How to Be a Better Human
Why Kim Scott thinks you need to ask for feedback
March 13, 2023
[00:00:00] Chris Duffy:
You are listening to How to Be a Better Human. I'm your host, Chris Duffy. Today's guest is Kim Scott. Over the course of her career, Kim has worked at all sorts of big companies that you've heard of and had all these very fancy titles, but all those impressive accomplishments, while wonderful, none of those were actually Kim's goal.
[00:00:19] Kim Scott:
My whole business career was actually one giant ploy to subsidize my novel-writing habit. So, I had written three novels, none of which got published. The first novel is actually set in Russia, and it's called The Measurement Problem. And, uh, it's a, it's a lighthearted critique of capitalism. It's a, it's about, uh, a young woman who moves to Moscow and falls in love with two people—one is an American delivering humanitarian aid, and the other is a Russian entrepreneur.
And I was talking actually to Andy Grove, who was the CEO of Intel about sort of what I wanted to do with my life, and he said, “Why don't you write about management? A lot of the drama that is in, uh, a novel is in management and most people who are operating executives don't like to write. And most people who like to write have never been an operating executive. And you've done both. So do it.”
[00:01:21] Chris Duffy:
That was a big piece of feedback for Kim that changed the course of her career. She ran with that idea so far that she became an expert in feedback herself and the bestselling author of the books Radical Candor and Just Work.
When it comes to giving and receiving feedback, whether it's at work in your personal life or on creative projects, no one knows more than Kim. I really believe that. And so today on our show, we're gonna get very candid—some might even say radically candid—about feedback, work, and how to communicate honestly, but also kindly with Kim. We're gonna do all of that right after this.
[00:01:58] Chris Duffy:
Okay, we are back. Today, we're talking feedback with Kim Scott.
[00:02:03] Kim Scott:
Hi, I’m Kim Scott, and I am the author of Radical Candor and Just Work.
[00:02:07] Chris Duffy:
Have you just always been the kind of person who is willing to give feedback?
[00:02:10] Kim Scott:
No, I hate giving feedback. That's why I wrote the book. I would say, so in Radical Candor, I talk about, uh, about ruinous empathy and ruinous empathy is me. I really, uh, I hate upsetting people. I hate saying something that might, might hurt their feelings in the short run, even if it's good for them in the long run. And I think the, the way that I got over that was by thinking about stories, telling myself stories, and then telling other people's stories about times when I failed to tell someone something they would've been better off hearing in the long run and remembering that the kinder thing to do in the fullness of time is to tell the person the thing.
[00:02:57] Chris Duffy:
All of us know, like, we don't wanna be in a relationship with someone who is, like, secretly seething at us. We don't wanna work for a boss—
[00:03:03] Kim Scott:
[00:03:03] Chris Duffy:
—who says, like, “Good job” even though they're throwing out our work and having to redo it all. You want to—
[00:03:07] Kim Scott:
[00:03:07] Chris Duffy:
To have to trust that the other person is telling you something honestly. And yet, there's paradoxically this real fear of honesty and of, of hearing the, the hard truth.
[00:03:18] Kim Scott:
Yeah. There’s a fear of, of hearing it. I think there may be even a greater fear of sharing it. But the fear is, is on both sides of the equation.
I'll tell you this story, what I call the Bob story, and I think everyone has a Bob story. So Bob was this guy I had hired and I liked him a lot. He was smart, he was charming, he was funny. He would do stuff, like we were at a manager offsite, and we were at a startup and everybody was stressed and somehow we wound up playing some of those endless get-to-know-you games. Trust falls and all that kind of nonsense.
And Bob was the guy who had the courage to raise his hand and to say, “Look, I can tell everyone is really stressed out and we'd all rather get back to work. So why don't we just, I've got an idea. It'll be really fast, and it'll help us get to know each other and then we can all go back to work.” And so Bob says, “Let's just go around the table and confess what candy our parents used when potty training us.”
Really weird, but really fast, and then even weirder yet, we all remembered. And then for the next10 months, every time there was a tense moment in a meeting, Bob would whip out just the right piece of candy for the right person at the right moment. So Bob brought a little levity to the office. He was funny.
One problem with Bob, he was doing terrible work. Absolutely terrible work. He would hand stuff in to me, and there was shame in his eyes. I was so puzzled because he had this incredible resume, this great history of accomplishments. I learned much later the problem was that Bob was smoking pot in the bathroom three times a day, which maybe explained all that candy that he had at all times.
