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Managers, It's Time to Skip the Small Talk

Cornerstone Editors

A recent Gallup poll found that only a quarter of employees "strongly agree" that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them, or that the feedback they receive helps them do better work. Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanityis working to change that. According to her, investing time and energy into these relationships is key to creating an environment where people enjoy their work and their colleagues.

After working as a faculty member at Apple University and leading Sales and Operations at Google, Scott has served as an advisor to several Silicon Valley companies, including Dropbox, Shyp and Twitter. Across every organization, Scott witnessed managers balking at candor. In her new book, she explains how to create "bullshit-free zones" at work by showing managers that you don't need to choose between being nice and being candid.

The Intersection of Caring and Challenging

Being a good boss isn't easy, but the relationships you have with your direct reports impact culture, engagement and your team's ability to achieve results.

Scott recalls a conversation she had at Google with her then-boss, Sheryl Sandberg, whom she was close with. After a successful meeting with the company's executives, Sandberg invited Scott to walk with her back to her office. Sandberg started off with due praise, but had one piece of surprising feedback: "You said 'um' a lot." Scott, a bit relieved that this was her worst offense, brushed off the comment. But Sandberg persisted, asking if Scott had been nervous, and even offered to provide a speaking coach. Sensing that her feedback was not getting through, Sandberg decided she needed to take a more direct approach: "When you say 'um' every third word, you sound stupid." Now that caught Scott's attention.

While it can be misconstrued as a conversational free-for-all, Scott warns that Radical Candor is not brutal honesty. Instead, it is about caring about the other person as a human being and challenging them with open, two-way communication. If Sandberg hadn't already established that she cared about Scott personally or hadn't been as direct as she was, Scott may have continued to blow off the feedback. Instead, they were able to open the door for the kind of communication that ultimately leads people to accept, and act on, praise and criticism.

"The good news is you already possess the skills you need to be a good boss," Scott says. "At the core of being a good boss is simply this: your humanity and your ability to form good human relationships."

Scott developed these quadrants as a framework to guide your interactions and to help you gauge feedback. She says everyone spends some time in each of the four quadrants—and that's ok—but we should always move toward Radical Candor.

Don't Be Afraid of Feedback

The first step to forming radically candid relationships with direct reports is to actively solicit feedback. It is critical to find out what people really think about your work and behavior. Scott suggests having a "go-to question" such as:

  • "What could be better on this team?"
  • "What do you think I can do better as the manager here?"
  • "Is there anything I can stop doing that will make it easier to work with me?"

What follows will ideally be a conversation that will reveal important insights into what works, and what doesn't. Be sure to embrace the discomfort, listen intently, and take notes. Then take some time after the conversation to digest, identify key points and devise an action plan to share with your direct reports.

Inviting criticism isn't always easy, but taking this first step to solicit feedback—and then actually listen to it—will help build trust on your team, and in turn, help your employees improve themselves and everyone around them.

"It's possible to care and challenge," Scott says. "And if more people stop being ruinously empathetic and start being radically candid, humanity will more consistently be an advantage in business."

Header photo: Twenty20

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