and I think we all know that the kind thing to do when someone’s fly is down is to tell them because they don’t want to walk through the rest of their day with the fly down. So the radically candid way to explain your fly is down, is to say to them, pull them aside, say in private, you know, I hate it when this happens to me and I always appreciate it when people tell me, so your fly is down, just tell them, pull them aside, tell them quietly, tell them if the little empathy, the obnoxious, aggressive way to tell them their fly down is to point it out in front of a bunch of people.

Kim:

Hey look that assholes flyers down. Uh, the, the ruinously empathetic thing to do is not to say anything cause you’re so worried about not hurting someone’s feelings. And then you’re allowing them to go through the rest of their day with their fly down and, and the manipulatively insincere way to tell them that they’re fly is down is not to tell them, but to whisper to everybody else and to, to point it out. So here’s for the visual people. I don’t know if this helps, but here is the two by two, in a nutshell, I should have had it ready on a slide, but it does, it does help. I think a lot of people to see it.

Chris:

Yeah. So in situations like that, or someone’s flies down or they’ve got food in their teeth, I think everybody knows. The nice thing to do is to quietly say that. So why is that kind of feedback so much harder in the workplace when it, when you’re dealing with work issues?

Kim:

Yeah, I think, I think honestly it’s hard at home. It’s hard. A lot of people, when I give this talk, the will come up to me afterwards and say, Oh, I had only heard this five years ago. I wouldn’t be divorced right now. So I think it’s hard actually in all our relationships, but I think there’s a couple of reasons why it’s hard. And I think part of the reason why it’s hard at work is most of us get our first job and we’re 18, 19, 20 years old. And we’re right at that moment in our lives when our egos are maximally fragile. At least at least mine was at 18, but our personas are beginning to solidify. We’re putting on a mask and right at this moment, someone will come along and say, be professional. And I think for an awful lot of people that gets translated to mean, leave your emotions, leave your real identity, leave your humanity, leave everything that’s best about you at home and show up at work, like some kind of robot leave your, you know, you can’t pretend that you don’t have emotions at work. And that I think is what hurts us on the care personally dimension, because you can’t possibly care personally about others. If you’re showing up at work, like some kind of robot. So I think that’s the first thing. I think the second thing is happens when we’re even younger when we’re sort of 18-months old and we’re just learning to speak and we’re out in public. And we say to our parents, you know, look at that, you know, so, and so person, and we’ll describe something horrible.

Chris:

Or I have a two-year-old that if I, if, if I just happen to get a pimple or something, he announces it to the whole restaurant what’s on your face and settle down.

Kim:

And, and it’s tempting as a parent. And I know my parents sent it to me and I’ve made the mistake of saying it to my kids. If he [doesn’t] have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And now all of a sudden fast-forward 20, 30 years, and it’s your job to say it. And this is hard. It’s really hard to undo training. That’s been pounded into our heads since we learned to speak. So I think it’s a combination of those two things of have this be professional business. And this, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all that make it hard. But I think there’s also almost an evolutionary reason why it’s difficult. And the reason is that for, for, for most of human evolution, if we offended someone, we were thrown out of the tribe and we were dead.

Kim:

And so we have a real negativity bias when it comes to social interactions. And even though it’s been my experience in the experience of the vast majority of people, I’ve coached that nine times out of 10, when you offer radical candor, it’s welcomed. It strengthens your relationship. But one time out of 10, I will not a whole lot pull my punches. You will have a radical candor train wreck, and someone will cry. Someone will yell, someone will be offended, and then you have to clean that mess up. And I think for some reason, we’re all optimizing for that one time out of 10, instead of the nine times out of 10.

Chris:

So you’re saying Bambi ruined us. We were all conditioned to just hide our feelings, but we’ve got to fix it. So, so everybody that’s listening in here, what’s the way that you recommend giving feedback. What’s the right way to approach a difficult conversation in the workplace, whether it’s with a peer or a direct report.

