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Radical Candor Acting Like Jerk

It’s Not Radical Candor If You Don’t Care Personally

What makes Radical Candor radical is that it’s a deviation from the norm, which tends to fall somewhere between acting like a jerk and avoiding confrontation altogether. The purpose of Radical Candor is to create a new normal where guidance is both kind and clear, not to reinforce bad behavior. This means that if you don’t Care Personally about the person you’re delivering feedback to, you’re exhibiting Obnoxious Aggression, not Radical Candor.

Ever since the book Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity was released, Radical Candor has become a bit of a buzzword, which is exciting.  However, it’s often being used incorrectly, which leads to a misunderstanding of the true meaning of Radical Candor.

Case in point, a recent Wall Street Journal article that depicts obnoxiously aggressive internal tactics at Netflix as Radical Candor, as well as the Silicon Valley episode and Dilbert comic that do the same.

Let’s get one thing clear, Radical Candor is not brutal honesty. It’s not an invitation to act like a jerk, and just because you preface something with “in the spirit of Radical Candor,” if you fail to Care Personally, then you’re actually being obnoxiously aggressive — not radically candid. You’re acting like a jerk.

Obnoxious Aggression Means You’re Acting Like A Jerk

Radical Candor Acting Like a Jerk

In short, Radical Candor means saying what you think while also giving a damn about the person you’re saying it to. This means you have to Care Personally while also being willing to Challenge Directly.

If you don’t challenge directly, you’re displaying Ruinous Empathy, and neither Obnoxious Aggression nor Ruinous Empathy are Radical Candor.  In order to practice Radical Candor, you need to do both. If you neither care nor challenge, you’re engaging in what we call Manipulative Insincerity.

Radical Candor Is Both Kind & Clear

Radical Candor is Not Acting Like a JerkAs people toss around the phrase Radical Candor more and more, it’s important to remember that if you don’t care about the object of your candor, you’re doing it wrong. I’m not saying command and control can’t work, it works especially well in a totalitarian regime or a baboon troop.

But in a radically candid workplace common human decency is something we owe to everyone. We try to find the best people for the job, and we respect all the people and all the jobs. If you want to learn more about what is Radical Candor and what isn’t, this is required reading.

Because, if you’re not a kickass boss, your team likely wants to kick your ass.


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 …

Growth Stability Career

A Happy Marriage of Growth and Stability

I recently learned that my great-grandfather Taylor Malone started a company with my husband’s great-great uncle, Joe Hyde, in Memphis, Tenn., my hometown. Oddly, it took us 11 years of marriage to learn this. We just found out thanks to a visit to a cemetery in Connecticut, but we’re happy to know now. It’s a great story about how we all need a balance of growth and stability to build great teams, to have successful careers, and to live the lives we imagine.

Listening helps achieve growth or stability for your life and career.

The whole story nicely illustrates something I learned about building cohesive teams from an executive at Apple. If I’d just been listening around the dinner table, maybe I could have learned it much sooner.

For much of my career, I tended to focus on hiring only the most hyper-ambitious people. I assumed that was the only way to succeed. Then a leader at Apple pointed out to me that all teams need stability as well as growth to function properly; nothing works well if everyone is gunning for the next promotion.

She called the people on her team who got exceptional results but who were on a more gradual growth trajectory “rock stars” because they were like the Rock of Gibraltar of her team.

These people loved their work and were world-class at it, but they didn’t want her job or her boss’s job or to be Steve Jobs. They were happy where they were.

The people who were on a steeper growth trajectory—the ones who’d go crazy if they were still doing the same job in a year—she called “superstars.” They were the source of growth on any team. She was explicit about needing a balance of both.

This was a revelation. Apple was big but still growing like crazy. And yet Apple made room for people with all sorts of different ambitions. You had to be great at what you did and you had to love your work, but you did not have to be promotion-obsessed to have a fulfilling career at Apple.growth career stability

For most of my career I’d systematically undervalued the so-called “rock stars.” This mistake had caused a lot of unhappiness for people who contributed significantly.  (To learn more about balancing superstar mode and rock star mode, read chapters three and seven of Radical Candor.)

