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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.

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!

Radical Candor in the Grocery Store

On Sunday I took my 8 year-old daughter to the grocery store after her Little League game to pick up something for dinner. She and I were both a little tired and grouchy, and beginning to snip at each other. She was cold and wanted to make it a quick trip; I shared, and magnified, her impatience. At one point we were in a narrow section between the olive bar and the bananas and my daughter stopped in her tracks, distracted by one of the many thousands of sugar ambushes that make any trip to the grocery store with a child utter hell.

“Will you please move so we can get a move on!” I said, my tone full of irritation, pretty deep in the obnoxious aggression quadrant.

An older lady to my left looked up surprised and moved her cart out of the way.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to my daughter,” I said with a laugh, embarrassed at what must’ve seemed to her an unbearably rude tone if she thought I was talking to her.

“But she looks so cute in her uniform!” the lady said with an understanding smile.

It was a small criticism kindly delivered, but an enormously helpful one. What she was saying, in the gentlest possible way, was, “Why would you use a tone of voice you wouldn’t even use with a stranger with your precious daughter?”

Maybe I was reading too much “Care Personally” into her smile, but her expression said to me pretty clearly, “Who hasn’t been annoyed by their children in the grocery?” She seemed sympathetic with the universal plight of all parents with young children in the grocery store. But her words and maybe a slight sadness in her eyes reminded me to take a step back and look at my child. She really did look cute in her baseball uniform. And the fact the lady speaking to me was older reminded me that my daughter’s childhood is fleeting, and in a few years I’d be alone in the grocery store.

Why in the world would I talk to her with a tone I wouldn’t even use with a stranger? I should use a more, not a less, loving tone with the people I love best.

I’ve been grateful for that lady’s Radical Candor ever since–as has my daughter!

A Radical Candor Rollout: Interview with Gather

We recently got the chance to talk with another leader who has rolled out Radical Candor on his team, and we wanted to share his experiences with you. Nicholas Miller is the co-founder and CEO of Gather, a company creating event management software for restaurants and other venues. Here’s how he introduced Radical Candor at Gather, and how it has helped them evolve their feedback culture.

How did you hear about Radical Candor, and how did you introduce it to your team?

I first read about the idea of Radical Candor in Kim Scott’s First Round Review article (Radical Candor — The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss), and it stuck with me. After reading about Kim’s success rolling the management style out across teams at multiple companies, I started to consider the positive impact it could have on our team at Gather. So first, I introduced the idea to the leadership team by simply sharing the article. Later, we read the book as a team in our Leadership Team Book Club.

More recently, we’ve incorporated many of the concepts in Radical Candor into our new manager training program. For example, we encourage our managers to empower their teams to “get it right,” not “be right,” and invest in building meaningful relationships with their direct reports.

What was the initial reception like in your company?

We’ve had great reception from the leadership team! The most consistent feedback we received previously was that our managers were only providing feedback during performance reviews, which meant that reviews were approached with apprehension. The idea that “Reviews should be a Summary” instantly struck a chord throughout the company. We now really encourage our managers to provide immediate direct feedback.

We also promote Radical Candor’s approach of constructive feedback in private and praise in public. Though it may seem like common sense, it’s not always obvious that constructive feedback should always be a private discussion. And it’s also a great reminder to focus not just on the things our team can do better, but the things they’re doing well today. Too much focus on improvements is certainly something I’ve been guilty of!

Why is the idea of Radical Candor important for Gather?

We move extremely quickly as a company. Everyone needs to know where they stand at any given moment – meaning managers don’t have time to skirt around the issues. It’s essential that they’re always aligned with their direct reports and the concepts in Radical Candor provide a frame of reference for doing so efficiently and effectively.

Additionally, we love promoting from within whenever we can – and as a result a lot of our middle management is comprised of new managers. We’ve been able to bring new managers up to speed more effectively with a framework for educating new managers on how to effectively develop relationships with direct reports. Basically, Radical Candor has provided a great high-level way to think about being a great manager at Gather.