Kim:

I think one of the most important things to remember is that radical candor gets measured, not at the speaker’s mouth, but at the listener’s ear. And so I can’t, I can’t give you an objective. Here are radically candid words, and here are bad words. You know, there’s not one right way. You’ve gotta be able to gauge what you’re, what you’re thinking, but I will, I will offer you kind of an order of operations, a way to think about this. Uh, first thing is don’t dish it out before you prove you can take it. So start by soliciting radical candor, not by offering it. And, uh, and if, if we, if you all do only one thing as a result of our time here today together, and it’s this one thing it will have been time, very well spent. Think about how you’re going to ask for feedback.

Kim:

Because if you say, do you have any feedback for me? I can already tell you what the answer is. Oh, no, everything’s fine. You know? So, so you’re wasting your breath. So you want to make sure you ask in a way that shows you genuinely want to know the answer. And also that you ask in a way that can’t be answered with, Oh, no, everything’s fine. Do you have any, you know, is always going to get answered? Oh no, everything’s fine. So simple question that, that my coach, when I was at Google, Fred Kaufman offered to me that I like is tell me what I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me. So I liked that question. However, I was coaching, I was coaching Christa corals when she was the CEO of open table. And she said, I hate that question.

Kim:

I could never imagine those words coming out of my mouth. She said, the question I like to ask is, tell me why I’m smoking crack. That’s also fine. You’ve got to find the way. Yeah. But make sure you’re not asking it that way. If somebody has a relative who has a drug habit, you know, you really do have to make sure that you’re aware of what’s going on for the person who you’re talking to. So that’s one solicit feedback thing. I’m going to go through four things and then I’ll let, sorry. I babble babble babble. So the second thing is you really need to focus on the good stuff. Another mistake that people make about radical is they think it’s all about giving criticism. And it’s not part of your job as a colleague or as a leader is to paint a picture of what’s possible.

Kim:

And praise is actually a much more effective tool for doing that than criticism. So you want to make sure that you are, are focusing on the good stuff and offering praise and treating praise, uh, with as much discipline as you treat criticisms, sorry, there’s a truck going by. And so, so that’s thing. Number two is price thing. Number three is, is now you’ve kind of gotten yourself into a better state of mind and the other person into a better state of mind to offer criticism and keep in mind all of these three things can happen in like two minutes or less. So this is not some sort of six Sigma process I’m talking about. Um, the very best feedback I’ve ever gotten in my career has always happened in these impromptu two minutes conversation. So when you go into a offering criticism, keep a couple of things. Top of mind, be humble. I call it candor and not truth, because if you walk into some someone, if you will walk up to someone’s desk and you say, I’m going to tell you the truth. They kind of, that kind of implies, I have a pipeline to God and you don’t know shit from Shinola, and that’s not, I’m not allowed to curse on this by the way, whatever snatch. Right?

Kim:

Uh, so, so I think you want to make sure that you’re opening a conversation and, and by candor, I sort of think it means here’s what I see. I want to know what you see and, and that kind of candor is a gift. And one of two ways, it’s either a gift because you’re right about what you see and you’re giving the person an opportunity to fix it, or it’s a gift because you’re wrong about what you think you see. And, but only in sharing the person with the other person, your thoughts, do you give them an opportunity to correct your thinking? So that’s sort of giving criticism.

Chris:

Yeah. Our last speaker, Michael Ventura talked about the, this loop of, you know, what you heard and what you understood and what I said and what I thought I said. And I think that’s brilliant because you know, the, if there is a disconnect, you’ve got to revisit where, where did we get it wrong? And one of the two things you mentioned will happen. So w when you’re soliciting feedback, two questions first, do you do it by surveys? Or do you do it in person?

Kim:

I do it in person. I think surveys. I mean, it depends, obviously if I want to solicit feedback from 10,000 people, I can’t do that in person. So I think that one of the things that is really helpful is, uh, is to, to be very clear on, on who you’re, you can’t build a relationship with more than five or six people. So if you’re going to get feedback from your team, from your five or six direct reports, do that in person. And if you’re going to get feedback from a bigger group of people, you want to do a couple of things. You want to treat the survey, sort of like a, it’s like a fire alarm, but you, you gotta make sure you also, if you see that there’s a fire happening, you gotta have a, you gotta have the firefighters at the ready and you have to do some firefighting yourself.

