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How to Avoid Kicking Up

You may have heard the phrase “kissing up and kicking down,” which refers to the tendency of some people to try to please and flatter their bosses while taking out frustrations on the people who report to them. While this is a common behavior, I’ve found myself more likely to do the opposite. Here’s a reader question I received about this:

In the book, Kim talks about an instance where she “kicked up” with Larry Page. I’d like to think my direct manager at the moment has some more significant gaps in his communication skill set than Larry Page did at the time; but, either way, I find myself “kicking up” a lot lately, and it’s just not acceptable.

I have a very natural and easy time having compassion for peers or anyone that reports to me in any way. I just seem to have a tough time caring personally when leaders’ decision making seems to be hurting a lot of people (and the business). It’s harder for me when leaders don’t seem to listen to the feedback they get from others on their decision-making or communication.

I’ve tried encouraging some of the folks I’m having challenging communications with to check out ‘Radical Candor’, but to no avail.

All of that leads to my question: I really want to own my part of this, and I’m not meeting my own expectations for caring personally and offering feedback in a compassionate, patient way with people I report to. Do you have any advice on how to be better about not “kicking up”?

It’s definitely been the part of ‘Radical Candor’ that’s most challenging for me.

Here’s my answer:

Thank you so much for your note. Here is what I’ve found about “kicking up.”

Don’t Get Caught up with Hierarchy

When I am giving my boss feedback, I feel like I’m punching above my weight, so I am often unnecessarily fierce because I feel I have to be. Letting go of this is a huge help. I try to think about my boss as just another person I’m working with, not someone who is “above” me.

Remember You May Not Have the Full Context

When I’m giving my boss feedback, I have much deeper knowledge of my part of a situation than my boss has, and it’s tempting to dismiss my boss as ignorant or disconnected. However, I remember that though I have deeper knowledge, my boss has broader context that I may be missing. What seemed a no brainer when I was ignorant of that context may seem a lot more nuanced once I become aware of it. So I’ve found it really helpful to take some time to understand my boss’s context and priorities. I’ve also found it helpful to begin not by giving my boss feedback, but by asking for some. And also to take a moment to verbalize the things I appreciate about working for my boss–to give praise without kissing up. Bosses are people too, and need to hear about the good stuff as well as the problems.

Try to Be Part of the Solution

Another thing I find it useful to remember: a number of managers make the mistake of thinking they are supposed to know how to fix every problem that somebody brings to them. So I try to think of ways I can help to fix the problem I’m raising or criticism I have. When I offer criticism I want the other person–whether my boss or my employee–to know I’m there to help.

When I am the boss getting feedback from employees I often feel like I’m a projection screen for everyone’s unresolved authority issues. When it comes time to give feedback to my boss, I find it useful to remember that.

When I take a step back from both roles and try to see everyone I’m working with as other people, and to remove hierarchy from the situation, it all looks and feels much more straightforward.

Do these tips help? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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.

Civil discourse: try some with your beer this 4th of July!

Civil discourse and Radical Candor in our country have been dealt a heavy blow by an innocent sounding phrase: “politics divides.” These two words have silenced millions of small conversations that should have happened, and resulted in a political food fight very few of us are enjoying. The phrase “politics divides” has silenced us at work, and even around our Civil Discourse painting from Maine Council of Churchesown dinner tables. It’s caused us to turn our minds off, and to leave those hard issues to others.

That phrase, “politics divides,” may be one of the most dangerously insidious expressions in our language. It has left the notion of civil discourse in terrible disrepair in our nation. Just as the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” kills feedback and Radical Candor at work, the phrase, “politics divide” is ruinous for civil discourse.

If we can’t find a way to have a disagreement, then go out and have a beer together, and start the conversation again the next day, our democracy may fail.

The first time somebody told me that, I thought he was just a silly old man longing for a past that had never existed. He was a senator, kind enough to talk to a bunch of college students spending the summer in DC. Something was troubling him deeply, he told us. Collegiality had gone out of government. Once upon a time, it was possible to have a raging debate in the Senate, and then to enjoy a meal together. In my eighteen year-old arrogance, I dismissed him. I thought he was just saying that it wasn’t any fun to be a senator any more. I didn’t understand that when he warned us that it had become impossible to “reach across the aisle,” he wasn’t just talking about his power lunches. He was talking about his ability to get things done for the good of the nation.