What has been the impact of Radical Candor on your team?

It’s had a significant impact on our team. Overall, it’s encouraged our managers to step outside of their comfort zones, engage in healthy debates, and think about feedback in a different light. It’s helped us open all lines of communication between manager and direct reports, and implementing the concepts in Radical Candor has been a positive experience for everyone.

As an example — we had a situation where one of our managers felt like he was struggling to communicate effectively with his direct reports. He didn’t feel like he was having open, honest conversations, and felt like the root cause could be his communication style. He started using the Care Personally, Challenge Directly chart at the end of conversations with them, asking them to tell him where on the chart they felt the conversation had landed. This led to a greater understanding of his team, stronger relationships with direct reports and, ultimately, a better functioning team.

Another recent example is when I noticed a new direct report of mine didn’t seem to love getting direct feedback from me. To create an open relationship, I asked him to share feedback on how I was doing after every single meeting we were both a part of, including one-on-ones, and then actively solicited it. Slowly, the dialogue evolved into two-way feedback. Now we have more frequent and explicit conversations about feedback than I do with any of my other direct reports!

What recommendations do you have for other teams that want to start introducing Radical Candor?

Like anything else, it’s not something you need to introduce all at once. There are a lot of piecemeal concepts that can have an impact on your team, or may even just impact the way you think about certain people operations challenges as you scale.

Gradually rolling out the ideas and concepts in Radical Candor that resonate with you makes it easier for teams to grasp the concepts and gives them the opportunity to put them into action at their own pace.

 

Thanks so much to Nick and Gather for sharing their Radical Candor experiences with us!

How to Turn Feedback into Something You Can Act On

Hopefully you’re out there asking for and getting feedback regularly. That’s great! Now, if you’re getting a lot of feedback, we can pretty much guarantee that it won’t all be high quality, actionable stuff. We’ve said before, “Don’t criticize the criticism,” and we’ve talked about what to do if you disagree with the feedback. But what about feedback that you’re not sure what it means, or how to act on? What do you do with that?

We recently got this question from one of our podcast listeners:

When your boss tells you during your performance review that you need to develop a sense of urgency (as I was recently told) what kind of suggestions would you have for the employee

Let me tell you what I would do if I got this specific feedback, and hopefully you can apply these steps to your own situation, whatever the hard-to-understand feedback is.

Ok, so the boss told me “you need to develop a sense of urgency.” Huh. A sense of urgency. Does that mean the boss doesn’t think I work hard enough? That I don’t put in enough hours? If that’s the case, then maybe what the boss wants me to do is spend more time at the office.

The thing is, it’s very hard to know if that is in fact what the boss wants, based on the “sense of urgency” feedback. So step 1 is to try to unpack the actual shortcoming that my boss is seeing.

Ask the person to say more

Of course, I’m not a mind-reader (and you probably aren’t either), so I can’t assume really anything about what the boss means. The first order of business is to ask my boss, “Can you say more?” In doing this, I want to manifest as curious and not defensive. The open question is a good way to encourage the other person to continue talking, without responding or making it more difficult for them by, say, asking for examples.

While my boss responds, I’ll take notes and really try to understand her view. My goal is to try to elucidate everything in the boss’ head around my “lack of a sense of urgency.”

This feedback can mean soooooooooooo many things, and I shouldn’t guess, so I’m going to make it a priority to really understand what the boss thinks here.

Figure out what success looks like

We say all the time that repeating success is easier than fixing problems. In this case, I haven’t had success, but I can still try to understand what it looks like so that it’s easier to achieve. So step 2 is to try to understand what would signal to my boss that I have the proper sense of urgency.

One way I might do this is by asking my boss, “Who here has an appropriate sense of urgency? I’d like to think of them as a possible model.”

Or I might ask, “In your mind, what does a perfect sense of urgency look like?”

With either of these options, I can hopefully tease out some of the behaviors or specific work products that my boss wants to see from me.