But I didn't know any of that at the time. All I knew is that Bob was handing in terrible work, and I would say something to Bob along the lines of, “Oh Bob, this is a great start. You are so awesome. Everyone loves working with you. Maybe you can make it just a little bit better.” Which, of course, he never did.
And so, let's pause for a moment and sort of double-click on why I said something so banal to Bob. I think part of the problem was what I just mentioned: ruinous empathy. I really did care about Bob. And so I really didn't want to tell him something that was gonna upset him. But if I'm honest with myself, there was also something a little bit more nefarious going on because Bob was, as I mentioned, he was popular. Everybody loved working with him, and he also was very sensitive.
And there was part of me that was afraid that if I told Bob, in no uncertain terms, that his work wasn't really good that he would get upset. He might even start to cry, and then everyone would think I was a big you know what. So this goes on for 10 months and eventually the inevitable happens, and I realized that I was gonna lose all my top performers if I didn't fire Bob because they were frustrated. Their deliverables were late because Bob's deliverables were late. They were unable to do their very best work because they had to spend a bunch of time redoing Bob’s work.
And so I sat down to have a conversation with Bob that I should have started, frankly, 10 months previously. And when I finished explaining to him where things stood, he sort of pushed the chair back from the table and he looked me right in the eye, and he said, “Why didn't you tell me?”And as that question is going around in my head with no good answer, he looked at me again and he said, “Why didn't anyone tell me? I thought you all cared about me.” And that was the moment that I realized that by just being nice to him and not telling him, I wound up having to fire him as a result, not so nice after all.
[00:06:57] Chris Duffy:
For me, one of the pieces that it really brings up is I think sometimes we, we hesitate to give feedback to our Bobs in our lives because—
[00:07:06] Kim Scott:
[00:07:07] Chris Duffy:
We have this skewed idea about people's potential to grow and change, like we think that they're fixed.
[00:07:14] Kim Scott:
[00:07:14] Chris Duffy:
When in reality, people aren't fixed, then like if, if, if Bob was always gonna be, just be horrible, right, then it isn't very kind. But that's not how humans work.
[00:07:21] Kim Scott:
[00:07:21] Chris Duffy:
Right, Bob can become better.
[00:07:22] Kim Scott:
[00:07:23] Chris Duffy:
But only if you let him become better.
[00:07:24] Kim Scott:
Yeah. In order for radical candor to work, you have to have a certain optimistic growth mindset. If you think that someone truly sucks and will never improve, then there's no point.
[00:07:36] Chris Duffy:
[00:07:36] Kim Scott:
Then you're wasting your breath. But that, in my experience, is never the case. People don’t only suck. They can always get better.
[00:07:44] Chris Duffy:
I love that “don't only.” Sometimes they definitely do.
[00:07:46] Kim Scott:
Sometimes they do. Like, sometimes I suck. Sometimes we all do.
[00:07:50] Chris Duffy:
[00:07:50] Kim Scott:
Uh, we, we all make mistakes, which is also part of the reason why radical candor is so important.
[00:07:55] Chris Duffy:
And, so I know with, with radical candor, you have some real clear guidelines to help people because there's real common mistakes that people make when they do radical candor. One, one is radical candor isn't brutal honesty. And I think that seems like the most common—
[00:08:10] Kim Scott:
[00:08:10] Chris Duffy:
People all of a sudden go to the other side and they're like, “Bob, you're a fool, and you're an idiot, and here's everything you've ever done wrong.”
[00:08:15] Kim Scott:
[00:08:15] Chris Duffy:
And like, that doesn't work well either, so. So talk to me about that.
[00:08:19] Kim Scott:
So, radical candor is about caring and challenging at the same time, and sometimes we challenge, but we forget to show that we care, and that's what I call obnoxious aggression. When you neither care nor challenge, that's manipulative insincerity.
And there's a, there's a well-worn path from obnoxious aggression to manipulative insincerity. So, uh, you know, there's a bunch of problems with obnoxious aggression. The, the biggest one, obviously is that it hurts other people. But the second problem is that it's inefficient. If, if you act like a jerk to someone, they go into fight or flight mode, and they literally cannot hear you, so you're wasting your breath.
And the third, I think, kind of more subtle problem is that almost no one wants to be a jerk. And so most of us, I don't know about you, but at least for me, when I realize I've acted like a jerk, it’s not actually my instinct to go the right way on care personally, which is what I ought to do. Instead, it's my instinct to backpedal and go the wrong way on challenge directly. “Oh, it's no big deal. It doesn't matter. Don't worry.” But like it is a big deal, and it does matter. That's why I just said it.