Civil discourse–the ability to have the hard conversations and still care about the person you disagree with even when you think their position is wrong–is not just a nice to have, it’s one of the foundations of democracy. Our reluctance to jump in and have the hard conversations with each other has led us from a state of ruinous empathy to one of manipulative insincerity.

Real civil discourse has been sorely lacking from Democrats and Republicans alike. I am just as saddened by the rhetoric of people I agree with as I am by that of those with whom I disagree. We’ve resorted to a kind of unproductive name-calling we should have outgrown in second grade. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. It is so tempting…

This Fourth of July, try to have a political conversation with somebody on some topic you disagree on. 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.

But don’t set off the fireworks in this first conversation. Don’t choose the topic you care most passionately about and the person whom you have the most fraught relationship with. Choose something you care about but doesn’t make 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. To learn more about having these sorts of conversations and being a great boss, check out my book Radical Candor.

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 boss. The founding fathers made each and every citizen of this country a leader. 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!

Part of a boss’s job is to give feedback to peers. If we can’t lead by example–if we can’t discuss the important topics of our time with our peers–with each other–in a civil way, then it’s going to be difficult for us to insist that the representatives, the senators, and the President whom we elect to follow us.




Give Praise That Isn’t Patronizing

Praise usually seems much easier than criticism, but a lot of people actually hesitate to give praise. They worry about coming across as patronizing, pandering, or just insincere. We think that praise is even more important than criticism, so we want to help people learn to give it the right way.

Here’s a question we got from one of our podcast listeners:

I am a new manager of two administrative employees. Their day-to-day tasks are important to my team. Most of the time, the employees do a good job and keep our operations running smoothly.

However, I find myself only giving them negative feedback when something goes wrong. It feels patronizing to give praise when the employees do a good job since their tasks are not tied to specific projects. Do you have any tips for how I might give positive feedback and show appreciation?

Thank you for the great question! First, check out episode 3 of our podcast. We talk with Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, about “Ruinously Empathetic Praise.” There are some great nuggets about what good praise looks like, and the summary is this: good praise is specific and sincere.

Focus on the Good Stuff

Here’s my core piece of advice: You have to really try to look for the good stuff. Many times, we’ve just trained ourselves to be “blind” to all the great little things people do every day because, frankly, we’ve decided “that’s just their job.” Yeah, it is, and it’s ok to convey to people when they are doing their job well, even if that’s what’s expected. Reinforce the good behaviors and the good work, and don’t take for granted that it will just continue forever.

You have to really try to look for the good stuff.

If you really try, I’m sure you’ll see a ton of good stuff that people are doing… And regardless of whether these things are tied to specific projects, you can still give praise in a non-patronizing way.

Be Specific and Share Why It Matters

Remember that the purpose of praise is to help people understand what to do more of, what success looks like, and what is valued.

Whether managing an administrative person or anyone else, I’ve found it helpful to make sure that the person and I were on the same page about the nature – or objective – of their job, and to give praise that made reference to that shared understanding.

Let me give an example for one of my favorite Administrative Assistants, Lauren, that might help you think about this for your situation. So the nature of Lauren’s job was to help me be more effective and efficient with my time, which in turn allowed me to lead my organization better, which in turn helped the organization succeed.

This objective – and our shared clarity of the objective of her role – drove my praise of Lauren. By telling her specifically what she had done, and how it helped fulfill that objective, I was able to make it clear why her work mattered and help her repeat this success. And when you do that, it’s very hard to come across as patronizing.

Here are some examples:

  • Lauren would regularly anticipate a scheduling anomaly and set me up for success by budgeting in travel time or finding opportunities to schedule events that were close to my home at the end of the day to reduce my commute. These are specific things that made my life better, more efficient and led to greater efficacy. I would regularly call out those specifics to her, express my appreciation, and talk about why those things she did were so helpful.
  • Lauren was also my “eyes and ears” – At the time, I had a ~750 person global team, and it was hard to know what was going on all the time. I relied on many sources of information to know the heartbeat of my org, but Lauren was an extremely important one because for a variety of reasons, people would readily confide in her. Many times, she helped me get out in front of an employee relations SNAFU by putting things on my radar.