Kim:

So for example, when I was leading a team of 700 people, I obviously couldn’t solicit feedback from all 700 people. So one of the things I would do is, is sort of, uh, uh, what I call the speak truth to power meeting. So I would speak to all the direct reports of each of my direct reports, at least once a year, and ask them to tell me what their boss could do or stop doing that would make them easier to work with. Yeah. And, and I would communicate that very openly to the boss. And it was, it was clearly part of a process. It wasn’t nearly I’m just going after the managers who I think are having problems. I’ve had to be part of a routine process.

Chris:

Okay. So if you’ve got this process and you’ve got 700 people, the next question, I know a lot of people do surveys, and I’m curious, what if they are, should they be confidential or should it be, you know, you know, who’s giving you feedback.

Kim:

So there is a time and a place for confidential feedback, especially when there’s mistrust in an organization. So I think that if, if you’re, if you are offering a survey, I think it’s okay to offer, to offer people the ability to give you. It’s not just, okay. It’s important to, to create a system that allows people to give you confidential feedback. I’m not sure. I think it’s a little bit different when you post things in a public place, because you can start to get a lot of moral grandstanding that is unproductive. So, so one of the, one of the things that I talk about in the book is a leader. I know, had what he called the orange box. So he became, he became a leader of a team. It was a couple thousand people. So it was a big team and there was a lot of mistrust on the team.

Kim:

And so he put an orange box near the bathrooms and that kind of a well packed box, a feedback box, but it was locked. And he gave the key to the box to someone on the team that had a lot of trust of the, of the broad team. And at his all hands meeting, he would hit the guy with the key would come up and open up the orange box. And this leader who was very introverted person put himself on the spot week after week, saying whatever the feedback is, I’m going to read it out and I’m going to address it. And I think that began over time, the orange box emptied out and people came and talked to him directly. So you want to make sure that when you’re offering anonymous feedback options, it’s in the service of building trust and creating the kind of environment where people can come to you directly.

Kim:

Does that make sense? Yeah. I also think when you, when you’re, when you have a survey plan and I love surveys, I was on the board of culture. So I’m a big survey. I’m not anti survey by any stretch, but I think when you, when you send out a survey and you solicit feedback, one of the things that Qualtrics focuses on is you gotta plan your actions. If you just elicit all this negativity and you don’t do anything about it, you can create cynicism. So you gotta make sure that you’re using your survey, like, like a smoke alarm, but you also have your, your firefighters at the ready.

Chris:

Yeah. Great, great example of the firefighting. Cause as long as you’re ready to go and take action, if you take the feedback and do nothing about it, it’s, it’s useless. It’s probably does more harm.

Kim:

Yeah. I had once a boss who said, I’m going to go on a listening tour and he made everybody do all these PowerPoints, and then he just did what he was going to do in the first place. It was infuriating. It was just like, look, if you want, if you’re going to do what you’re going to do, just do it. Don’t make me create these great PowerPoints to deliver to you, which you’re going to then ignore.

Chris:

Right. Alright. So when it comes to feedback, one of the things you, you mentioned in the book, which I had never heard this before, I don’t know how common a term it is, but the idea of the feedback sandwich, where you say something really nice butter them up, and then you squeeze in the feedback and then you end with something nice and that’s not the way to do it. Right.

Kim:

Well, so there’s no absolute formula for this. The problem, there’s a bunch of problems with the feedback sandwich. I think it also has other less polite terms for it. Uh, so, so I think the problem is that very often, when people try to boil down what they’re saying to others in the some kind of formula, they, they come off sounding very insincere. So they’ll wind up saying something like, you know, I love your haircut. This whole conference sucks, but what a nice blue sweater you have, like, by the way, this whole conference is wonderful. But, uh, but that would be an example of, of a feedback sandwich where, where I’m saying, I’m talking, the positive stuff is not stuff I really that’s important or that I’ve given a lot of thought to. Right. Um, so, so, so it can hurt your ability to be when you’re offering praise, you want to be specific and sincere.