Tie it back to your objectives

Once I have a better understanding of my boss’ perspective and what she’s looking for, I’m going to think a little bit more about the root cause of this feedback, and how I can show progress towards it in the future. I’ll leave the conversation and spend some time on my own thinking about this feedback, and I’ll take the additional step of thinking about the feedback in the context of my objectives.

Let’s say I had been pursuing clear, measurable goals, rooted in clear team priorities every week/month/quarter. If I were missing the deadlines for my goals, then “lacking a sense of urgency” might be a good root cause analysis. Maybe this is what led my boss to give this particular feedback. So I would come back to my boss and ask, “I missed some deadlines this quarter. Would you say that’s a key area where I needed more of a sense of urgency?”

On the other hand, oftentimes non-specific feedback like this manifests in situations where there are not clear objectives and timing for those objectives. This could mean that the objectives didn’t exist, or that the other person was not on the same page with respect to those objectives.

If the goals didn’t exist, I would now push to have individual and team goals, something to clearly measure my “sense of urgency” against in the future. If there were goals, but varying ideas about priority, timelines, etc., could any of that lack of clarity have been the root of my “lacking a sense of urgency”? Maybe I can think of some ways I could have behaved differently to better show a sense of urgency, and I would run those ideas by my boss.

I think it can be extremely helpful to do this thinking and then continue the conversation with the person who gave you the feedback. You’ll be able to double check your analysis and set yourself up to show progress in this area in the future.

———

Hopefully these three steps can help you turn any feedback into something you can act on and improve as a result of. How do they work for non-specific feedback you’ve received? Send us your examples in the comments, and we’ll try to help customize for your situation.

A Great Start to a Radical Candor Journey

A few weeks ago, we received an amazing email from Samir Sagar, Director at Manubhai Jewellers. He had shared some of our blog posts and videos with his team several weeks prior, and on the day of the email to us, had held a meeting with his five direct reports to ask for feedback.

I told my team that I am at fault for not creating an atmosphere in which they can bring their honest feedback …and that I never intended it to be that way. I asked them to tell me – to my face – whatever they think of my suggestions/ideas/opinions – anything. I would appreciate that.

In this meeting, his team began to open up and give him feedback. Hearing from them and opening this line of communication had a strong impact on Samir.

Honestly, about 6 to 7 hours after that conversation, I am still dazed.

This is going to be a great journey.

My heartfelt thanks to Kim, Russ, and the entire Candor team. The intense feeling that I am feeling right now cannot be expressed in words.

We were inspired by Samir’s email and immediately wanted to hear more of his story. I talked with him and one of his team members to learn how it all came about. Check out both sides of the story!

Samir’s Story

Samir’s company, Manubhai Jewellers, is a family-owned business in Mumbai. Samir joined the company straight out of school at 17 years old. He says, because it was a family-owned business, “No one challenges you. You get the notion that everything you do is right.” This continued for many years, and suddenly about five years ago, something changed. He began to notice the tone in the office and realized that he had mostly been behaving rudely as a manager, that he had been yelling at people. When he realized this, he thought, “This is not correct.” Samir started looking at management books and got a coach. He became more self-aware and started making changes.

Looking back now, Samir describes the changes he made. “I stopped yelling and being angry with people to their face, but I didn’t get better at empathy. I think the last 2 years has been a lot of Manipulative Insincerity.”

Several months ago, Samir thought again, “There’s something wrong.” Around that same time, he came across Radical Candor and started reading the blog, listening to the podcast, and reading the book. He started to try to be more open and get to know his team members a little more, but he wanted to learn all he could about the topic and not rush into things as he had done in the past.

When he was partway through reading Radical Candor, Samir decided to share Kim’s First Round video and some of the blog posts with his team. He said, “Let’s meet after you look at them.”

Starting By Soliciting Criticism

The team got together for this first conversation, the meeting that prompted Samir’s email to Candor, Inc. The meeting started on a different note, but as the topic wrapped up Samir asked if the team had watched the video. They had.

