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Manipulative Insincerity

Feedback, the Law, and Mandated Manipulative Insincerity

I spend a lot of time these days showing people how to put the Radical Candor framework of “Care Personally + Challenge Directly” into practice by providing frequent feedback, and how to use the framework as a way to guide difficult conversations to avoid falling into Ruinous Empathy, Obnoxious Aggression, or Manipulative InsincerityWhen it comes to difficult conversations, some of the most difficult are around gender.  I have found that gender politics and fear of tears pushes men away from being as radically candid with women as they are with other men. This is bad for men, women, and the truth.

Gender bias also pushes women away from being radically candid, which is bad for women, men, and the truth. I have, unfortunately, all too much experience with sexual harassment in the workplace, and with gender bias in general. So much experience I’m writing my next book on it! I also have a lot of experience with cross-cultural communication challenges and how things can easily get “Lost in Translation.”

Manipulative Insincerity

Bill Murray sings karaoke in Japan in the movie “Lost In Translation.”

A few decades ago I was working in Russia. My alarm clock didn’t go off, I overslept, and was a little late for an early morning meeting. I rushed in a few minutes after it had begun, and apologized.

“I’m sorry. I overslept,” I said. At least that is what I thought I had said. I was speaking in Russian, and I could see from the amused looks on everyone’s face that was not what I had said at all.

One man explained, “Prospat is how you say oversleep.”

“What did what I say actually mean?” I asked, curious.

“Well, it sort of implies…” the man coughed and was silent.

Somebody else helped him out, “You said you were late because you were having sex over and over again this morning.”

We all burst out laughing and moved on. I never made that mistake again. More awkward than telling someone they had spinach in your teeth, but really not that big a deal.

It’s hard to imagine this simple exchange happening today. And yet now more than ever it’s important we find a way to give each other this kind of feedback, even when it’s awkward.

So I recently got this note from “John”:

In the ‘small world’ category, I met a friend yesterday and they told me that they’d been in a meeting recently where you presented.

You’ll get an email soon from him to address a language culture difference in your presentation that is very rude in the UK, but not at all in North America.

He is modeling Radical Candor, as he is one of the most caring leaders I’ve ever known…so he will be sharing out of care!”

Naturally I was curious and more than a little nervous about what I had said. I wondered if it was my salty language. I sent the people who’d organized the talk a note asking if it had been a problem. No, they hadn’t heard any complaints. I wrote to “John” to ask what I’d said. He told me that the guy who wanted to give me feedback on my feedback presentation (very meta!) had to run the email through two layers of approval. What??? I now felt a sense of despair. How could this company build a culture of feedback if they had to run any feedback through several layers of approval before talking to someone?

Manipulative InsincerityA few weeks later, I still hadn’t heard anything. Evidently compliance had put the kibosh on the idea of telling me what I’d done wrong in the presentation they’d paid me to give on how to tell people when they are making mistakes.

The irony was painful. And by now I was dying to know what I’d said wrong. So I scheduled a phone call with John to ask him. He said he couldn’t quite remember what it was I’d said. I told him I wouldn’t be able to rest until I knew. He promised to ask his friend, who was from the UK (not where the talk was held.)

A couple days later I got the answer:

Checked back with my friend. You used the phrase ‘blowing someone off.’

In UK English, that is ‘brushing someone off,’ roots being brushed off the shoulder of your jacket, etc.

‘Blowing someone off’ means…umm…it is…umm…fellatious 😉.”

DOH! I knew exactly when and how I’d used the term. I’d been describing the various reactions one gets when giving feedback. Sometimes, people will be grateful. Sometimes they’ll be sad, other times they’ll be mad — but most often they’ll “blow you off.” Er. Brush you off. Then you have to work more hard to be clear.

I learned a couple of important things from this exchange. First, an important nuance about British English vs. American English. Especially since feedback is measured at the listener’s ears, not the speaker’s mouth, this was really helpful for me to learn! But I also learned how poorly feedback, the law, and sex mix these days. It became really clear to me why the person who had seen my presentation didn’t just come up to me afterwards and tell me what I’d done wrong. Even the layers of approval, which I’d been dismissing as ludicrous — dare I say, brushing them off — made a little more sense.