Clarify Your Thinking with Notes

If you’re having concerns about coming across as patronizing, try this exercise. Go lock yourself in a room right now and don’t come out until you’ve written down 5 good things each person you want to praise has done in the past 7 days. For each thing, write down specifically what the person did, and make a couple of notes of why it mattered. How did it positively impact you, the team, the company, the project? I bet you’ll discover that there is PLENTY of non-patronizing stuff to call out.

Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter!

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.

What If You Need to Interrupt?

In episode 12 of the Radical Candor podcast, Kim and Russ talked about how to give feedback to someone who frequently interrupts in meetings. Then a few weeks ago, we also shared advice for how to stop your own habit of interrupting. There’s one more question we’ve been getting about this topic…What if you need to interrupt someone?

How do you go about gently telling a person that’s speaking for way too long in a meeting, that his time’s up? And how do we do this without interrupting?

Both Kim and Russ weigh in on this question.

Kim says:

When this happens in a meeting, I think there are a few options. If you’re in front of a group giving a presentation, it can be useful to walk up to the person, so you’re sort of blocking them from the rest of the group with your body, say thanks, and call on somebody else.

If you’re around a table, I’d say something like, “I want to make sure everyone has a chance to speak.”

Russ’s thoughts:

I would agree with Kim, but I would reserve these approaches for times when the person has really been stealing the show over and over in that meeting. If that’s the case, I would first try Kim’s “interrupt with body language” idea. Then when the person takes a breath, make the point that you and the group want to hear from others. You can immediately facilitate to other people, almost like a pre-emptive interruption. So this might mean that you’ve been watching others’ body language and noticed someone who has something to add, and you serve the conversation in their direction.

Another little trick: as you facilitate a new question in the meeting, do what my teachers did in elementary school and say, “What do you think, and someone other than Timmy this time.” It makes Timmy feel like he’s contributing and also sends the message for him to ease back and for others to step up.

After the meeting, and especially if the person is a repeat offender, I think it’s time to offer some feedback. Something like, “You have valuable input and I don’t want that to stop, but I think you’re taking a little too much airtime in our meetings.” Remember to only say these things if they are true! If you’d like, show some research about the most effective teams sharing airtime. You can finish with, “I want to reiterate that your input is valuable, but we need to give others a chance, too. Can you help with that?”

An important guideline to remember: don’t criticize in public. Make sure you’re communicating this feedback to the person after the meeting, in private, rather than in front of the whole team. Realize that while it’s frustrating that the person is talking too much, you do have to be careful about losing his engagement. Offering a correction at all, even if necessary, presents a risk of him retreating. Offering that correction in front of everyone almost guarantees he will retreat.

What ways have you tried to make sure that everyone’s voices are heard in meetings? Share your tips with us in the comments below!

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.

What It Means to Care Personally About Your Team

Most of us have experienced a bad boss, and unfortunately, those experiences can create lasting effects. Here’s a story and question we got from a listener after she listened to the first episode of the Radical Candor podcast — it describes a common challenge that bosses have with balancing authority and Caring Personally and with building relationships with their direct reports.

Hi Kim and Russ,

Just listened to the first episode and wanted to share several of my previous “horrible boss” experiences with you.

I’ve been working about 13 years now. At my first real job out of college I worked at a newspaper in PA in the advertising department. The department head was an older man who I can now accurately describe as a misogynist. I was young and after one particularly hard experience (I can’t recall the details), I cried in his office. A year later, I was promoted from assistant to junior ad sales rep and while I was given the good news he also added something along the lines of “as long as there is no more crying.” Toward the end of my time there, an African American woman was hired in a position over him and he quit 2 months later. That’s when I really understood how the workplace can be for women.

I moved to NYC 10 years ago and started working in the ad agency world. At one of my earlier jobs I had a particularly crazy female boss who has shaped me in ways I still need help recovering from.

This boss was not much older than me, maybe 4 years. I was in my late twenties and she must have been early thirties. Her mood swings were incredible – one day she said hi in the morning and wanted to chat, other days she would ignore me for half of the day and then ask me to stay late working on projects with her that could have been done much earlier. She spoke harshly at times, but also praised me. Complete confusion.

