Kim Scott, author of the best-selling 2017 book, “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity," talked with Publicis Sapient about how radical candor is more important now than ever and why she wrote her new book, “Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast and Fair” (St. Martin’s Press, March 2021.) Below, a video interview followed by an edited transcript.
Kim Scott's Radical Candor
The best-selling author and CEO coach sat with Publicis Sapient to discuss how leaders can practice compassionate candor during challenging times, and to share a sneak peek of her new book.
Publicis Sapient: Why is “Radical Candor” still so relevant today?
Kim Scott: A lot of people have in their mind this false dichotomy between being either somebody who’s really effective but a total jerk, or somebody who’s really ineffective but really nice. Nobody wants to have that choice. Nobody wants to have to choose between being a jerk and being successful. We don’t have to choose. That’s a false dichotomy. I think that is a big part of what has helped the idea catch on. I also think so many of us were told from the time we learned to speak, "if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all." Now all of a sudden it’s your job to say it. That is really hard. It’s hard to undo training that’s been pounded into your head since you learned to speak. At the same time, we were taught since we got our first job and we were told, “be professional.” I think for an awful lot of us, that gets translated to mean, “leave your emotions, leave your true identity, leave your humanity, leave everything that’s best about you at home. And show up at work like some kind of robot.” That’s not good either. I think realizing that we can care and we can be honest with each other at the same time, is a big relief for a lot of people.
PS: The wildfires are still burning in your area in California. At a time like this, how do you continue working or leading a team?
Scott: I think that the things I have found to be the most important to get through these times, starting with COVID and even more important now, are 1) Compassion for the people around me and also for myself. 2) Candor. Really telling the truth about what’s going on. 3) Action. I think work has been, for me, one of the most important psychological tools to get through this time.
PS: One of the tenets of “Radical Candor” is to care personally and challenge directly. Is that more challenging to do virtually, when many people are working remotely?
Scott: It’s obviously much more difficult when I’m not in person because 85 percent of communication is non-verbal. When you don’t get the texture of talking to people just as easily as walking by them when you’re going to get a cup of coffee or whatnot, it’s much harder. However, I’ve learned a few things during COVID. One of the things I really stress in the book is the importance of in-person communication. But I think actually you can get a lot of the way there by talking over video. You get so much of that non-verbal communication and you get feedback when you talk live. So I think being really conscious of when you’re having a synchronous conversation over video, and when you can email stuff out, is really important to caring personally and challenging directly in this time. The other thing I’ve learned is that even though I’ve taken a productivity hit working at home, I think I have gotten a parenting gain, a personal time gain, and a spousal gain because I have more time with my family. It turns out it’s most important to show up for yourself in your personal life and your personal relationships. That’s something I hope I can take back with me after we can emerge from quarantine.
PS: Do you think after COVID is over, there will be permanent changes in work habits and people will end up working more over video?
Scott: Basically, all of the CEOs I coach right now have said that they have either gotten out of their leases or are working on getting out of their leases. That they are going to make a big shift to virtual work. To not force everyone to show up in the office again. Of course there are times when we really do need to get together in person. But I think a lot of people have been quite surprised at how effective people can be when they are working from home. Also, they themselves are happier. They’re getting more sleep. They’re getting more exercise because they don’t have the commute time. They’re getting more time with their families.
PS: What inspired you to write your next book, “Just Work”?
Scott: I was talking to somebody and I said, ‘Radical Candor’ is a guerrilla feminist text. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks, the irony of having a clandestine message in a book about candor. So here’s some radical candor about “Radical Candor”: Radical candor works. It works really well. But it works best for white men. Anyone who is underrepresented has more struggles with “radical candor.” One of the things I realized is I needed to go much deeper into how we can be radically candid when bias, prejudice or bullying enter the equation. Also, how we can be radically candid when those three root causes of workplace injustice manifest as discrimination, harassment or even physical violations.
PS: In “Radical Candor” you lay out the framework with four quadrants of behavior. What is the framework in “Just Work”? Can you discuss both?
Scott: So, in “Just Work,” we have bias, prejudice and bullying. With bias, you respond with an “I” statement. With bullying, you respond with a “you” statement where you’re pushing someone away. With prejudice, you respond with an “it” statement. To me, that is the most helpful thing in “Just Work.” Sometimes that gets too complicated. In order to get to “just work,” you want to focus on collaboration rather than coercion, and you want to focus on respecting a person’s individuality rather than demanding conformity.
“Just work” is where you collaborate and you respect each person’s individuality. You get the best out of our collective efforts and our efforts as individuals. Sometimes what happens is we do focus on collaboration but we forget to respect individuality. Without even realizing it often, we sort of expect everyone to look like we do, and we wind up with a homogenous organization. That I call “oblivious exclusion.” That is probably the most common workplace problem that I have seen. There are other times when we both create a culture where there’s a dominant hierarchy that is focused on coercion and where we demand conformity of every individual. That I call “brutal ineffectiveness.” There’s also “self-righteous shaming.” This is what happens in too many organizations where we try to coerce people into seeing things our way. You cannot coerce people into respecting others.
“Radical candor” is what happens when you "care personally" and "challenge directly" at the same time. There are also times where we do challenge directly but we forget to show that we care personally. That I call “obnoxious aggression.” Very often, when we realize we’ve landed in “obnoxious aggression,” our instinct is – rather than to move up on the “care personally” dimension –to move in the wrong direction on "challenge directly," and utter the false apology. Then we end up in “manipulative insincerity,” the worst place of all. This is where passive aggressive behavior, political behavior, all the worst toxic workplace behaviors creep in. The mistake that the vast majority of us make happens in this fourth quadrant where you do show that you care personally, but you forget to challenge directly. You don’t challenge directly because you’re afraid you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings or you’re going to upset them. That I call “ruinous empathy.” It’s really interesting to compare and contrast “ruinous empathy” and “radical candor” because “ruinous empathy” paralyzes us, whereas “radical candor” is what moves us forward.
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