Manipulative Insincerity

In today’s climate, the use of sexually-charged language at work (like what I said, unknowingly, in my presentation) feels dangerous. So both the man who saw my talk on Radical Candor and the company that paid me to give it preferred to be “Manipulatively Insincere” with me when I made an embarrassing mistake. They didn’t tell me, leaving me to repeat it with other audiences. On the Radical Candor scale, this behavior falls under Low “Care Personally,” low “Challenge Directly.”

In this case, this behavior is also self-protective and totally understandable. Given the state of the law around these things, I’d call it a case of Mandated Manipulative Insincerity. Of course I would not sue them for discussing this topic with me. But how could they know that? This is all the more reason why it’s so important that we give Radically Candid feedback (instead of falling into  Ruinous Empathy, Obnoxious Aggression, or Manipulative Insincerity) to help others avoid future mistakes, like the kind I made!

And this is why I’m writing this post, even though it feels risky. Because I think it’s a risk worth taking to make the point that we have to help each other out so we don’t continue saying, or doing, inappropriate things. Especially when we aren’t aware it’s inappropriate. How can we make it safer for people to have these conversations? I can imagine only too well the nightmare scenarios the people from HR compliance have not only imagined but actually lived through. So I don’t blame them for stopping feedback in its tracks.

But if we let our worst experiences dictate how we communicate in ordinary circumstances and fall into Mandated Manipulative Insincerity, we will basically quit talking to each other. Let’s not let this happen …

Being A Manager Feels Like A Lonely One-way Street

What’s the Ideal Manager-Employee Relationship?

You may have seen me featured as “The Candid Boss” for The Muse, an online career resource destination. One of the questions I am often asked is, can managers and employees be friends at work?

An even more essential question to ask is, what does an ideal manager-employee relationship look like? How is it different from a friendship?

The “boss-employee” relationship is relatively new. For most of human history, we accomplished our great collaborative feats through terrible brutality forced labor.

During the Industrial Revolution, we replaced brutality with bureaucracy; a giant step in the right direction, but hardly inspiring. In today’s economy, companies like Google have shown there’s a more productive, more human way to work than command and control.  

And at the center of a manager’s ability to fulfill their core responsibilities is a good relationship.manager employee relationship


The relationship a manager has with an employee is definitely not a friendship, which may be described as a two-way street. As such, being a manager often feels like a lonely, one-way, pay-it-forward street. 

While it’s not a friendship, you need to care personally about your employee. This doesn’t mean you need to go out to drinks with them every night (or know the exact date of their Golden Retriever’s birthday).

It does mean you need to give a damn about them, and understand what’s important to them (hiking with their Golden Retriever). 

Being a manager feels like a lonely one-way street

An important part of your job as a manager is to provide your employee with frequent guidance as well as with the necessary challenges and opportunities to support their ongoing growth.

Caring personally means it’s your job to listen to people’s stories, to get to know them well enough to understand what motivates them, to encourage them to take a step in the direction of their dreams, and to help them do the best work of their lives.

Caring personally means you are willing to find time for real conversations.

This takes a lot of emotional energy. It requires a commitment to your team member’s ongoing success and a desire to help them grow in the way they want to grow in their careers.

If you don’t genuinely care about the people who work for you, you’re going to struggle with this.

manager employee conversations

If you’ve ever had a great boss, you know it’s also one of the most deeply personal and meaningful relationships life can offer.

The manager-employee relationship is not a friendship. But it is a deeply human relationship, and when it works, it unlocks human potential.

Learn more about the manager-employee relationship, and check out the rest of my Ask a Candid Boss Q&As.

Radical Candor Intern

The Star Intern: A Mentor’s Radical Candor Journey


Radical Candor Intern

We recently heard from Dimitar Simeonov, who shared his story about reading Radical Candor while managing an intern when he was working at Twitter as a senior data scientist. While Dimitar’s no longer at Twitter, at the time he had been there for four years and was responsible for the intern’s technical mentorship. Thanks for sharing the learning and the love, Dimitar!