Kim:

And if you’re using a formula you’re, that’s, that’s usually not in service of specific insincere. And, and when you’re offering criticism, you want to be kind and clear. So, so that’s kinda speaker’s mouth, but you also need to pay a lot of attention to listener’s ear. And for a lot of people, like if you’re going to give me criticism, you better just give me criticism. Cause if he’d give me praise and criticism, I will choose to hear the price. So, so on the other hand, my sister, if you’re going to give her praise, you better not offer it with any criticism. Cause she will only hear the criticism. So different people are different and you’ve got to adjust how you’re speaking. You’ve got to get to know the people who you’re working with well enough to be able to see that. Does that make sense?

Chris:

Yeah. And, and showing that you care, it doesn’t have to be a compliment. It can just be like you say, in the book, you know, it’s, I know you want to advance your career. So here’s how I’m going to help you do that. And I think it’s great feedback.

Kim:

Yeah, no, I’ll tell you for me. The origin story of radical candor came in the space of time. It took a light to change on the street of Manhattan. I had this puppy, a golden retriever, puppy Belvedere, and I loved Belvedere. And I loved her so much. I had never said a crossword to her. And as a result, she was totally out of control. So I’m walking her down the street, she’s jumping all over the place. She jumps in front of a cab. I pull her out of the way, just in the Nick of time. And this man, a perfect stranger says to me, I can see you really love that dog. That’s all he has to do to show. He cares personally. He doesn’t have to offer me long compliment. Uh, he just has to see me as a human being who loves her dog in the moment.

Kim:

But he says to me, you’re going to kill that dog. If you don’t teach her to sit and shit, he says this kind of very harsh voice. And she sat, I had no idea. She even knew what that meant. I kind of looked up at him and amazement and he said, it’s not me. It’s clear. So, and then he walked off leaving me with words to live by. So you can make a big difference if you show someone you care, but it doesn’t have to be remembering their birthday or taking them out to lunch or some long drawn out thing. It’s about seeing the humanity of the person in the moment. And it can take five seconds.

Chris:

Yeah. It’s not mean it’s clear. I love that. So, so for people in here that have teams or run and companies, you know, the, the difference between being obnoxious and being radically candid, it, you need to care about your people. And so what are some ways that they, that, that people listen and can build up that currency of showing their teams that they care on a regular basis.

Kim:

So I think right now, especially when, when so much is going on for people, there’s, there’s a couple of simple things. You can do. One if you’re having a staff meeting start that meeting. So let’s say you have 10, 15 people in the meeting, start that meeting with a check-in. And it doesn’t need to take more than five minutes, but give people an opportunity to say what’s going on for them. And some people will have had amazing things happen that week. And these wonderful moments with their children, other people will have had terrible things happen to them that week. And it is because we’re literally looking into each other’s living rooms or bedrooms, [in] some case some people are having these meetings in their bathrooms. I was reading because it’s the only quiet place elsewhere. They can lock the door where we’re seeing people we’re seeing into people’s intimate lives.

Kim:

And so giving people an opportunity to share what they’re feeling is, is it serves two purposes. One, it shows you care. And two, you naturally do care more when you know what’s going on with people, but it’s also actually more efficient. And I think that’s one of the things that gets lost about radical candor is, is its efficiency. Because if someone’s on a call and they look stressed or pissed off everybody else on the call, especially if you’re the leader and you’re the one who looks stressed or pissed off, everybody starts to blame themselves or wondering what’s going on. Or, and instead it, it may just have to do with the fact that you were up all night with, uh, with this new puppy that he got for your children or, or whatever. So, so he knows if you give a second, just a couple of minutes for people to say what’s going on for them, I can, I can show you, Karen.

Kim:

I can also be more efficient. I think another thing that is helpful right now is if you’re a leader who used to have a one-on-one once a week, and maybe it was 45 minutes, have three 15 minute meetings throughout the week, because a lot happens right now in a week. And also 45 minutes is a long chunk of time. And especially, uh, especially when, when people have a lot of demands on their time at home, as, as most of us do right now, more demands than we used to have. Uh, then it can be easier. You can keep in better touch with people and also it can be easier to fit in. I and my, one of my first jobs out of college, I was working in Moscow and my boss was in New York, and he used to call me first thing when he woke up in the morning, cause of the time difference before he even got out of bed, he would just pick up the phone and call me. And we would talk for not long three, four, five minutes, but he said it was a really good way for him to understand the tenor of what was happening in Moscow, because there was, it’s hard to be remote. It’s hard to manage remotely. It’s hard to build relationships remotely.

