Q&A with Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, Part II
Last week, Kim Scott joined us for a Q&A. She’s not only the author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity, but also co-founder and CEO of Candor, Inc. To read the first part of this interview, click here.
Paul: With more and more employees preferring to get home as quickly as possible, after-hours connecting is less available. How can we master the art of socializing at work?
Kim: After-hours connecting is not a good way to build the boss-employee relationship—it’s just a way to destroy work-life balance.
The best way to build a good relationship with your employees is to remember to care personally and challenge directly in the way you give, get, and encourage feedback; in the way you build the team and assign roles and projects; in the way you work with the team to set goals and achieve results. A great way to get to know your employees is to have “career conversations” during your regularly scheduled 1:1 time once a year. Remember, your employees really don’t want to go out drinking with you; they’d rather be with their friends or family.
Sometimes people like to socialize at work, and an occasional office party is not a bad thing. Just remember that it can feel mandatory and like a waste of time to people if you organize it, so let others take the lead there. The best thing you can do to keep these events fun is to provide budget and make sure people can opt out—that everyone understands these are voluntary, not required, events. Also, limit the alcohol consumption at work social events. I’ve seen so many disasters there.
Paul: Kim, I like your work on getting things done without telling people what to do. It seems to fit perfectly with the notion of “less domination—more connecting.” Can you expand on your thinking here, including the importance of listening?
Kim: I think this excerpt from the book provides that answer:
The art of getting stuff done without telling people what to do
Both Google and Apple achieved spectacular results without a purely autocratic style. This leads to important questions: How did everyone in the company decide what to do? How did strategy and goals get set? How did the cultures at these two companies, so strong and so different, develop? How did tens of thousands of people come to understand the mission? It played out very differently at both companies—more orderly at Apple, more chaotic at Google—but at a high level, the process was the same.
The process, which I call the Get Stuff Done “GSD” wheel, is relatively straightforward. But the key, often ignored by people who think of themselves as “Get Stuff Done” people, is to avoid the impulse to dive right in…. Instead, you have to first lay the groundwork for collaboration.
When run effectively, the GSD wheel will enable your team to achieve more collectively than anyone could ever dream of achieving individually—to burst the bounds of your brain. First, you have to listen to the ideas that people on your team have and create a culture in which they listen to each other. Next, you have to create space in which ideas can be sharpened and clarified, to make sure these ideas don’t get crushed before everyone fully understands their potential usefulness. But just because an idea is easy to understand doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Next, you have to debate ideas, to test them more rigorously. Then you need to decide—quickly, but not too quickly. Since not everyone will have been involved in the listen-clarify-debate-decide part of the cycle for every idea, the next step is to bring the broader team along. You have to persuade those who weren’t involved in a decision that it was a good one, so that everyone can execute it effectively. Then, having executed, you have to learn from the results, whether or not you did the right thing, and start the whole process over again.
That’s a lot of steps. Remember, they are designed to be cycled through quickly. Not skipping a step and not getting stuck on one are equally important. If you skip a step, you’ll waste time in the end. If you allow any part of the process to drag out, working on your team will feel like paying a collaboration tax, not making a collaboration investment.
You may very well be in a situation where your boss is skipping steps and just telling you what to do. Does that mean you have to do the same with your team? No, of course not! You can put these ideas into practice with the people who report to you even if your boss doesn’t subscribe to this method of getting things done. When your boss sees the results, things may change. But, if they don’t, you may have to change jobs. When more people insist on a positive working environment, not only will results for your company improve, your happiness will.
Paul: What would you tell project leaders about building teams?
Kim: Your job in building a team is to understand not only who is good at what, but also who is motivated by what. Your job is to know each person well enough to know what gives work meaning for them. Your job is not to “provide purpose.” A great technique for doing this is Career Conversations, described in the Radical Candor podcast (www.radicalcandor.com/blog/podcast-episode-5), and on our website, www.radicalcandor.com/blog/problem-career-conversations.
Paul: I’m thinking that sincerity trumps polish when it comes to speaking or conversation. What is your take on sincerity?
Kim: Polish really doesn’t matter that much, and too much focus on it is a sure-fire path to manipulative insincerity. Focus on saying what you think, but also on being attentive to how the person reacts. Your goal is to say it clearly—not clearly from your perspective, but in a way that is easy for the other person to understand. If you say it too harshly, you may make it impossible for the other person to hear you because they are so sad/mad/defensive. If you say it so gently that they don’t hear you at all (the more common problem), you’ve just wasted your breath and confused them.
Paul: What can you tell us about empathy?
Kim: Empathy, like intelligence or beauty or any other human attribute, can be enormously helpful, but it can also be abused. Sometimes we can even be the victim of our own empathy. If you see a person drowning and feel the panic just as acutely as the drowning person, you may not be able to help that person. I have seen people be so paralyzed by their empathy for how others feel that they fail to say things that need to be said. I have seen really empathetic people use their skills at understanding how others feel to be unnecessarily cruel. Sometimes people use their empathy to manipulate others. Empathy is a wonderful attribute if used wisely.
Paul: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned while living a life full of candor?
Kim: Our instincts around candor are wrong. More often than not people really appreciate it, and it’s the path to building better relationships. However, we are so afraid of a possible negative emotional reaction (which does sometimes happen) that we fail to be candid. This is a big mistake.
Paul: And finally, what are your thoughts about valuing technology but not allowing it to undermine our ability to be attentive or focus?
Kim: The worst thing about technology is that we spend so much time in email, on Facebook, on our phones that we fail to care personally about the person sitting right next to us. In my family, we have a strict no phones at the table, no phones/computers in the bedrooms.
At work, I try hard not to look at my email/phone when I’m meeting with people. I often fail and I’m deeply ashamed of it. Rather than caring personally, I’m indicating that I care more about whatever is on my screen than the person I’m sitting in the room with. That is a terrible thing.
Furthermore, we often use technology to say what we think in a way that is obnoxiously aggressive, not radically candid. The reason is that it’s so easy to hide from emotions or just to be unaware of them when you’re sending an email, a text, a tweet. It’s hard to remember there are other living, breathing human beings on the other side of those messages.
Another danger of technology is that we often present a happy, rosy picture on it that is not real—it can move us toward manipulative insincerity. You often see this on Facebook. People rarely share their most vulnerable screw ups there.
I recommend taking 24 hours a week and not turning on your computer or your phone. If you find it impossible to do, you know you have a problem! There’s nothing you can do that will improve your relationships at work—and in all aspects of your life—more than learning to master your devices, rather than letting them master you.