Two weeks in as an intern mentor, I had a dilemma. My intern was performing with the cadence and quality of a full-time engineer. I felt I needed to challenge him and help him learn further. I felt like he hadn’t reached his potential and I needed to help his growth. I thought if I didn’t do it, he might get bored and start underperforming, not get a return offer, or not be interested in a return offer. Most important, the internship wouldn’t have been worth his time.

Dimitar Simeonov

This was the first time I was a mentor, and I was quite anxious, feeling unease about providing personal criticism from a point of authority. I was happy with the progress, but also worried, because it made the task of giving critical feedback harder for me.

I didn’t feel like criticizing him at all. There weren’t many things to criticize. I was afraid that if I spent too much time on minor issues, I might come off as complaining too much. That he might feel discouraged, and we’d have a harder time building camaraderie.

To contrast personal and technical feedback, I am very happy to go into a technical argument, but very rarely, or never would go and criticize the approach of others. I was providing technical feedback to my intern all the time, on the code reviews, without having to wait until the next 1:1.

So technical feedback was not an issue for me — I could go into a technical argument with other engineers, focused entirely on technical merit, and emerge without me or them feeling personally insulted. The code is the code, but people are hard for me.

Having recently read Radical Candor, I knew that if I didn’t point things out, complacency could sneak in, and he’ll have a “meh” experience. I would have failed as a mentor to do my job.

I used two techniques for overcoming my dilemma.

The first technique I learned from the Radical Candor book, that if I am more receptive to feedback, and listening earnestly, then he in turn would be more receptive, because he’ll see that I care personally through my actions. During our one-on-one meetings I was trying to extract things I could have done better, asking the same questions every time, and providing enough pause so he could answer.

I asked for things I could do or stop doing to make it easier for him. I asked for feedback from him. I also repeatedly asked him about the direction of his career, whether he’d prefer to learn more about code patterns and how to write great quality code, or whether he’d be more interested in product development. 

I saw these kinds of career questions in Radical Candor, and I thought it would be a good way to break the ice and show that I care. After several weeks of bringing up these questions, my intern started answering them. He chose to focus more on the product aspects and I assigned him more product-related tasks. He provided feedback to me that having a written plan for the work we were doing together helped him understand more easily the scope and importance of the various tasks.

I heeded his comment. I made sure to always have a written up-to-date plan, which helped us collaborate more closely as his internship progressed. This written plan evolved into a wiki page containing all the current, past and future work on the project, broken up with milestones and tickets’ statuses. Having learned this from my intern, I used the same format for my other projects.

The second technique was to create a dedicated space for suggestions for improvement during our 1:1. I structured the meeting in a way that we talked about feedback and career prospects for him before discussing any kind of “status updates” or technical issues.

After the first few weeks, I told him, ‘Hey, let’s try the following approach. Every week, during 1:1, I will talk about one thing that you could have done better during the last week.’ This provided me a cover to discuss seemingly minor things without being petty. What’s more, focusing on a single thing per week provided more clarity to him about what I thought was important.

Instead of saying three things and noticing that the next week he has improved on two of them, but not the most important one, we would instead focus on the most important thing first.

One of the weeks he did a great job on his project, and I didn’t really have much critical feedback — he even made a presentation to the team that he delivered well. That week I gave him feedback that he did great and the only improvement that I see is that he used the word “study” incorrectly, instead of “experiment” during the presentation. This showed that I still paid attention to his work through the week and valued it, and still helped him make a minor adjustment.

At the end of the internship, he did a presentation about his work and there was a slide in it that made me happy. The slide was about what he learned during the summer. He started mentioning things that would appear as bullet points on the slide.

But when the space on the screen was full he kept on going … new bullet points appeared all over the place, overlapping at angles with the pre-existing ones, faster and faster.  It was a pour of learnings. He said, “I learned so much.” Everyone laughed and clapped.

I cannot claim credit for all the learnings, but as his mentor I’d like to think that my behavior and feedback during the 1:1 meetings helped, and that Radical Candor helped me challenge directly and care personally.