The worst experiences were when she wanted to talk about her personal life. On multiple occasions she would ask if I was busy, then pull me into conference room to tell me about her relationship problems with her boyfriend. There was cheating, there was verbal abuse, they got engaged and then she took the ring off and “didn’t want to talk about it”. In addition to the in person talking, she would IM me and talk about it. I never had any idea what to say or what she was looking for me to do. All I wanted to do was work so I could leave on time!

This has had a lasting effect on me where I have a very hard time building relationships with the people I manage at work. I even had one employee tell me that she had a problem with it a few years back. I think I’m afraid of over-sharing and being thought of the way I thought of my old boss. How can I build a healthy relationship with my employees where we get to know each other and they respect my authority?

Struggling to connect

This is incredible. THANK YOU so much for sharing. Wow – I feel really bad for 22-year-old Struggling and 25-year-old Struggling, but feel very happy for you, 35-year-old Struggling, because you will be a great boss having been shaped by seemingly incompetent bosses and because you’re self-aware enough to ask how to build these relationships the right way.

I have a couple thoughts, and interestingly some of my answers lie in your experiences.

Showing You Care Personally

Let’s take your ad agency boss… What was it about her behavior that was so bad? Sharing inappropriate personal details? Maybe. Hot and cold communication? Meh. What she systematically did was put her needs ahead of yours. Every single example you gave, she put her own needs ahead of yours. For my money, this is at the core of Care Personally, one of the two dimensions of Radical Candor.

Caring Personally means demonstrating that you “give a damn” about the people you work with. Most people do care, but fall down simply because they fail to demonstrate it. Ad Agency Crazy-Person is different, though. She’s SELFISH. Caring Personally is about caring about others, about their needs and priorities. She was focused solely on her needs, her priorities.

Tip: Ask Questions

The first step to Caring Personally is deciding that your job is to enable the success of your team. Put their needs FIRST, above yours.

One thing you can do is to make a practice of asking a basket of questions to your team, maybe at the end of each week, or in your 1:1 meetings. For example:

  • How happy are are you right now?
  • How productive were you this week?
  • What’s in your way?
  • How can I help remove any blockers?
  • What else can I do to enable your success?
  • What opportunities are we missing around here?

I think it’s pretty clear that these are questions that demonstrate that you give a damn about the people on your team. Note that there’s not a bunch of sappy, schmoozing type stuff that’s required to do this. Of course, it’s very important to really want to hear the answers. Don’t just “check the box” and ask…

When you ask these questions, you probably will need to stop by the Thick Skin Store and buckle up because you might hear some uncomfortable stuff. Remind yourself constantly, “Don’t get mad, get curious.

Listen and Serve

Caring Personally, for my money, is about listening to people more than anything else. Of course, listen to their hopes, their fears, their dreams, but also listen to their ideas for improving the team, the work, the environment. All the answers are there on the team. You just have to ask.

A couple resources for you:

I will argue that by thinking about Caring Personally this way, you will ENHANCE your authority, not jeopardize it. It’s been my experience and not to put words in her mouth, but it’s been Kim’s, too. Your authority is absolutely not derived from your title or position. I promise you that. On paper, maybe, but in real life, no one on your team gives a hoot about your title. This was as true in the Marines as it was for Google. Authority was earned, not granted, and I’ve found in my career that it’s been earned far more by giving a damn about people than by knowing a lot of stuff or having a lot of ideas.

Authority is earned, not granted, and I’ve found in my career that it’s been earned far more by giving a damn about people than by knowing a lot of stuff or having a lot of ideas.

A note from Kim:

+ 1 to everything Russ said!

There is a huge difference between Caring Personally and Oversharing Personally!!

I feel your pain on the crying thing too. I had a boss who said I absolutely could not cry in front of him, and that just ensured I cried all the damn time. It was terrible! I find it helpful to remind men who say stuff like that to me that 1) men cry too and 2) if you tell me I can’t cry, it just makes it more likely I’ll cry. Let’s come up with another way to help you cope with tears if they happen.


I hope this is a helpful start.