He said, “I’m sorry for creating an environment that is kind of authoritarian.” He acknowledged where he knew he had made mistakes and talked about his journey over the last couple of years. He told the team that he wants to do better, to create a culture of Radical Candor and give people the chance to tell him when he’s wrong.

After opening up about his mistakes and reassuring the team that he really wanted to hear their thoughts, Samir invited them to bring their views to the table. They were a bit hesitant at first, but they eventually opened up. “Since we are being Radically Candid,” they started, and so began a 30-40 minute open discussion with the team. They told him what bothered them, what made it harder for them to do their jobs, and where they thought things could improve.

Samir listened, acknowledged their opinions, and thanked them for sharing what they thought. He let them know what he planned to work on as a result of their conversation and encouraged them to keep telling him their thoughts. He acknowledged that he would sometimes have an immediate defensive reaction, but reiterated that he really did appreciate the challenge. “Tell me, ‘Samir you cannot do this to me.’ Tell me whatever way it works for you.”

I asked Samir how he felt during and after the meeting. Was it hard? Hearing all that feedback at once must have been difficult. He said, “It was completely surreal. It wasn’t hard, it was liberating. A big, big burden off my chest.”

Transformed Relationships

When Samir and I talked, three days had passed since that meeting, and Samir was experiencing a visible difference in the way the team interacted with him. He told me about one of his reports coming to him to talk about her goals and how she would fit into the organization in the future. Samir said, “She wouldn’t have come to me with that kind of conversation before. We would have only talked about the business questions.”

He gave another example of a report asking to extend their weekly meeting and diving into some topics close to her heart.

With another report, Samir was offering a Direct Challenge. In the past, Samir would have expected a defensive reaction. This time, the reaction was inquisitive instead. “Could you explain more? What is your expectation?”

It seems a miraculous turnaround, and Samir himself said that it feels unreal that so much change could happen from one conversation. Of course not everyone can expect this kind of immediate and significant change from introducing Radical Candor, and as you’ll learn further on in this story, maybe Samir’s turnaround wasn’t as miraculous as he perceived. (And that’s ok! These things take time.)

Samir has enormous hope for future changes in the company. In the past, the family has made most of the business decisions, but Samir now sees that he can empower others to have more ownership. “The people in this company are talented. The value they can bring by taking decisions themselves and running their departments individually will make it possible for us to grow to a second location, to scale the company.”

Janice’s Story

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and we often encourage managers to check how a conversation felt for the other person. In this case, when I finished talking with Samir, he said, “Would you like to talk with one of my team members as well?” He was already thinking about the different perspectives on this experience.

Samir connected me with one of his team, Janice Godinho, Brand and Communications Manager at Manubhai Jewelers. Janice has been with the company for close to six years, and has worked closely with Samir. When I asked her how she would describe the atmosphere of the company before the last few months, she said, “The culture has always been warm and friendly. Of course there have been issues here and there, but it hasn’t been a toxic environment, and the fact that most of us here have been with the organization for 5 years and above shows that.”

But she says that as a traditionally run family business, there has always been a very top-down approach. Team members could share their ideas, but they were mostly limited to smaller parts of the larger projects and tasks the Directors assigned.

Janice started to see a change in that dynamic over the past year (around the time when Samir was thinking again that something wasn’t right). She has seen more junior team members taking more responsibility and wanting to learn more; senior team leaders have been accountable for their teams more often. She thinks the Directors are providing more criticism to help people grow as well, and that has made it so that more deadlines are being met and the staff is having more fun at work. “However, I still feel there is a long way to go.”

Opening the Lines of Communication

The feedback session that Samir initiated with the team was different in that it encouraged a more open discussion than Janice had seen previously. She told me that there had been confusion about why certain projects had been prioritized, a feeling of achievements with large impact being ignored, and frustrating, unexplained changes in late stages of projects. “For a while, we were confused about what we were doing wrong or if we were actually doing something right.” It had felt like there wasn’t an open flow of communication between the Directors and the teams.