You can continue following Dimitar’s journey on his blog and on Twitter. And let us know how you are bringing Radical Candor to your team, too!

Rolling Out Radical Candor: Part One

We love working closely with teams rolling out Radical Candor, and offer coaching, training and customized workshops. We can help teach you to:

  • share the ideas with your team and learn how to tell your feedback stories;
  • practice key skills like soliciting feedback, offering meaningful praise, and giving helpful criticism; and
  • create a culture of guidance so that all the burden of feedback doesn’t fall on your shoulders.

We also work with leaders to help you build more cohesive teams and to achieve results collaboratively. Let us know how we can support you.

We love doing this work so much and care so deeply about these ideas that we would do it for free if we could. Alas, we need to keep body and soul together. However, to help organizations that don’t have budget for Candor Coaches, we are offering a free “roll-your-own-Radical Candor-rollout.”

Here is our recommended Order of Operations (part 1 of 2-part series):

Step 1. Share your stories.

Explain Radical Candor to your team so they understand what you’re up to. You can also ask them to read the book, show them videos from the Radical Candor website, or from the series we created with Amazon, Day One: Insights for Entrepreneurs.

But it’s best if you explain it in your own words. What is your version of the “um” story or the “Bob” story? Tell your stories to your team. Show some vulnerability. Your personal stories will explain, better than any management theory, what you really mean and show why you really mean it. That’s why I told all those personal stories in this book. Your stories will mean a lot more to your team than mine do, because they mean something to you.  

Step 2. Solicit feedback: Prove you can take it before you start dishing it out.

Start asking your team to criticize you. Review “soliciting impromptu guidance” in Chapter Six. And remember, don’t let people off the hook when they don’t say much—because they won’t, at first. Embrace the discomfort to move past it. Pay close attention if you aren’t getting any criticism.

If you want, you can copy the Radical Candor framework in Chapter Two and track who’s saying what to you there. Just because people aren’t criticizing you doesn’t mean they think you’re perfect. If you realize that you’re not getting any criticism, try Michael Dearing’s “Orange Box” technique (see “orange box” in Radical Candor, Chapter Six).

Soliciting guidance, especially criticism, is not something you do once and check off your list — this will now be something you do daily. But it’ll happen in little one- to two-minute conversations, not in meetings you have to add to your calendar. It’s something to be conscious of, not something to schedule. It will feel strange at first, but once you get in the habit, it’ll feel weird not to do it. You won’t ever “move on” from getting guidance any more than you’ll ever move on from having to drink water or brush your teeth. But don’t stop there.

Step 3. Growth Management: Career Conversations.

In order to build a great team, you need to understand what motivates each team member, and how each person’s job fits into their life goals. A leader at Apple had a good way to think about different types of ambition: rock stars are solid as a rock, and a force for stability at work (think Rock of Gibraltar, not Bruce Springsteen), while superstars are highly-ambitious change agents, constantly seeking new opportunities.

The most important thing you can do for your team collectively is to understand what growth trajectory each team member wants to be on at a given time, and whether that matches the needs and opportunities of the overall team. Learn more about our Growth Management philosophy in First Round Capital’s Warning: This is Not Your Grandfather’s Talent Planning.

To be successful at growth management, we recommend a series of three Career Conversations you’ll have with each team member. Begin with people you’ve been working with the longest. (Review “Career Conversations” in Chapter Seven and The Problem with Career Conversations Today for more background.)

When done well, these conversations should connect a person’s past – gaining a detailed understanding of who they are and what motivates them at work through their life story – with their future – the wildest dreams they have for themselves at the pinnacle of their career.

Conversation 1: Learn what motivates your team member, what they value, the things that drive them; their Life Story.

Conversation 2: Understand where someone wants to be at the pinnacle of their career; their Dreams.

Conversation 3: Plan for the present with a Career Action Plan.

“We have to understand the past and the future in order to know what to do in the present, what to do right now.”