So You’re Younger Than Your Direct Reports…

We frequently talk to managers who find it challenging to have direct reports who are older or more experienced than they are. We’re taught from a young age to “respect our elders,” which actually means to defer to them. With this kind of conditioning, it can feel awkward to be in a position of authority over these folks.

Here’s a question one of our podcast listeners sent in along these lines:

I’m a young startup CEO, and both my Director of Operations and Production Manager are 20 years (+/-) older than me. I know this is not abnormal, however I will note that my Director of Ops is also an investor in the company so the dynamic can be challenging. I try to approach these relationships with the mindset that I am learning from them, while at the same time leading the company’s direction. What advice do you have on managing employees and partners who are older than you?

First and most important, thanks for listening and thanks for giving us a chance to be helpful. Kim and I got in this business for that reason: to be helpful, so we’re excited when those opportunities present!

Now let’s get into your question.

When I was in the Marines, on day one I was managing a 40 person organization, which included one or two crusty, roughneck guys with a lot more experience than me. Worse, it’s traditional in the Marines for the enlisted guys to gently mock new lieutenants with wonderful nicknames like “butter bars” and “boot.” In fact, to this day, my Marines will once in awhile make a “boot” joke at my expense on Facebook. Of course, I love it — it’s now a term of endearment.

Anyway, my point is that I have very direct experience with this.

I am pretty sure there have been other stops in my career in which I have had to manage people older than me, but I’m not sure, and that’s really my first piece of advice: You have to let the age or experience difference go. Ignore it. Pretend it’s not there. The more this is featured in your brain, the more you are likely to manifest as apologetic or an imposter.

I admire your humility in wanting to learn from your reports. We give this advice to every manager, irrespective of any age dynamics at play. Good managers routinely ask their people for feedback, routinely learn from those people. It’s generally more a function of the fact that those folks are “closer to the facts” than that they have more experience, but the outcome is the same. Good leaders listen carefully to their teams and learn from them. Well done.


In the end, you, as a manager, have to

1. give feedback

2. build a great team

both in service to

3. driving results

The ages of your direct reports have no bearing on whether they are achieving results. If you focus your conversations on the objectives and key results of your company and the objectives and key results of your Director of Ops and Production Manager, you’ll see exactly how quickly your age becomes irrelevant.

Having a direct report as an investor is tricky. However, I’m just going to guess that he/she doesn’t own a huge portion of the equity and is not on the board, in which case, he/she is a shareholder just like any other employee. In managing the day-to-day operations of the business, the position of your Director of Ops as an investor has no bearing on your expectations of him/her and the results he/she is expected to attain.

So, to summarize the advice here… As much as possible, stop thinking about the fact that these direct reports are older or more experienced than you are. Instead, focus on communicating clear expectations for results, evaluating those results, and creating accountability for the results. This is what really matters, and it will hopefully help relieve the tension you feel.

Let us know how it goes!

Candor’s “Give Feedback” Playbook

We’ve been so excited about all the engagement we’ve gotten from our podcast listeners. We are getting great, thoughtful questions after each episode, and we know they’re questions that others have as well! So we’ll be sharing some of the advice we’re giving to individual listeners here on the blog.

Here’s a question from Kathryn:

My question relates to how one can challenge directly regarding inflexibility. I have a staff member that really struggles with his daily responsibilities I think due to being inflexible. He appears to not be able to break the habit of black and white thinking, be open to change in process or suggestions on how to be more efficient. Anytime a request is made or even a suggestion for improvement is made there seems to be a wall that goes up or there are a million questions (about a simple task) or he is agreeable but then I receive a super long resistant email. Is it possible to be candid about this behavior in order to assist this individual to achieving his true potential within the organization?

I penned a response to Kathryn and realized we have lots of advice about giving feedback in a few places, and I wanted to bring them together to help Kathryn solve her specific problem. I then realized that this is probably a pretty darn useful “playbook” to help you think about giving feedback.

TLDR for Kathryn: You can and must give this guy the feedback and you really should do it ASAP. This behavior is clearly getting in his way, and the longer you wait to offer him critical feedback, the longer he continues to confound his own success.

And I’ll go one step further: I’ll bet anything that this guy has faced this problem at his other jobs, and I’ll bet previous managers and peers never bothered to give him the feedback – perhaps they’ve been worn down by the behavior, perhaps they’ve feared an adverse response, perhaps they didn’t care. Someone has to help this guy, no matter how painful and difficult it is. Kathryn, you can be the one to end the cycle for him and help get him on the right track for today and for the rest of his career.