Taylor Malone was the ultimate rock star, a man focused on stability. He started Malone and Hyde to support his family, not because he had a passion for business. His passion was fishing. He worked hard, and the company did well. He fished on the weekends.

Joe Hyde was the ultimate superstar, an ambitious man focused on growth. His passion was to build a big business. The company did well, and he wanted to take on debt to grow faster.

Taylor Malone was worried about what the stress of debt and growth would do to his fishing weekends. He decided he’d rather give control to Joe Hyde, let him build on the foundation they’d dug together, forego much of the financial upside, and spend the time taking his grandkids, including my father, fishing.

Lest we leave our female forebears out of the story: My great-grandmother was so loved by her children and grandchildren that nobody could talk about her after she died without bursting into tears. So all I know about her is that she was much loved. But that’s enough to know…growth and stability for your career

Both Joe Hyde and Taylor Malone got what they wanted. My great-grandfather now fished three times a week, and Andy’s great-great uncle built their little store into Malone and Hyde, one of the largest food distributors in the country.

Both Joe Hyde and Taylor Malone’s decisions have contributed to our family’s psychological freedom to do what we want. They also remind us of the courage and clarity it takes to figure out what we really want.

Joe Hyde reminds us we can take risks and build something big when that’s what we want. Taylor Malone reminds us that may not be what we want, and we can live life at a slower pace and still be productive .

If you can build a team that balances growth and stability, that allows everyone to take a step in direction of their dreams, the benefits to you, your business can be surprising and delightful for generations to come.

Work Martyr Compete

Keeping it Real

The good news is that the term “Radical Candor” has entered the lexicon. The bad news is that there’s a risk it becomes a meaningless buzzword.

We need your help to fight this. Please let us know which ideas in the book or the podcast you have rolled out with your team. What’s working? What’s not? If you’re willing, we will feature your stories in our blog and email newsletter. If you want it kept confidential, we will honor that and still use what you’ve learned to help others.

Radical Candor on HBO’s Silicon Valley

One of the most amusing but simultaneously painful examples of Radical Candor as meaningless buzzword was the way it was recently featured on the HBO show Silicon Valley (Season 5/Episode 3).

The real moment of Radical Candor on the show came when Jared told Richard, his boss, “If you’re really going to start working with Ben, at least give Dana [Ben’s current boss] the common courtesy of telling him the truth about what you are doing. Because if you don’t tell him, you’re the dog.” But that didn’t get called out as Radical Candor.

Silicon Valley Radical Candor

HBO’s Silicon Valley “Radical Candor”

The Asshole's Journey

“In the spirit of Radical Candor…”

Instead, COO wannabe Ben claims he’s being Radically Candid when actually he’s just acting like a garden variety jerk, kicking down and kissing up. I call this the Asshole’s Journey from Obnoxious Aggression to Manipulative Insincerity. Now I’m being obnoxiously aggressive towards Ben but since he’s a fictional character it’s legitimately instructive :).

This was funny, but it was also painful because I’ve seen it happen in real life. I’ve been in a meeting where someone said, “In the spirit of Radical Candor…” and proceeded to be really cruel.

Also, I recently got this email from one of you: “I gave some feedback – with a specific example – to my boss that the way he is addressing the team (in large team settings) is making them fearful to speak up. A harsh/dismissive tone that shuts a conversation down and often embarrasses the team member that spoke up. Many on the team have shared this sentiment with him already. After the director received this feedback, he responded by saying that he’s using radical candor. I feel this is the wrong application of radical candor, specifically finding your quote that ‘Radical Candor is kind and helpful.’”

Unfortunately, this is a pretty common experience, so I’ll share the articles I suggested this person send to the director to explain the difference between Radical Candor and Obnoxious Aggression.

Are you seeing examples of people confusing Obnoxious Aggression with Radical Candor? Let us know, and thanks for Caring (Personally).

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!

What to Do When a Peer’s Feedback Annoys You

We recently received a listener question about peer feedback, and it’s one that I come across often in conversations with readers. Russ and I talked about why peer feedback is so important in episode 23 of the podcast. Here, I’ll give some additional advice about how to approach peer feedback.