Like getting criticism from your team, Career Conversations are not something you do once and check off the list. Remember, people change, their growth trajectory changes, and you need to change with them! That’s why it’s a good idea to do one round of Career Conversations a year with each of your direct reports during your 1:1 time.

Step 4 / Ongoing: Perfect your 1:1 conversations.

In parallel — because it will take you at least three to six weeks to get through these three Career Conversations with everyone on your team, since you want to leave a week or two between each of the three conversations — make sure you are having meaningful 1:1 conversations with your direct reports.

First, make sure you actually have the meetings! We have to start at the beginning here, because it’s simply not the case that all managers are holding regular 1:1s. 1:1s are quiet, focused collaboration time for employees and bosses to connect. It’s also the most important chance for you to hear from your employee, and it’s their time, not yours. (Review 1:1 conversations in Chapter Eight and How to Have Effective 1:1s.)

It’s equally important for you to figure out how to enjoy the conversations. If you feel like they are “calendar clutter,” your approach is not going to work. Quit thinking of them as meetings and began treating them as if you are having lunch or coffee with somebody you are genuinely eager to get to know better.

If scheduling them over a meal helps, make them periodic lunches. If you and your direct report like to walk and there’s a good place to take a walk near the office, make them walking meetings.

If you are a morning person, schedule them in the morning. If you are a person who has an energy dip at 2 P.M., don’t schedule them at 2 P.M. You have a lot of meetings, so you can optimize the 1:1 time and location for your energy. Just don’t be a jerk about it. You may like to wake up at 5 A.M. and go to the gym. Don’t expect the people who work for you to meet you there.

After you have explained Radical Candor, asked for guidance, had career conversations, and improved your 1:1 conversations, you’ll notice that you are earning your team’s trust and building a better culture.


Step 5. Give Guidance — Praise & Criticism — but make sure to focus on the good stuff.

Now you’re ready to start improving the way you give impromptu praise and criticism. Remember, impromptu guidance happens best in one- to two-minute conversations. (Review “Giving impromptu guidance” in Chapter Six.) Make sure you gauge your guidance. (Review “Gauge your impromptu guidance. Get a baseline, track your improvements” in Chapter Six.)

You may think you’re being radically candid, but one person may not have heard any criticism at all, another may have heard it as ruinously empathetic, and yet another as obnoxious aggression. You have to adjust for each individual. You have to be not just self-aware but relationally- and culturally-aware.

Step 6. Take a deep breath. Assess.

How’s it going? What’s working? What’s not working? Who can you talk to? Can your boss help? Your team? A mentor outside of work? A coach? Others from the Radical Candor community? Would you like to ask me a question?

Don’t try to do more new things until you feel 1) you’ve made good progress on the fundamental building block of management: getting and giving guidance, 2) you’ve gotten to know your direct reports better through your Career Conversations, and 3) you’re happy with your 1:1s.

Stay tuned for Part II…and keep us posted on what’s working, what’s not, and how we can help!

Video: A Ruinous Empathy Story

Kim shares a story about a time that she describes as the worst moment of her career. She learns a hard lesson after being Ruinously Empathetic with one of her employees for a period of several months. Although she Cares Personally and tries to be “nice,” her lack of Direct Challenges causes issues for her, for the employee, and for her whole team.

Watch her story:


Listen to episode 4 of the Radical Candor podcast to hear Kim and Russ discuss this story and provide tips for avoiding Ruinous Empathy.

Have you found yourself in a position like this one? We’d love to hear your story! Reach out in the comments below or on Facebook.

Reward the Candor

One of the tips we shared in our post about how to get more feedback is to reward feedback to get more of it. If you want to get others to open up and tell you what they think, you have to show them that you appreciate it. It’s a risk for them to tell you what they think, and if the risk isn’t worth it — if they are punished for their real-talk or see that it is ignored — they won’t continue taking it. So if you want to encourage people to continuing giving you important feedback, reward the candor!

In the end, you get the behaviors you reward. If you reward candor, if you reward straight-forward talk, you will get it.
— Jack Welch, speaking at Stanford Business School

We learned about a great example of rewarding the candor when we were at Instacart earlier this year. Max Mullen, co-founder of Instacart, uses Instacart carrot pins to thank and recognize someone when they offer him Radical Candor. He gives them a carrot pin to wear and gives them an extra carrot pin to pass on. When someone offers them Radical Candor, they can reward that candor with a carrot pin as well.


