The Customer Confidential Podcast

Radical Candor: Don’t Be a Jerk

Kim Scott, executive coach and author of Radical Candor, argues that emotions should be honestly acknowledged, not hidden, in the workplace.


Radical Candor: Don’t Be a Jerk

As coauthor of The Ultimate Question, I know a thing or two about how a simple book title can be a double-edged sword: It conveys the essence of an idea, but that same simplicity can make an idea seem obvious and lead to gross misinterpretation. Kim Scott knows this too. She’s a CEO coach and the former head of DoubleClick online sales and operations at Google— among other impressive roles—but she’s best known as the author of the international bestseller Radical Candor.

The book is about the role feedback plays in helping other people succeed and the idea that delivering tough messages to colleagues is important—when it’s done right.

The original version of Radical Candor sold about 500,000 copies worldwide, and this is my second time talking to Kim about the idea. Our conversation more than two years ago covered some fascinating ground, but the subsequent publication and success of her book led Kim to some interesting realizations. She saw many people take her work to heart…with mixed results. In our conversation, we listen to a few clips from an episode of the HBO television series Silicon Valley, one of the funniest—and most distorted—depictions of radical candor. One of the things Kim learned from the show, she says, “is that an awful lot of people are using Radical Candor as an excuse to act like a garden variety jerk.”

That prompted Kim recently to write a fully revised edition of Radical Candor, to address some of the misconceptions about her idea and flesh out important techniques for implementing it. On this episode of the podcast, she discusses those changes and offers a guide to navigating the often difficult and fraught world of company openness when you’re working with human beings with human feelings and emotions.

You can listen to my conversation with Kim on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or your podcast provider of choice, or through the audio player below.

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 In the excerpt below, Kim talks about how tricky it can be to interpret emotions in a work setting.

Rob Markey: I think one of the things that in your book you do very well is you break radical candor down into a bunch of components that may not be apparent to somebody if they just read the title. And so I wanted to actually dig in a little bit to that second half of the new revised edition and ask you about some of those tactics and capabilities.

And I guess the first one that struck me was, it seems like it would be…second nature for people to care personally about the people with whom they work. And yet in a business environment, oftentimes, it isn't second nature. It's not natural. And there are a whole bunch of pitfalls.

Kim Scott: Yeah, it is really true. I think, when we get our first job when we're 18, 19, 20, and we're right at that moment when our egos are maximally fragile, and our personas are beginning to solidify—at least that's what it was for me being 18—and right at that moment, someone comes along and they say, “Be professional.”

And for an awful lot of us, that means leave your emotions, leave your true identity, leave, sometimes, your gender, leave your humanity. Leave everything that's best and truest about you at home and show up to work like some kind of robot, and you can't possibly…care personally about others if you're showing up to work like some kind of robot.

Rob Markey: Why do people interpret it that way?

Kim Scott: I think that part of the problem is…that we pretend that emotions have no place in the workplace.

Rob Markey: So, for example, ‘Don’t take it personally, Kim, but…’

Kim Scott: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Rob Markey: ‘...I disagree fundamentally.’

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Kim Scott: And so let's just eliminate that phrase: “Don't take it personally,” because the fact of the matter is we spend, most of us, more time at work than in any other part of our lives, and so…it does matter to us at a very personal level.

Rob Markey: But let me challenge that, let me challenge that because—and I’m just trying to think about it from the perspective of a young person. I am a college, a 22-year-old, kid. I'm six months into my first job, and I'm asked to do something and deliver it to my boss, who instantly comes back to me and says, “This, this, this and this needs to be changed in the following ways.” “Holy cow, all this, I just put weeks of work into this and you instantly identify a bunch of things that I did wrong.” And so I have to suppress the emotional reaction, which is, “Hey, wait a minute, number one, I don't think that's wrong. Number two, if it is wrong, couldn't you be nicer about it?”

Kim Scott: Yeah.

Rob Markey: Like there is a reason why people interpret the workplace as a place where they shouldn't… bring their emotions.

Kim Scott: Yes, yes there is. And sometimes it's a relief to be in a workplace where you don't have such intimate relationships. Actually, it's one of the nice things about the workplace sometimes. But I think what you're pointing at is the difference between…receiving the feedback and giving the feedback.

So, when I am the 24-year-old who just poured my heart and soul and all my time, 80 hours a week, over the last three weeks into something, and I give it to my boss and my boss criticizes 16 things that I did wrong—that I know I probably did wrong.

Rob Markey: And even if they do it in a very constructive way.

Kim Scott: If I'm on the receiving end, it's my job to try not to be defensive, and to try to be open to it. But if I'm on the giving end, if I'm that boss, and the person on the receiving end tears up, or yells at me, has that kind of emotional response, it is my job not to try to control that emotional response, but to respond to it with compassion—in the moment.

And not to say, “Don't take it personally.” And also, and this is hard when you're the feedback giver, this is one of the very tricky things because when you're the feedback giver, you often feel that, if the other person is having an emotional response, you didn't say it right. And now all of a sudden you're getting some feedback on your feedback, you know, and it turns into a house of mirrors.

And so I think if we can all learn how to take a deep breath when we give someone some feedback, and they give us an emotional response in return that we didn't want to have—they get angry or they get sad, basically. I think in those moments…pausing and saying, “I can see” or “It seems to me that you're feeling X, Y.” Just naming the emotion, not rejecting the emotion, and also naming the emotion humbly.

Because you may be wrong about the emotion that the other person is having. It may look to you like they're angry, but they're actually sad. [Or] it may look like she's sad, but she's not sad. She is pissed off at you for the way you said it.

[You need to learn] how to accept those emotions and use those emotions to gauge your feedback and to figure out how to do a better job.

This podcast includes excerpts from Silicon Valley © 2018, Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved, used with permission.

Net Promoter System®, Net Promoter Score®, Net Promoter® and NPS® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld, and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.


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