[00:09:26] Chris Duffy:
[00:09:26] Kim Scott:
And then you wind up in that manipulative insincerity quadrant. So if obnoxious aggression is front-stabbing, manipulative insincerity is backstabbing. By the way, I got some feedback not to use such violent language, and I just failed to act on that feedback.
[00:09:41] Chris Duffy:
[00:09:41] Kim Scott:
But hopefully, it makes it clear.
[00:09:43] Chris Duffy:
Yeah. Another piece that you talk about with radical candor is, is making sure that you can take it before you dish it.
[00:09:48] Kim Scott:
Don't dish it out before you prove you can take it. And it's not just about dishing it out and taking it. Another reason why you wanna start with soliciting feedback is you wanna understand what you might be doing that is contributing to a situation. Very, very often people talk about the fundamental attribution error, and that's where people assume that all the problem is because of this other person's personality as opposed to the context and what, what one may be doing that contributes to the context. So I think it's really important to start by soliciting feedback.
[00:10:29] Chris Duffy:
It's very easy for me to get feedback and to give feedback in some realms. So professionally, when I am working with another comedian and we're writing a script, it's so natural, and it feels helpful and it feels kind to give them—
[00:10:45] Kim Scott:
[00:10:45] Chris Duffy:
—feedback. And then, in my personal life, I, I have that exact thing that you were describing of. I, I so want people to like me and to not be upset and I want to, to please people. And so, I mean, literally in, in my marriage, like in order for me to say the small things, I, we've had to, like, create a set time every week where we do an actual check-in.
We have to say, “Here's one thing that went really well this week, and here's one thing that maybe we could do better.” And at first, when we started doing that, I was like, “This is so deeply cringeworthy. This is like, I cannot believe we're doing like a, a weekly check-in in our marriage.” But for me, what it did really stop was it was this pressure valve because before it used to be that, like for months, I would just be like, “Everything's good, everything's good.”
[00:11:29] Kim Scott:
[00:11:30] Chris Duffy:
And then I'd be like, “You never set the timer on the microwave back. And so it's always at 0.02 seconds instead of the time. And I want it to be the time.” And I'm so angry and she's like, “How, why didn't you just tell me?” And I'm like, I, “This has been boiling for months.”
[00:11:44] Kim Scott:
It's not just you, it's all of us, I think. And one of the nice things about work is, you know that that's what you're supposed to do. Whereas I think with friends or with, with family, uh, with children, with spouses, with, uh, with cousins, parents, the idea is that it's supposed to be fun and peaceful and you're supposed to get along. But part of getting along is having disagreements. You know?
I think we fear for some reason that a disagreement poses a challenge, uh, a risk to our relationships, but it's not disagreement that is risky for relationships. What's really risky for relationships is that unspoken disagreement, ‘cause I do the same thing you do. Like, I hold onto it, and I hold onto and I hold onto it and I don't say anything and I think I'm being nice. And then, I get so angry about it that I explode in some kind of weird way that makes me look, look ridiculous. And the other person's like, “You've been holding onto that for all this time? Like, what is going on?”
[00:12:52] Chris Duffy:
Well, I wonder, if you are the manager, as you were. Right? If you're in a position of power and you get good at radical candor, all of a sudden you have such clear benefits for all the people under you because they're getting such clear feedback from you.
But what about if you're the, it's the other way and you are an employee and you want more clear feedback? You want to be better at this, but the people who are giving you feedback aren't really good. What can you do in that situation where it's kind of like you can change yourself, but it's hard to get it from the other?
[00:13:27] Kim Scott:
Yeah, soliciting feedback, I think, is really important no matter what role you play, but especially if you're, if you're the manager, ‘cause if you're the manager, you've gotta lay that power down.
And one of the best ways to lay your power down is to solicit feedback. So here are four steps for soliciting feedback. The first step is to think about the words you're gonna use to ask for feedback. Because if you say, “Do you have any feedback for me?” you're wasting your breath. I can already tell you the answer: “Oh no, everything's fine.”
So you wanna think about how you're gonna ask. The way that I like to ask is, “What could I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?” But don't ask my question ‘cause if you sound like Kim Scott and not like yourself, the other person is not gonna believe that you really want the answer.