Now, as you walk around the 350-person Instacart office, you can see people wearing their carrot pins and recognize that they’ve been successful in Challenging Directly and showing they Care Personally.

During the visit to Instacart, Russ was lucky enough to earn one of the pins because of his Radical Candor :) He also of course received one to pass along to the next person who gave him Radically Candid feedback.

5 Ways to Encourage Feedback Between Others

We’ve written a lot recently about getting feedback from others and also giving feedback to them. You have to lead by example, so it makes sense to start by soliciting feedback and then to focus on giving it. But real managerial leverage comes when you learn to encourage feedback between others.

As just one person, if all the praise and criticism goes through you, you become a bottleneck. In order to foster a feedback culture and ensure that it scales across the team/company, it’s important to make sure that peers give and receive feedback to one another.

Here are some things you can do, in addition to leading by example:

1. Encourage people to talk directly

When someone tells you about something great a colleague did, urge them to also share that feedback directly with the colleague who did the great work! This will develop stronger relationships between peers, allow for more praise to be shared (again, you don’t want to be a feedback bottleneck), and provide more perspectives on what’s going well and why.

When there are issues, insist that people communicate them directly. Remind them that Radically Candid criticism is kind and clear. It’s kinder for them to tell their colleague about the issue that needs to be fixed than to report that issue to the boss. They’ll also be able to be more clear than you could, because they have the details and context of the issue.

Encourage Feedback


Don’t triangulate

The flipside of this is that if people come to you criticizing a colleague, don’t give them a chance to bring you into a triangle of complaining, name-calling, or back-stabbing. Talking with the person on each side of an issue individually may seem like being a good listener, but it usually means you’ll get one-sided, biased and incomplete stories plus hurt feelings. You are not being empathetic, you’re just stirring the pot!

You are a boss, not a diplomat. Shuttle diplomacy won’t work for you.

When you triangulate, you end up creating politics. Each side becomes suspicious that you’re talking behind their back (which you are). The two begin to distrust each other and a toxic relationship develops. You can avoid this by simply asking them to talk to each other directly.

2. Facilitate clean escalation

Part of your job as the boss is to offer fair, efficient conflict resolution. Sometimes people on your team will run into a conflict they can’t resolve. They may be able to challenge directly, but that doesn’t mean they can resolve the issue without your involvement. In those cases, provide a way for them to escalate the issue to you together.

Offer to have a three-way conversation to discuss the issue. Each party will tell their side of the story with the other present, avoiding the one-sidedness and exaggeration that may come up in triangulation. You will act as moderator and facilitator. It’s best to do this in person, but a video or phone call will also work. Avoid conducting these discussions over email — an asynchronous conversation makes it difficult for you to spot and react well to emotions that will inevitably arise.



Your role in this meeting is to help the two parties come up with a solution they both can understand and live with. Don’t punish them for failing to work it out without your involvement. Your job is to be supportive, not punitive when they can’t work it out. Otherwise, you’ll create a culture with no good path to conflict resolution, and people will therefore avoid conflict at all costs. People will be afraid to criticize each other in case it leads to conflict. That’s the opposite of encouraging a culture of Radical Candor!

With a supportive clean escalation meeting, however, you’ll help build trust between the two parties and show them how sharing criticism leads to a better outcome for everyone.

3. Use a system of peer recognition

Many companies have systems in place for peers to recognize and praise each other’s work. Google, for example, has a peer bonus system that allows employees to give monetary bonuses to their peers for work well done. Monetary systems like this can be expensive, and not every company can afford to do this. But there are many other recognition systems that require less investment.

At Square, Gokul Rajaram has his team submit kudos about great things they’ve seen each other do each week. They are submitted to a shared document so others can comment. Gokul reads them all each week and selects a couple of kudos to highlight.