…this has to do with a part-time job in retail. I am 56 and have a coworker who is 22 or so. She has been there 3 years and I only 6 weeks. I’m still learning and she is often there and expected to train me. She is a horrible communicator. One quick example: A customer did an online order in the store with me and left. A few minutes later the young co-worker approached me and said the customer was back and “you forgot to print a receipt”. She rubs me the wrong way all the time. She needs to be taught to say, “she left without a receipt”, i.e., non accusatory language. So here’s the question: When dealing with a peer, is it my job to teach them better ways of communicating? Or, do I go to the boss and tell them the individual needs coaching in communicating? Thanks!

Thank you for sending in this question! Here are my thoughts:

Give Feedback Directly to Peers, Not to Your Boss

I think it’s always best to talk to somebody directly. When you go to the boss without having talked to the person directly first, it can feel like you are trying to get them into trouble rather than to help them improve. It doesn’t feel Radically Candid — Challenge Directly and Care Personally at the same time — it feels like Manipulative Insincerity, or like back-stabbing. I know that is not the intention you’d have going to your boss. But that is what it would likely feel like to the other person.

Let Your Emotions Cool Off First

One thing you may be struggling with right now is that you feel so annoyed by your coworker’s communication that it’s pretty hard to go into a conversation in a Radically Candid way. When you’re really annoyed it’s hard to Care Personally. Try to take some time to let your annoyance cool off before having the conversation, and remember to go into it with the intention to be helpful.

Treat Criticism as a Gift

Also remember that when you get feedback from a coworker, it’s really important not to criticize the criticism. Even if you don’t like the way she told you, she did tell you that you made a mistake. Start by simply trying to feel glad she let you know. Aren’t you glad she didn’t go to your boss and tell your boss instead of telling you?? If you are, tell her that.

Ask for Feedback

Next, try to imagine what you might be doing that could be contributing to her poor communication. Try asking her to give you feedback. “Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?” But only ask this question when you’re ready to hear some feedback. And buckle your seatbelt because you probably won’t like the way she says whatever is on her mind. Your goal is to model how to receive feedback well: to listen with the intent to understand, and then to reward (not punish) the candor.

Focus on the Good Stuff

Before you launch into criticism of your peer, try to think of what you do like about working with her. Often, by the time we’ve decided to give somebody criticism, we are so annoyed that we shift into “you’re a horrible human being” mode without meaning to. If you take a moment to think about the things you like about your peer, to see her as another human being who you basically care about it will help. If you can give voice to some of the things you like — if you can offer a bit of sincere praise — so much the better. But don’t mingle the praise with the criticism or your message will get muddled, and you risk sounding insincere.

Share Your Perspective

Now, hopefully, you’ve shown her that you appreciate feedback, that you care about her personally, and you care about your working relationship. Now it’s safe to offer some criticism.

Try telling her, “Sometimes, when you tell me I’ve screwed up, it’s hard for me to hear. May I explain why?” And then explain to her that you feel she’s accusing you rather than trying to help you when she tells you about mistakes you’ve made.

Does that make sense? Let me know how else I can help with giving feedback to your peers.

Send Your Boss Radical Candor

We often hear from fans of Radical Candor:

“Gosh, I wish my boss would read this!”


“How can I tell my boss about Radical Candor without implying I think she’s bad at it?”

We’ve said before that it can be risky to Challenge your boss Directly, even when you show you Care Personally. We’ve shared some tips on our podcast for giving feedback to your boss, but it’s definitely a tricky situation. Not everyone feels comfortable starting out this conversation, especially if the boss hasn’t been particularly open to feedback.

Buy Radical Candor for your boss

We’re here to help! We’ve set up a new site with our friends at BookPal to help you give the gift of Radical Candor. At, you can purchase a copy of Radical Candor, and we’ll take care of sending it directly to your boss. If you feel comfortable sending it openly, we’ll let them know it’s from you, but if not, we’ll send it anonymously!

What your boss will get

When you buy a copy of Radical Candor from, we’ll send:

  • A signed copy of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
  • A letter from Kim Scott to your boss
  • A reading guide to help your boss and to provide ideas for rolling out Radical Candor to your whole team

Wait, doesn’t it seem counter-Radical Candor to send the book anonymously?