Chris:

Yeah, we have, uh, our chief of staff, Chelsea. We used to have weekly meetings every Monday for 40 minutes an hour, and now it’s a 10-minute call every morning. And those daily standups are so much more useful because it’s, you’re, you keep a pulse on what’s going on for the day. So I second that recommendation, um, Veronique asked, uh, in the chat here, can you be too empathetic? So you mentioned the point about checking in with everybody and how are they doing? Is there a point where that gets in the way of decision making or leadership?

Kim:

Yes. I think it’s really important that you understand that showing that you care personally is very different from becoming creepily personal and, and it’s a fine line cause it’s different. It’s different for everyone. What is what’s okay to say what’s not okay to say what’s okay to talk about. What’s not okay to talk about. And, uh, so for example, at one point we were, we were coaching a team of people to, to get to know each other. And we were coaching the, the leaders of, of this company to start to have, get to know you conversations with employees. And one of the, one of the managers started to drill into one of his employees, the divorce of the parents of one of his employees and his employer did not want to talk about it. And so part of B of showing you care personally, as respecting other people’s boundaries and respecting your own boundaries, Oh, I was doing a check check in call just the other day.

Kim:

And, and it kinda went off the rails because someone who felt that they were being very vulnerable and sharing something that was going on with them actually, uh, wound up crossing. What for a lot of other people on the call was kind of becoming creepily personal, I guess I would say. And so, yeah, you want make sure that you are respecting your own boundaries and asking others to respect your boundaries and respecting other people’s boundaries. That’s part of, uh, of caring personally. And then I think the other way that empathy can go wrong. I call sometimes I call radical candor, compassionate candor, and I call it that to sort of distinguish between ruinous, empathy and compassionate candor. Sometimes if you take empathy, quite literally, it means you’re literally feeling what the other person is feeling. So if someone is drowning and you also feel like you can’t breathe, it’s harder for you to help you. So sometimes empathy can cause burnout, whereas compassion, which is really about what can I, I understand that you’re in pain and what can I do to help is, is energizing. I mean, certainly the moments that I have felt the best throughout this crisis is when I’ve been helping other people deal with what they’re dealing with.

Chris:

Yeah. That’s great advice. So you’ve worked with a lot of the world’s top tech companies, and I’m sure they’ve, they consult you for how they can infuse this into the workplace. You see a lot of these tech giants, um, listening to their people and going maybe over, you know, overboard with their nap rooms and foosball tables and all these crazy things. Is, is that a trend in being more empathetic or does it relate to radical candor buying you some of that caring currency?

Kim:

You know, I don’t think that the, the nap rooms are necessarily like care personally. I do. Uh, there, there is a little bit of, um, an escalation of benefits in Silicon Valley. And I, in fact, I, sometimes it’s not the, the, uh, the snack rooms can become the definition of ruinous empathy, because like there’s so much crap to eat in there. It’s, everybody’s gaining weight. Uh, so, so it’s not always such a good thing. It can definitely go overboard. But I do think that that making sure that you are addressing the human needs of your employees is, is really important. And not every company, you know, has money blowing out of the air conditioning vents, like Googled, it offered incredible, incredible benefits, but, but you can. I remember I was, I was at a startup and we did not have money flowing out of the air conditioning vents to be sure, but we did bring in fruit in the morning and vegetables cut up vegetables in the afternoon. And it, it made a difference in people’s sort of sugar levels and productivity.

Chris:

We asked people what they wanted for our office. And I, and then I had to go back and say, just because we don’t have a kombucha tap doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. Wait, it was a good suggestion.