At Qualtrics, Jared Smith built a system on the intranet that allowed employees to give each other virtual appreciation badges for great work. Badges accumulated on a person’s profile page on the company intranet, and helped to create a culture of praise.

If your company uses Slack, you can create a #kudos channel. If you use Google Docs, Office 365, or other software with collaborative editing, you can easily create a shared document for shout-outs.

Part of the reason these systems work so well is that they help people overcome a reticence to praise. People worry about their praise feeling patronizing. They wonder if they are really qualified to praise someone else’s work. Having a standardized recognition system emphasizes the worth of praise, both to individuals and to the company. The system helps people be more confident that their praise will be appreciated, and therefore makes them more likely to offer it.

Even if your company doesn’t have a system like this, you can come up with a low-tech, low-cost version for your own team to encourage more praise between team members.

4. Introduce Whoops the Monkey & the Killer Whale

Dan Woods, who was CTO at a startup where I worked in the 1990’s, developed the cheapest, most effective system for encouraging praise and criticism on a team that I’ve ever seen. He used a stuffed whale (sometimes a dog) to encourage praise and a stuffed monkey to encourage public self-criticism. I admired his system so much I stole it, and it was probably my single most effective management tool at both Juice and Google.


Here’s how it worked: At every all-hands meeting, I invited people to nominate each other to win the killer whale for a week. The idea was to get people from the team to stand up and talk about some extraordinary work they’d seen somebody else do. The winner of the whale the previous week decided who deserved the whale this week.


Next, people nominated themselves for the stuffed monkey, who we named “Whoops.” If anyone screwed up that week, s/he could stand up, tell the story, get automatic forgiveness, and help prevent somebody else from making the same mistake.

When we first started doing this at both Juice and Google, there were crickets. Not knowing what else to do, I put $20 on Whoops’s head. The stories started pouring out. Plausible deniability goes a long way — now people could pretend they weren’t copping to my corny stuffed animal, they really wanted that $20!

The stories that the Killer Whale and Whoops elicited were my favorite part of most all-hands meetings. We all learned a lot in that 15 minutes, and everyone received a strong message that feedback was encouraged.

5. Conduct skip level meetings

One of the most helpful suggestions I ever got as a manager came from Roxana Wales, who worked at NASA and then in Learning and Development at Google. She told me that one of the most important things any “manager of managers” could do to foster a culture of feedback was to have so-called “skip level meetings.” This sounds unbearably big company hierarchical, but bear with me. The best way to put hierarchy in its place is to admit when it exists and think of ways to make sure everyone feels they are on an equal footing at a human level despite the structure.

You have to find ways to help people speak truth to power.

Skip level meetings are conversations you have with teams without their manager in the room to get feedback on how that manager is doing. I know, I know, this is the opposite of clean escalation. It also has the potential to turn into a gripe session or to disempower the manager. So skip level meetings must be conducted extremely carefully.

Given these risks, why have these conversations at all? The reason is that when there is a power imbalance, requiring clean escalation is sometimes not realistic. What percentage of people actually tell their boss what they really think? Certainly not the majority. Plus, managers, especially new managers, will consciously or unconsciously seek to repress criticism rather than to encourage it. Skip level meetings are a great way to encourage the flow of feedback despite these potential barriers. We’ll share detailed tips for effective skip level meetings in a future post.


Try these tips for encouraging feedback and let us know what you think! Did they help? Have you observed any other methods for encouraging feedback across organizations?

Video: Sam Adams and the FU Rule

When you’re the boss, it’s really hard to get people to tell you what they really think — to be Radically Candid with you. Showing that you want feedback and genuinely appreciate it when it’s given is key. The worst thing you can do is to criticize the criticism you get. In fact, it can actually be helpful to encourage people to be Obnoxiously Aggressive with you.

Here’s a funny example of Jim Koch, co-founder of the Boston Beer Company (makers of Sam Adams), doing just that.

Usually when we talk about embracing the discomfort, we are talking about enduring that awkward silence when you ask somebody who works for you what they think of your performance. But sometimes you don’t get awkward silence, you get an f-bomb. Now it’s your discomfort, not the other person’s, that you have to embrace.