This is, in my view, a five-alarm feedback situation.

I think some helpful framing for the feedback and the conversation is the Center for Creative Leadership’s SBI Model. SBI means:

  • Situation: context or a specific situation in which a behavior manifested
  • Behavior: the behavior you are seeing that is not ideal (in this case) or the behavior you are seeing that is leading to success (in the case of praise)
  • Impact: the articulation of the Impact of the behavior

For future reference, we also espouse a derivative of the SBI model that we invented, which is the SWI Model, which is Situation, Work, Impact. It means:

  • Situation: context or a specific situation in which work was performed
  • Work: the specific work product, project, deliverable, performance goal, etc.
  • Impact: the articulation of the impact of the work product or specific performance

In Kathryn’s case, we’re talking about mostly behaviors, so we’ll stick primarily with SBI. A simple, clarifying practice can be to quickly write down the feedback. How this might look in Kathryn’s notebook:

SBI example

Kathryn will of course have to do the hard work of thinking through all of this, but you get the idea. One small execution detail: Kathryn should certainly be armed with a couple examples, but I recommend withholding the examples until after she’s discussed the impact of the behaviors. It’s a nuance, but I think it can be a bit easier for someone to hear the examples in the context of the impact of the behavior.


Candor's Give Feedback Playbook

The Playbook

When you’ve got feedback to give, follow these guidelines to give it as kindly and clearly as possible.

1. Write your feedback down

Write down what you want to say – it helps clarify. Also, write down your objectives. Being clear about what you want to happen as a result of the conversation makes it more likely the conversation will be helpful. You don’t need to write a federal case, just enough to clarify your thinking.

2. Practice

Find a peer or an HRBP (Human Resources Business Partner) type and practice actually giving the feedback. We often think we are much clearer in our heads than we are in actuality when we speak. Tell this person “I want you to help me refine and clarify this message.” Recognize that as a human being you are naturally predisposed to the following: the more difficult the message, the less clear you will be. Practicing on someone helps you hold the line and remain clear.


Think about these six ways to be kind and clear: helpful, humble, immediate, in person, public praise/private criticism, not about personality. If these ideas of HHIIPP are new to you, it can be useful to just focus on one or two HHIIPP principles at once, until you master them. I think “Humble” is often difficult and important to practice early on.

4. You don’t need to have all the answers

All too often, managers hold off on giving important feedback because they think they need to be “solutions oriented” which gets defined in their heads as “I can’t just bring a problem, I need to bring a solution.” That’s an impossibly high bar. Instead, offer to work with the other person to figure out how to help them improve in this area. In Kathryn’s case, this might mean providing resources to help this person be more open to feedback, like this article about taking feedback well.

5. Carefully assess emotions

You cannot control someone’s emotions, and if they become emotional – angry, crying, defensive… this does ***not*** mean you did something wrong. In Kathryn’s example, there is a decent chance the guy’s brain will move into threat zone given his regular behavior. How you react when someone is emotional is what matters far more than whether they’ve become emotional: Recognize they are not in a “teachable moment” if they are emotional or defensive. If you see this, you have some options.

  1. You can ask simple questions to move the person out of the limbic system/threat zone, such as “tell me how you are feeling right now,” or “how would you like to proceed?” These have the effect of helping someone move out of threat response and into problem solving.
  2. Be prepared to give the person a bottle of water and a :15 minute break (or even a break until the next day) to make sure you can have a discussion.
  3. There is a solid chance the person will only have heard a fraction of what you said, so you will need to check to see that your feedback landed (Gauge your feedback) to make sure you both are seeing this thing similarly.
  4. Be sure to fully understand their perspective, too – this is really what give it “humbly” means.

That’s it for the Give Feedback playbook. Remember – giving feedback – especially critical feedback – is hard, but that doesn’t mean we get to skip it. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that if you say it in just the right way or just the right time, the other person will magically, certainly be able to hear it well. Use the tips above to get to good outcomes – delivering feedback that is kind and clear in the case of criticism and specific and sincere in the case or praise.

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