When Samir opened up in the meeting about some of the things that had been going on, it helped everyone get a better sense for why things were the way they were. And when Samir asked for their thoughts, and gave them the chance to share their perspectives on the right way to approach the projects, the team felt the tension lift and opened up.

Janice says the team members had gotten used to not questioning their managers about why they were working on specific projects. “We just stopped asking, as long as nothing went wrong and we didn’t get reprimanded, it was all good.” And Janice thinks that same issues that she and her peers experienced with the Directors then spread to their own direct reports as well. “We don’t appreciate work done within deadlines or small achievements, nor do we stop and advise them on what went wrong. And invariably as team leaders we end up doing their work instead of taking out the time to correct them on their mistakes or offer a positive reinforcement of a good job done.”

The feedback session that Samir initiated reminded everyone that the communication between managers and direct reports needed to go both ways — they needed to be questioning decisions and ideas and providing feedback when something was great or needed improvement. “It was a lovely session. I am hoping we can do this across teams and team leaders as well.”

Hopes for the Future

Since that conversation, Janice has noticed that more discussions are taking place — teams are sharing their thoughts with each other.

For Janice, the overall culture change hasn’t felt drastic. She thinks things have been improving for a while, and relationships have been growing stronger. This was another step in the right direction, and an accelerator, even, in the progress she’s been seeing. She’s careful to acknowledge that there is still a long way to go — she doesn’t see this one session as a magic moment that will set everything on a path to success. There is still more work to do, but she’s optimistic. “Since we spend most of our waking hours at work and with colleagues, I am hoping for [the move towards Radical Candor] to create an open atmosphere for everyone to share what they think without hesitation. I hope to see all of us working as a cohesive unit, trying to contribute actively to the growth of the company. I know it seems idealistic :) but it’s something I hope for.”

 

Thank you so much to Samir and Janice for sharing their stories with us!

Are You An Interrupter?

We talked about one of the most frustrating meeting habits in episode 12 of our podcast — interrupting! Kim and I gave some tips about how to handle being interrupted in meetings, and Kim explained some of the reasons that cause people to interrupt. Several listeners wrote in to commiserate about being interrupters and asked for our advice on how to stop.

I just listened to Episode 12 of the podcast, and it really struck a chord. I have been working on my bad interruption habit for years, and I still leave conversations feeling guilty about potentially having railroaded a more soft-spoken colleague or friend. I would love any tips you can give me to help me to keep my enthusiasm in check!
— Enthusiastic interrupter

Enthusiastic, thanks a lot for reaching out and for listening!

I think it’s great that you have this focus on improving yourself. Well done — you will get there.

You can’t change the interrupting behavior overnight, but saying “Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off,” is actually a critical first step. By doing that, you are signaling that you recognize the bad habit and want to improve the behavior.

If you start by catching yourself after you interrupt, it is only a matter of time before you start to catch yourself beforehand and build a better habit.

Kim had this idea years ago to wear a rubber band on her wrist and ask people to snap it on her wrist every time she interrupted. I personally couldn’t do it — it felt too mean — but it’s a great way to bring up your consciousness around interruption. She says some other folks were happy to snap it. :)

As Kim mentioned in the podcast, she also realized that her reason for interrupting was her enthusiasm for what people are saying. While this isn’t an excuse that makes interrupting suddenly ok, or even necessarily the reason most people interrupt, it may be helpful to hear how she acted on that realization. Once she was aware that her enthusiasm manifested in ways that shut down the other person, she looked for alternate means of expressing that enthusiasm. Instead of quickly responding with “Yeah! …” or “Right! …”, she looked for nonverbal ways to show her agreement. She smiled and nodded in agreement or otherwise showed her enthusiasm through her body language, instead of jumping to speak. So instead of thinking about how to keep your enthusiasm in check, think about other ways you can express it.

If enthusiasm for the conversation isn’t the reason you interrupt, think about why you’re doing it and if there are other, less frustrating ways to manifest that.

