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Video: Sam Adams and the FU Rule

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

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

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

Admittedly, the wording used — personalized and arguably unkind — is quintessential Obnoxious Aggression, and we don’t really advise encouraging that between employees. But, as the boss, you often have to be the emotional punching bag, able to absorb the f-bombs that get hurled at you.
We also want to highlight some of the underlying, more Radically Candid aspects of this approach for getting and encouraging feedback:

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

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

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

Kim Scott

Kim Scott is the author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing your Humanity and the co-founder of Radical Candor LLC. A former CEO coach for several tech companies, including Dropbox, Qualtrics and Twitter, she has also managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo and started a diamond cutting factory in Moscow. In addition to Radical Candor, she is the author of three novels and the forthcoming leadership book Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair, available March 16, 2021 from St. Martin’s Press.