Kim:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Part of, part of a radical candor is challenging directly. And not like you can’t give everybody in a company what they want, because some people want the bag of Hershey kisses in the middle of the table. And other people really find that a burden to walk by. Yeah,

Chris:

That makes sense. So how does this change at small companies as they grow into bigger companies because of smaller companies, there is a little bit more decision making by committee and you’re, you know, everybody has a say, so how does that evolve?

Kim:

Well, it depends on the small company. I certainly have worked with small companies that are little mini dictatorships, but, but it is, I have found as companies grow, there’s kind of an evolution. Uh, very often successful. Small companies are very radically candid. It’s a small group of people. They all know each other. Well, usually the better we know each other, the better we like each other and they get along really well. But the part of the reason why they’re successful is they also are very clear about when the work isn’t nearly good enough and when things are broken and how to fix them. So, so it’s, it’s a radically candid culture. And then because they’re successful, they grow. And now there are a few hundred people and not everybody knows each other, or you can’t even remember everybody’s name sometimes in those case, let alone really care personally about them.

Kim:

So there’s, and they don’t want to lose that nice kind of family feeling. And so people tend to start failing to challenge one another directly, usually because they’re trying to be nice and kind of a culture of ruinous empathy sets him. And that creates two problems. One is that bad work gets done. So the company becomes less effective. It impacts products, it impacts profitability. But the other thing that does is it actually hurts the culture because it turns out that when the majority of people are being ruinously empathetic, the people who behave like jerks have a real advantage and they start to rise to the top. And as one person observed at up at a startup where I was working, you know, the assholes are starting to win and that’s very bad for the culture. And usually when, when you have someone in a position of authority, who’s behaving like a jerk. The rest of the organization responds to that person with manipulative insincerity. And that is how a toxic workplace culture, uh, sort of evolves. And so we want to fight that as you, as you grow, you want to, it’s one of the dangers of success.

Chris:

You have to constantly keep a pulse on it, I guess, because I think as you care more about people, you know, when, when they first join your small team, it’s, it’s easier to be direct, I think, because you’re trying to match the, the role that you just hired, but then the more you care, the more you have to fight that gravity of ruinous. Yes, absolutely. So for everyone listening, I want to leave them with some practical advice on how they can improve their skills with people and management and feedback. So are there any things that you would recommend for people that they can practice or put into action?

Kim:

Yeah. So the first one goes back to what I was talking about earlier is that go to question, how are you going to solicit feedback? Take a moment right now, stop what you’re doing and write down your question. If it’s not my question, what could I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me. Maybe it’s crystal corals is question. Tell me why I’m smoking crack, but what’s the way you’re going to ask. And who are you going to ask when and where are you going to ask them? Like, do it, just do it today. Don’t wait till tomorrow. Solicit some feedback. Number two, focus on the good stuff. What’s one person who you’re going to tell. And the next day, like not, not in, not in, not in the next week, but in the next 24 hours, you’re going to tell them something you appreciate about the way they work, because it is so important to give voice to the things we really like about working with people.

Kim:

And then think about, we all, often we talk at companies about technical debt, but we also have feedback debt. So who’s the person who you work with, who is doing something that has been bothering you for a long time. And, you know, you should have said something, but you haven’t said something and go tell them and go tell them not because you’re pissed off, but as an act of kindness, as an act of, uh, you know, here’s what I see. I want to know what you see. And before you tell them about this thing they’ve been doing that bothers them, solicit some feedback from them and give them some praise.

Chris:

And the relief is probably extreme. If you’ve been carrying something for a while about someone. Yes.

Kim:

The relief of both of you is usually extreme, but I don’t want to oversell again, nine times out of 10, this is going to go way better than you think. One time out of 10, you’re going to have a radical candor train wreck. So what do you do if you have the train wreck? So if somebody gets really mad or really sad about what it is that you’ve said, the thing you want to do is you want to attend to the care personally dimension. When someone is angry, if you can learn to see the human need behind the anger, instead of responding with anger of your own, you are you’re batting above average, but also sometimes you’ll tell someone this thing and they just won’t hear you. You will have worked up your courage to say this thing and they just kind of brush you off. And that’s when you’ve got to attend to the challenge directly dimension. So if you, if you offer radical candor and it doesn’t go as expected, figure out, do I need to do more care personally here? Or do I need to do, do more challenged directly here?