Admittedly, the wording used — personalized and arguably unkind — is quintessential Obnoxious Aggression, and we don’t really advise encouraging that between employees. But, as the boss, you often have to be the emotional punching bag, able to absorb the f-bombs that get hurled at you.

We also want to highlight some of the underlying, more Radically Candid aspects of this approach for getting and encouraging feedback:

  1. Have a go-to question — To get someone to give you feedback, it can be really helpful to have a go-to question that gets the conversation started. We use examples like “What could I do differently, or more of, to make it easier for us to work together?” or “Tell me how I’m making your job harder.” Getting someone to tell you “F you” is another take on this underlying goal. You want to get people to tell you what they really think.
  2. Build a culture of feedback — By encouraging people to use this rule with each other, and especially with him, Jim is creating a built-in mechanism in the company culture to enable people to give and get feedback. He sets an example by listening respectfully to feedback and sending a message that getting things out in the open is the only way to resolve them.
  3. Challenge Directly AND Care Personally — Jim lays basic ground rules for the “F You” rule that help it become more Radically Candid. It’s a pretty direct challenge on its own, but he clarifies that it also has to be followed by specifics, so that it isn’t just an unclear, hurtful phrase. He also says that it has to be given humbly. The person delivering it has to be open to hearing the other person’s side, showing that they care about both perspectives.

We say Kudos to Jim Koch for making people feel free to tell him what they really think!

But what do you say? How does this approach strike you? Does it put you off? Does it seem like Obnoxious Aggression?

How to Introduce Radical Candor in Your Organization

When we talk about Radical Candor at companies or with individuals, we see a lot of heads nodding in agreement. People understand that Radical Candor can improve performance, reduce politics and make work more fun. But how do you make sure that these ideas that resonate in the moment actually get implemented, rather than forgotten? Here’s a question from one of our readers:

As a CEO who hasn’t been practicing Radical Candor, is it advisable to transition into the practice immediately or slowly introduce it into the company’s culture?

My advice is to start right away but understand that it will take continuous practice to make a lasting change. Here are some steps you can take to ensure a successful transition.

Create a Shared Vocabulary

Start by explaining the idea of Radical Candor and the 2×2 to your company in your own words. It is important to establish the shared vocabulary so that everyone can understand the goal and feel comfortable changing their behavior.

Radical Candor 2x2

Lead by Example

Tell your company that you think you have not been Radically Candid enough, and that you’re going to try to make a big change. By communicating that you want to improve, you’ll show your team that you’re serious about the cultural shift. Prove that you mean it by asking for their help. Ask them to rate your feedback — to tell you when they feel you are veering into one of the other three quadrants. Remind them, these are not labels for people, they are labels for behavior.

By building a collaborative process, you’ll improve your own impromptu feedback quicker, and you’ll help your team see first-hand the impact of Radical Candor. When they see the improvements, they’ll also be encouraged to make the change themselves.

Commit to the Journey

You won’t become Radically Candid overnight, and it’s almost impossible to be Radically Candid 100% of the time. My experience with changing behavior is that I generally have to overshoot. In other words, if I’m convinced that my behavior is consistently Ruinously Empathetic, I’m probably going to have to feel like I’m being a real jerk before I get to Radical Candor. That is really uncomfortable. But if you’ve communicated to your team why you’re changing and asked them to rate your feedback, they’ll understand and help you improve.

The important thing is that you explain to your organization that you are going to start saying what you think a lot more clearly, and that you’re not doing it to be a jerk, or to hurt anyone’s feelings, you are doing it because you care about each person you work with personally, and you want to help them do the best work of their careers. And then walk the walk on that.

In short, go all-in yourself and continually involve your team. And remember that Radical Candor is HIP (Humble, Helpful, Immediate, In person, Private criticism/Public praise, not Personalized).

I was asked a similar question at Betterworks Goal Summit 2016. Here’s my response:

Please let me know what you think of this advice in the comments below. I’m sure I got some stuff wrong and would love any guidance readers have to offer!

Do you have a question or tricky management situation? Ask us for advice!

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