As with anything, though, the first step is awareness/consciousness of the tendency, and then correcting in the moment… after awhile, you will start to make the corrections before the transgression instead of after. Promise.

Ruinous Empathy and Recruiting, A Story

Seven years ago, before launching Femgineer and having Kim Scott on FemgineerTV, I had to make my first sales hire for my second startup, BizeeBee. I had never hired a salesperson before. Most of my hiring experience had been with technical folks such as engineers, designers, and product managers. I just figured it would be the same. Find someone who is capable, comes with good references, and then give them some time to ramp up.

I decided to hire Adam. Adam had requested a pretty steep salary for a startup. I figured he’d end up paying for himself with sales, so I didn’t balk at his salary.

Building a Relationship and Caring Personally

Adam’s first month in, I wanted him to feel like he was part of the team because he was one of two non-technical people on it. I made sure to communicate that I was happy to have him on the team. I didn’t know how to onboard Adam but figured he had enough experience, so he didn’t need me to onboard him. And I made myself available to answer any questions or concerns that came up.

Adam reached out to prospects daily. At the end of the week, he informed me of how things were going. I helped him understand the product and work through customer objections.

By month two, I noticed that Adam hadn’t made any sales. My co-founder and I were starting to get nervous. Adam was the highest paid person on the team, and his salary had almost doubled our burn rate.

My co-founder suggested that I talk to Adam. However, I didn’t want to step on Adam’s toes. I reminded my co-founder that we gave our technical team lots of autonomy and we should do the same with our sales team. I went back to praising Adam and making sure he felt like he was a part of the team.

Realizing the Need for Challenging Directly

Month three crept upon us rather quickly. By then, other people on the team, who weren’t particularly skilled at sales, were closing customers. Meanwhile, Adam hadn’t closed a single customer. Those who had closed sales became more vocal about Adam. They came up to me and expressed their concern, which quickly evolved into frustration.

I wasn’t sure what to do. My co-founder and I had a conversation. We talked about how I could coach Adam.

The next day, I pulled Adam aside. I told him that we weren’t happy with his performance and needed to see more sales within the next month. Adam was shocked because I had been giving him nothing but praise. I realized what I had done. I had been Ruinously Empathetic and held back on giving Adam the feedback that he needed to do his job.

Adam didn’t know those were our expectations. He thought he was doing a good job educating prospects. Given how young the product was he really didn’t think he was capable of closing sales. He told me we needed someone who was much more experienced with selling new products and it wasn’t him. So at the end of our conversation he concluded that it would be best for him to leave.

I felt terrible. Because I hadn’t had this conversation earlier, both Adam and the company had lost valuable time. After Adam left I took some time to reflect on what I had done wrong.

Practicing Radical Candor Means Giving and Receiving Feedback

My first mistake was not taking the time to fully understand what goes into hiring sales people and helping them be effective. I made up for it with my second mistake by not challenging directly. Showering Adam with praise that was unspecific, and thinking that if I was just nice to Adam, everything would work out. The third and final mistake was not listening to the others on my team. I dismissed their early feedback, thinking that they were being too harsh, but they weren’t. They were looking into the best interest of the company and bringing to my attention that I was failing to do my job.

After the experience, I took the time to educate myself on what it takes to hire and train sales people. I also let my team know that I appreciated them for having the courage to practice Radical Candor, to Challenge me Directly while showing that they Cared Personally. Had they not spoken up, I would have just kept going. I made sure that they knew going forward I’d do a better job of listening when they gave me feedback, and even do better with asking for their Radical Candor.

Withholding feedback that can help someone do their job better because we’re afraid of their reaction is an act of Ruinous Empathy. In the end, we set them up for failure.

We also have to learn to listen to feedback that is directed towards us, even if we don’t initially agree with it or understand it. Otherwise, we set a bad precedent that our behavior is right and theirs is wrong.

When was the last time you failed to Challenge Directly because you were trying to be nice? How did others around you take it? And what did you do to course correct it?

Let us know in the comments below!

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