Chris:

I’m glad you covered that. So for the one out of 10, that everybody has a negative experience with is snap into the caring mode. And don’t be aggressive in return. I want to turn to some questions because we’ve been getting so many of them through this whole thing, but I wanted to make sure we stayed on track. So, um, Oh, this is kind of funny. Jordan says maybe we can look at it as a soup feedback instead of sandwich soups. Always good, no matter what the heat will burn for a second, but then this is still good. So

Kim:

I like that.

Chris:

If you’ve got some questions for Kim, put them through, into the Q and a, I’m going to start with one. I saw a little bit earlier from Sydney, which is, should we avoid training and making corrections via

Kim:

Email? Yes. Is the short answer. I think that, that there, there is a hierarchy of medium to, to offer radical candor. Ideally, it’s in person. We can’t do that right now, but if you can’t do it in person, which you probably cannot right now, unless you’re living with your coworkers, sheltering in place with your coworkers video is the next best medium. Something like 85% of communication is nonverbal. And it is so important. So important to be able to see how the person is responding to what you’re saying. I’ve said over and over again, radical candor gets measured, not at the speaker’s mouth, but at the listener’s ear. And so you’ve got to adjust, use that framework and figure out depending on how the person is responding. If they’re getting emotional vet, your acute to show you care, personally, if they’re like a law, that’s your, that’s your chance to challenge more directly.

Kim:

So I think it’s really important to do this over, over video. If you can’t do it in person, a phone call, a phone call is better than email, but just I built a radical candor app and the company failed. And I sort of realized at a certain point that if I’m trying to get people to put their phone away and look people in the eye and have a real conversation, technology is, is there’s a role for technology, I think, but it’s not a, it’s not texting instead of really looking at people and talking with them.

Chris:

Yeah. Great suggestion. Okay. So, um, Brooke, let’s see, Brooke says, do you find women have a more challenging time with radical candor because they’re expected to be nice.

Kim:

Yes, I do. Uh, I think it’s, it’s difficult for men also in different ways. So, so here’s the sort of gender and radical candor, uh, thing. And it’s actually the topic of my whole next book. So, so I can talk about this for the next 12 hours, but I’ll try to be brief.

Chris:

Are you writing the next book right now? And you’re, you said you’re in a writing cabinet, right?

Kim:

Yes. I am just up the Hill from my house in a little shed with no, no running water, but, um, but a lot of quiet. Wow. Well, I’m glad you have WiFi. Yeah, I do. But WiFi. Okay. So here, here are the things that happen. One is that very often a man who is the boss of a woman will hesitate to offer, offer her radical candor. Well, has it will sort of pull his punches, not because he’s some kind of massage Venus jerk, but because he’s been taught since he was a child to be gentler with women. And I think this really holds women back in their careers because they’re not getting, I was talking to the head of L and D at a big bulge bracket bank. And he said he would see the same thing happen over and over and over again, a senior partner would go with an analyst to a, to a meeting.

Kim:

The analysts would make a mistake. And in week one, the analyst was [a] man, the partner let the man know and terms that he screwed up and he didn’t repeat the mistake the next week, [the] same partner going with an analyst this time, a woman. And he doesn’t tell her in such clear words. And then she repeats the mistake. And that’s really, so you need to, as a woman, makes sure that you were pulling radical candor out of, out of your peers who are mad and out of your bosses, who are men. And this can be tricky. I think, especially in today’s world, man, men are feeling afraid. I was talking to a guy who said he was in a meeting and a woman in the meeting referred to this marketing program they were doing is rolling funder. And he knew that if she knew the history of rolling thunder, which was a terrible bombardment and, and the Vietnam War that killed a lot of civilians and didn’t arguably didn’t make much of a strategic advance.