It’s a fair point that sending the book anonymously could seem passive aggressive — you’re not Challenging Directly. But you are showing that you care by doing something to try to help your boss. And if you’re familiar with the book, you’ll know about Kim’s Orange Box story: to get a culture of feedback started, it sometimes helps to start with anonymous feedback and build trust so that people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts openly.

Kim’s letter to your boss will acknowledge these points, that speaking truth to power is hard, and she’ll provide some advice for where to start with the book.

We’d love to know what you think of this program! Let us know in the comments below, or reach out at

Reacting to Trump’s Bloviating BS with Radical Candor

Today I turn for inspiration to Daryl Davis, the R&B musician who helped persuade Roger Kelly, Imperial Wizard, to quit the KKK.

“While you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself. So if you have an adversary, an opponent with a opposing point of view, give that person a platform. Allow them to air that point of view regardless of how extreme it may be. And believe me I’ve heard some things so extreme at these rallies it will cut you to the bone. Give them a platform. You challenge them. But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way, chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.”

(You can hear him talk on this podcast. His book needs to be re-printed!!)

Like so many people watching Trump’s press conference yesterday, I woke up this morning with a pit in my stomach. Did the President really defend white supremacists yesterday? How have we elected a man with so little understanding of what is great and what is shameful about our history that he puts Robert E. Lee, defender of slavery which defines the very worst of what we did as a nation, with George Washington, who symbolizes our highest ideals?

Trump’s words are putting my ideals and philosophy to the test. I believe in Radical Candor–challenging others while still caring about them as fellow human beings. Do I really have to care about Donald Trump? Since I don’t know him, I can’t care personally. But is showing common human decency in the face of his bloviating bullshit even desirable?

Yes! One of the most evil, and oldest political tricks in the book is gain power by sowing fear and hatred in the population at large. I’m saddened but not surprised at what Trump said yesterday. What alarms me most is how many ordinary Americans have reacted to it by hating each other. In his book On Human Nature, EO Wilson explains the danger of dividing ourselves into artificial tribes, democrat and republican.

In all periods of life there is an equally powerful urge to dichotomize, to classify other human beings into two artificially sharpened categories. We seem to be able to be fully comfortable only when… humanity can be labeled as members versus non members, kin versus nonkin, friend versus foe. Erik Erikson has written on the proneness of people everywhere to perform pseudospeciation, the reduction of alien societies to the status of inferior species, not fully human, who can be degraded without conscience.

That’s why I am so alarmed when those who find what Trump said abhorrent, as I do, resort to hurling insults and saying that everyone who voted for Trump is evil. The reaction will allow him to gain more power by sowing hatred in our country. Trump’s press conference set off an explosion of “degrading each other without conscience.” When we fight hatred with hatred, when hurl insults at one another without regard for our common humanity, we are risking everything we hold dear.

It doesn’t begin and end with one man, unfortunately. But both of our political parties have contributed to the mess we are in. Michael Porter and Katherine Gehl explain why politics is failing America. The more fear and loathing of the other party there is, the more money each party raises. The more cooperation in congress there is, the more the American people benefit, but the less money each party can raise.

But it’s not just the political parties. It’s all of us. Too many of us, those who agree but also who disagree with Trump, have followed his lead in how we Tweet and how we talk to each other. We “pseudospeciate.” We divide all of America into two groups, and assign all kinds of traits to the other side that justifies our very worst behavior.

This is especially dangerous because our country has broken itself down into super-majorities by region. Even when a supermajority sees itself as committed to civil discourse, if you’re in the minority, you’re likely to feel shouted down by sheer numbers. And in today’s political environment, both the left and the right seem more committed to unmeasured vituperation rather than open dialogue. So you probably don’t just feel shouted down, you probably are, literally, shouted down with rude and painful insults.

