Kim Scott is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Radical Candor, the go-to source for how to be a better boss and build better relationships at work.
I interviewed the former Google and Apple executive on her bestselling book, how to create a culture of feedback, the best way to give praise and criticism, the biggest mistakes people make when giving feedback, what it’s like to work with Sheryl Sandberg, her best carer advice, and even how being a better manager may help you find a happier relationship.
Zack Friedman: For those that don‚Äôt know, what is Radical Candor?
Kim Scott: Radical Candor is the ability to show you care personally about a person whom you are challenging.
It’s a way to give guidance (both praise and criticism) to people you collaborate with — at work and beyond. Guidance is usually called feedback, but feedback is screechy and makes us want to put our hands over our ears, but guidance is something most of us long for.
Zack Friedman: Given the need for both praise and criticism, what does a culture of feedback look like?
Kim Scott: A culture of feedback is one in which people are expected to overcome their reluctance to hear praise and criticism, and also to deliver it. Rather than silence being the norm, people are expected to speak up, but in a way that is humble and respectful, not obnoxious.
Zack Friedman: Once you define the right culture of feedback and set the foundation, what’s the optimal way to deliver feedback?
Kim Scott: The very best feedback occurs in impromptu two-minute conversations.
It’s very hard to systematize that or operationalize it. I tried to build an app that would help people remember to have these conversations, but it didn’t work. It turns out if you’re trying to teach people to put their phones away, look each other in the eye and talk, then an app is a value-subtracting round trip. These impromptu conversations are, as Ben Horowitz put it, the atomic building block of management.
But you can’t force them to happen with an HR system. You have to teach people why it’s important, how to do it, and help them take steps to put the ideas into practice. This is about pedagogy and behavior change. This is why Jason Rosoff, CEO of Radical Candor, and I are focused now on talks and workshops. We are also starting to experiment with follow up sessions in which managers work to hold each other accountable for soliciting feedback–and help each other figure out how to deal with it when they hear things they really didn’t want to hear. Then we work with managers to help each other remember to give impromptu praise, daily.
Ditto re criticism. The order of operations is important here — focus on soliciting feedback first. Then on giving praise. Then on giving criticism.¬†Finally, managers help each other encourage feedback between people on their teams.
Radical Candor shouldn’t be just between managers and employees. It should be part of the culture.
Zack Friedman: If you ask most managers, they probably think they’re good at giving feedback. Their perception, however, may be different than the reality. What are the three biggest mistakes that people make in giving feedback?
Kim Scott: The most common mistake is not to give it at all. People are reluctant to give voice to what they appreciate about one another, often for fear of sounding corny or stupid. People are reluctant to point out a mistake another person is making, often for fear of being “mean.” So they say nothing, and miss important opportunities to communicate and build relationships.
The second most common mistake that people make is usually a result of the first. They don’t offer critical feedback for fear of being mean, and an issue builds and builds, and anger builds along with it. Finally, when the anger reaches a certain peak, it explodes and the feedback is harsher than it needs to be.
The third most common mistake is to act like a jerk — to give feedback without taking even a moment to show the person common human decency.
Zack Friedman: Generally, it’s easier to deliver praise than criticism. What‚Äôs the best way to deliver constructive feedback?
The best way to deliver guidance is actually to start not by delivering it, but by soliciting criticism.
Make sure you understand the other person’s perspective, and what you might be doing or not doing that is contributing to any tensions or problems. When you get some criticism, treat it like a gift. Don’t just thank the person for the feedback; act on it. Make your listening tangible.
Then, focus on the good stuff. Make sure you are bringing to the forefront of your mind the things you appreciate about the person you’re collaborating with. Be bold and tell the person about these positive things. Give praise. Now, you’ve shown the person that you view feedback as a gift, and that you are open to it. You also show them that you see the good in them.
Now, it should be “safe” to ask if they are open to some critical feedback from you. “I see an issue I’d like to make you aware of. Are you open to hearing about it?” Only don’t use my words, say that in a way that feels natural to you. Most of the time, the person will say yes.
Zack Friedman: There are some bosses who act more like friends to the members of their teams. That has implications not only for the business, but also for feedback and optimizing performance. What‚Äôs wrong with the boss that wants to be everyone‚Äôs friend? What‚Äôs the right balance?
Kim Scott: I have found that if someone on my team isn’t angry with me, I’m probably not doing my job as a boss very well. Our instinct with friends is to mollify them, to keep them happy, to be popular with them. These are disastrous instincts for a boss.
The goal is to form a real human relationship with each direct report — to use everything you know about caring about other people. But it’s not a friendship. Often, being the boss feels like a lonely one way street. Friendship definitely shouldn’t feel that way.
That’s why you get paid to be the boss. You don’t get paid to be a friend.
Zack Friedman: You worked together with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg while you were both at Google. What‚Äôs the biggest lesson you learned from working with Sheryl?¬†
Kim Scott: Sheryl constantly reinforced that feedback is a gift. She led by example here, soliciting feedback and showing real gratitude when she got it.
She is a person of fantastic, almost super human energy, and there is nothing she pours more of that energy into than showing the people around her that she cares. When I got engaged, she threw a big party for me, even though she was eight months pregnant and had been sick for every single day of that pregnancy. I remember watching in awe as she laid out food for everyone, knowing full well how even looking at food made her feel.
Zack Friedman: You’ve spent time at Apple and Google, and you’ve worked with many other organizations. What are your three best pieces of career advice?
Kim Scott: 1) Don’t forget to quit.
When you hate a job or a boss, pay attention to the fact and find a situation that works better for you. Most of us feel trapped when we are not in fact trapped. But remember: if you never like any job or any boss, maybe it’s time for an attitude adjustment
2) There is no shame in a job that just pays the rent.
Sometimes, our passion is outside of work, and our job is what we do to keep body and soul together so that we can pursue that passion. And sometimes we don’t have a particular passion, but that doesn’t mean we are not enjoying our lives or that our lives don’t have meaning.
I think there’s too much talk of being passionate about your job, and it confuses people. A wise man once told me, “Only about 3% of people really know what they want to do when they grow up, and they confuse the hell out of the rest of us.”
True confession: I don’t really have a passion for management. My passion is writing. But I knew I couldn’t support myself as a novelist. So I went to business school, figuring that I could make more money per hour that way than being a waiter, and that would ultimately buy me more time to write. But, since I spent so much of my time managing people, I wanted to do it in a way that reflected who I really am. That was how I came to think so much about management, and how it ultimately came to have meaning for me.
3) Make sure you like the content of your job — the work that you actually do day in and day out.
A mentor once asked me, “Do you want to be a manager, or do you want to do the things that managers do?”
It’s not enough to care about the mission of your team and like the people you work with. You also need to enjoy the work itself.
Zack Friedman: Let’s talk about a time that you failed. How did you process that self-feedback?
Kim Scott: I wrote three novels, and I have a stack of rejections for each and every one of them. What I learned was that if I enjoy doing something, if it gives me strength, even if others don’t admire or even like it, I should just keep doing it.
Zack Friedman: That’s helpful feedback for yourself and others. It seems that radical candor can be incorporated outside the work context as well.
Kim Scott: Absolutely! One of those failed novels is called Virtual Love, and it is about how I used what I was learning about being a good manager to get out of a bad romance and into a happy relationship.