Kim:

She probably wouldn’t have used that as her metaphor, but he was afraid to be radically candid with her. Cause he didn’t want to be accused of mansplaining. So you’ve got to create an environment in which the men around you can be radically candid with you as a woman. And that’s hard, it’s extra work, but you’ve got to do it. And if you’re a man, by the way, be radically candid. Um, man, on both sides. Yes. Yeah. So, so if you’re a woman and you’re radically candid here is what happens, especially if you’re a leader, but no matter who you are very often because of these sort of biased expectations that women are going to be nice. You get unjustly accused of noxious aggression. So you said something in a way that was no more aggressive than the men are. I’ll do, but people freak out because you were radically candid and they call you, they don’t call you up naturally aggressive.

Kim:

You know, they call you the B word, they call you much more painful things. They say you’re not likable. And it’s very tempting in that situation, especially for young women early in their career to move the wrong direction on challenge directly. And that’s a huge problem because as, as problematic as obnoxious aggression is ruinous empathy and manipulative insincerity are even less effective. So it will hurt you in your career. If you allow that feedback to move you in the wrong direction on challenge directly. So you need to take a moment, a moment to show that you care personally. And that’s a little bit of extra emotional labor, but it’s, it doesn’t need to be endless. It’s just like, because I know you really care about this project. Don’t get dragged too high up on the care personally dimension as a, as a woman in the office. Because if you wind up baking cupcakes for everybody, unless you love baking cupcakes, you’re going to burn out.

Chris:

Can’t pay it. Yeah. Can’t, can’t bake for everyone.

Kim:

A lot of it, but personally I hate baking. So,

Chris:

Alright. Uh, Eliza says, how do you think about giving feedback or performance reviews during this time of COVID where psychological safety and stress are so high,

Kim:

It is really tempting right now, never to give any feedback. It’s really tempting to retreat to ruin a sympathy. But if you think about the times in your career, when you’ve been on the receiving, end of ruined a sympathy, you, you, you will remember that in those times when you knew something was not quite right, but nobody was telling you exactly what it was that actually increases your stress. It doesn’t decrease your stress. So if, if you remember that radical candor that, that challenging, challenging someone directly is also a way to show that you care personally, then you won’t retreat into a, into ruin a sympathy in the store. In the, in the book. I write a story about this guy, Bob, who I failed to give feedback to and think about your Bob moments. And remember that you’re hanging on when you’re being radically candid, you’re hanging onto your kindness. Uh, but, but you’re, you’re not relinquishing, uh, your, your challenge directly.

Chris:

Right? Okay. Um, last question. I think we’ll, we’ll have time for here is from James. What happens if the culture of ruinous empathy has been going on for years? Can you have a culture shift without drastic turnover?

Kim:

Yes, absolutely. You can have a, you can have a culture shift and I’ve seen, I’ve worked with a number of, of companies and organizations to do this successfully. So the key thing is to re remind everyone that you’re not abandoning when you’re moving to radical candor, you’re not abandoning the care personally dimension. You’re not abandoning kindness. You’re reminding people that, that it is an act of kindness to, to tell one another when mistakes are being made and, and the best way to start if possible, if it’s coming from the leaders of the organization is to get the leaders to start soliciting

Chris:

Feedback, go back to that order of operations and start by asking for criticism. So as Kim said, everyone should today, before you do anything else, start to solicit that feedback, because that seems like the first step to making a positive change in cultural shift in your business. Kim, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for helping us walk the line between ruinous, empathy and radical candor. For anyone that hasn’t read the book, please go get the book and look out for Kim’s next book, as soon as she gets out of her quarantine and inner Kevin. Yes, absolutely. Thank you all so much. Thank you, Kim. Really enjoyed the conversation and great questions. Thanks to the audience.

Speaker 4:

Thanks for listening to Process Makes Perfect. If you’re listening on your earbuds on a run in the car, we also have a version on YouTube. So if you want to see this in color video with me interviewing all these great guests, check it out on YouTube, just search Chris Ronzio and you’ll find my channel on there. If you found this helpful, we’d love for you to leave a review or rate the podcast. If you found the information valuable, please share it with a friend, a family member, or anyone else you think could benefit from the information. Remember to connect with me @chrisronzio on all social media platforms or the company at Trainual, that’s Train-ual like a training manual everywhere that you want to follow us. Thanks again for watching or listening. And we’ll hope to see you next time.

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