In San Francisco-Hayward-Oakland, 76.7% of people voted for Clinton; in Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale, San Jose, Sana Clara), it was 72.9%1. In the Bronx it was 88%, and in Manhattan it was 86%2. In Birmingham, AL 58.6% of people voted for Trump; in Oklahoma city it was 58.5%3; in Staten Island, it was 57%4. In metros with less than 250,000 people Trump won on average 57% of the vote. But major metropolitan areas are not the place to look for a conservative supermajority. It is places like King County, TX (west of Dallas, east of Amarillo) where 91% of people voted for Trump5.

It’s hard to be a minority voice in a supermajority. It is hard to be a conservative in Silicon Valley. And I imagine it was hard to be one of the five people in King County, TX who voted for Clinton. This difficulty is tearing our nation, our companies, our friendships, and our families apart.

Today, try to have a radically candid political conversation–one in which you challenge somebody’s political position but still show you care about that person. Choose a topic you have strong views on, but not one that makes you see red. Choose a person whom you respect and get along with easily. Start by asking why they have the opinion they have on some policy. Listen with the intent to understand. Repeat what they’ve said to you to make sure you understood correctly. Ask more questions. Then ask if they’d like to hear about your point of view. Only if they seem genuine when you proceed should you continue. Explain your position. If the conversation is going reasonably well but you still don’t agree, try switching sides. Ask the other person to take your position, and you take theirs.

Don’t judge the success of the conversation on whether you change the other person’s mind, or change your mind. You just have to be willing hear the issues from the other person’s perspective, and to express your point of view with respect but with unstinting clarity–all the while, not losing sight of the fact that you actually like the person you’re talking to, even if you don’t agree about abortion or healthcare or gun control, even if they don’t share your feelings about what Trump said yesterday.

This conversation going to feel unnatural. Why should you have it?

Because it’s your job. If you are an American citizen, you are a leader. The founding fathers made each and every citizen of this country a boss. It’s the job of all of us–we the people–to choose our executives, legislators, and judges carefully. It’s our ability to hold them accountable for good governance. And it’s our job to elect somebody different if they are failing us. In other words, we hire, hold accountable, and fire the team who governs this nation. That’s a very basic job description of a manager. You might not want to be a manager. But if you vote (or even if you should’ve voted but didn’t), you are one!

If we can’t lead by example–if we can’t discuss the important topics of our time with each other in a civil way–then it’s going to be difficult for us to insist that our elected officials do so. History is as much a bottoms-up process as it is top down. Your words matter.

If we can’t find a way to disagree while still seeing the person we are disagreeing with as a fellow human being, our democracy may fail. Too many people seem to think that in order to challenge effectively, we have to hate. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to challenge ideas we disagree with, find abhorrent, or even evil, we must not ourselves become evil. To be effective, we must bring our full humanity to bear, and see humanity in those with whom we disagree, as never before.


An Open Letter to James Damore

James, you’ve touched the third rail that is gender. I’m writing not to add to the abuse pouring down on you, but because I believe that third rail is hurting not just you but all of us. I’m writing an open letter because I know that there are a lot of others who believe what you believe but are remaining silent. I think this stuff is better out in the open.

I’ll admit as a liberal, a woman, and a former Googler who led a 700-person team, I can knowledgeably – and vehemently – disagree with most of what you wrote.

But, I’m also glad you wrote it. Seriously. When you say what you really think, you give others a chance to challenge your thinking. And in return I promise to be open to giving you a chance to change my thinking.

Let’s start with where we agree: “We all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow.” Amen!

I also agree that “Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology.” I have several conservative friends at Google. While I don’t share their politics, I hate the reality that they often feel invisible and unable to speak their minds. This shouldn’t happen at a global champion of free expression that prides itself on building a reasonable culture where people are expected to disagree and argue fiercely and respectfully. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and pretty much every leader I know there is deeply committed to making sure everyone has a voice at Google. But they’ve got a ways to go; I have total confidence openness to diverse views will continue to improve there. Conservative Googlers have both Sundar and you to thank for that.

If you have views but can’t give voice to them you don’t have a sense of psychological safety. Getting fired certainly didn’t contribute to your feeling of psychological safety. I care about psychological safety in general, and your psychological safety in particular. I wish you’d had a boss or a mentor who could have helped you to find a more productive way to express yourself, and to challenge some of your views.

To that end, and in the spirit of Radical Candor, I’d like to explain where I think you mis-stepped, and to offer some ideas for how you can find a way to share your opinions more productively in the future. In general, it’s better to criticize in private, but when an issue is so public an open letter will scale. However, I’m also happy to have a private conversation.

Of course, you probably thought you wrote in the spirit of Radical Candor as well. But Radical Candor gets measured at the other person’s ear, not at your mouth.

When you make an argument that shows no concern for the people you’re talking to, and exhibits little awareness that your argument is more an ensemble of opinion than proven science or fact, others will experience your words as Obnoxious Aggression.  This makes them reluctant to engage in productive conversation with you—you’ve lost credibility and hurt your relationships all in one fell swoop.

In what you wrote, you didn’t quite come out and say that you thought the gender problem in tech is that women are stupider and more neurotic than men.  But you came pretty damn close–“the left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences)” and “Women, on average, have more neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).”

When writing about IQ, you alluded one body of research showing men have a higher IQ, but failed to acknowledge the other body of research that shows they don’t. More importantly, the real world suggests IQ doesn’t matter in the way you assert that it does. As EO Wilson wrote, “Isn’t the cutting edge a place only for geniuses? No, fortunately…in most fields most of the time, extreme brightness may be a detriment.”

When you imply that the problem with women in tech is the size of the female brain, you are ignoring both your intellect and your emotional intelligence. I have no doubt you are a rational thinker, and that you are a decent human being, but what you wrote about IQ/neuroticism and their role in the small percentage of female tech leaders was neither smart nor true.

Of course, you are far, far from alone in your assumptions. My own son asserted that boys were smarter than girls when he was six. He now understands that’s not accurate and the dangers of gross generalizations and prejudice. I just hope I’ve educated him with love, not by pressing his hand to the third rail. Perhaps you have some advice for me there?

I would be interested in having a conversation about whether or not it makes sense to mandate unconscious bias training for all promotion committees, and a number of other suggestions you make. BUT I’m not eager to have that conversation with a person who indicated, perhaps without meaning to or even really believing it, that I’m likely to be stupider and more neurotic than he is.

Not being obnoxious doesn’t mean you have to become Ruinously Empathetic, as you indicated in what you wrote. I agree that it’s a terrible mistake to be so concerned for somebody else’s feelings that you can’t point out a problem when you see one. But thinking you must choose between Obnoxious Aggression and Ruinous Empathy is just a false dichotomy. You don’t.

Of course much worse than caring so much we don’t challenge or challenging so hard we forget to care is Manipulative Insincerity, what happens when we neither care nor challenge but fume silently. And all too often the current climate of gender politics pushes both men and women to be manipulatively insincere on the topic. I am guessing that is in part what you were reacting to and why you wrote as you did. In today’s legal climate, it’s hardly surprising that Google fired you for writing what you did; if your words had gone unchallenged many people would have felt the company was not doing enough to prevent a hostile work environment. I’ll confess I wouldn’t want to work as your peer or your employee after what you wrote. However, my offer of coaching does stand if you’d like it. That’s because I believe the laws that have been put in place to protect women from discrimination sometimes make open conversations in which we explore ideas (and get some things wrong) too dangerous. That is a shame and I’d like to find a way forward. And get your thoughts on that as well.

You don’t have to become emotionally unengaged to avoid Ruinous Empathy. When you pretend the emotional factors that govern all of us–even you–don’t exist, you don’t become more rational, you just fall prey to self-deception and become a worse communicator. You don’t need to choose between your mind and your emotions. You can be the master of both. You can care and challenge.

Google’s founders showed how to do that at a company meeting in 2004 when an engineer asked why Google’s executives were spending so much time getting a daycare set up. Why was it such a priority? There were a lot of abstract reasons given, but the best answer was Larry’s. He said, to the best of my memory, “Well, Susan just returned from maternity leave. We love working with her, and if she wants to come back to work, we want to make it as easy as possible for her.” Susan figured out how to make brand advertising work at Google, a multi-billion- dollar business, and she’s now CEO of YouTube. I’d say that explaining the decision through an anecdote was more effective than stats, and that building the daycare center paid off, wouldn’t you?

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