So you gotta figure out how you're gonna ask in your own words. Another tip on the go-to question, by the way, is to make sure it can't be answered with a yes or a no. You, you wanna say “What could I do?” Not “Is there anything I could do?” So step number one, good question.
Step number two, embrace the discomfort. No matter how good your question is, the other person is still gonna feel uncomfortable, and the only way out of that discomfort is through. Best thing I need to do, close your mouth, count to six. I only made it to three, just there. And I can tell you, you're getting a, it's so long.
[00:14:55] Chris Duffy:
It's so painful every time. Oh my god, it's so hard.
[00:14:57] Kim Scott:
So almost no one can endure six full seconds of silence, so, so they'll probably tell you something, which brings you to step number three. You wanna make sure that you're listening with the intent to understand, not to respond.
Simplest way to do that is to ask some follow-up questions. Uh, and then the fourth thing you've gotta do is you gotta reward the candor. And that's pretty easy if you agree with the feedback; you fix the problem and you ask the person, you know, “Did I overcorrect? Did I under-correct?”
And by the way, a good tip that one of my managers once gave me is she said, if you get some feedback, for example, the feedback to me was that I was moving too fast. She said, “You will not have fixed this problem until people start telling you that you're moving too slow.”
So you actually need to kinda aim to overcorrect, and then maybe you'll get it right, but there's gonna be another thing that'll happen, and that is that you will disagree with the feedback that you just solicited, and now you feel wedged. I think the thing to do when you disagree with feedback that you solicited or when you disagree with unsolicited feedback is first to demonstrate that you're not shut down the feedback. So look for the 5 or 10% of what the other person said that you can agree with. And give voice to that ‘cause you rarely disagree with 100% of what someone said.
And that kind of makes your listening tangible. It shows you're paying attention. And then say, as for the rest of it, “Let me think about it and then get back to you,” and then get back to them and have a respectful disagreement. I mean, you can't argue endlessly. At some point you've gotta listen, challenge, commit. But having that respectful disagreement is what's gonna save your relationship.
[00:16:40] Chris Duffy:
I'm curious, what are some of the most meaningful pieces of feedback that you have received?
[00:16:43] Kim Scott:
All right. Here's my favorite feedback story. So this happened shortly after I joined Google and I had to give a presentation to the founders and the CEO about how the AdSense business was doing.
So probably, just like you in such a situation, I felt a little bit nervous. Luckily for me, the AdSense business was on fire. And when I said how many new customers we had added, the CEO almost fell off his chair. “What did you say? This is incredible. Do you need more marketing dollars? Do you need more engineering resources?”
So I'm feeling like the meeting's going all right. In fact, I now believe that I am a genius, and I walked out of the room, I walked past my boss, and I'm expecting a high five, a pat on the back. And instead, she says to me, “Why don't you walk back to my office with me?” And I thought, “Oh wow, I messed something up in there and I'm sure I'm about to hear about it.”
And she began not by telling me what I had done wrong, but what had gone well in the meeting. But of course, all I wanted to hear about was what I had done wrong. And eventually, she said to me, “You said ‘Um’ a lot in there. Were you aware of it?” I kind of breathed a huge sigh of relief, and I made this brush-off gesture with my hand.
I said, “Yeah, no, it's a verbal tic. It's no big deal, really.” And then she said, “I know this great speech coach. I bet Google would pay for it. Would you like an introduction?” And once again, I made this brush-off gesture with my hand and I said, “No, I am busy. Didn't you hear about all those new customers? I don't have time for a speech coach.”
And then she stopped, she looked me right in the eye and she said, “I can tell when you do that thing with your hand, I'm gonna have to be a lot more direct with you. When you say ‘Um’ every third word, it makes you sound stupid.” Now she's got my full attention, and some people will say it was mean of her to say that I sounded stupid.
And it's important to note that she never would've used those words with other people on her team. But she knew me well enough to know that if she didn't use just those words, she wasn't gonna get through to me. And in fact, if she hadn't used those words, I never would've gone to visit the speech coach and I wouldn't have learned that she was not exaggerating. I literally said, “Um” every third word, and this was news to me because I had been giving presentations my whole career. I had raised money for three different startups giving presentations. I thought I was pretty good at it, and that was what really got me to thinking, you know, first of all, why had no one told me?
It was almost like I had been marching through my whole career with a giant hunk of spinach in between my teeth, and nobody had had the common courtesy to tell me it was there. But what was it about her and her management style that made it so seemingly easy for her to tell me? And that was kind of where I came up with care personally and challenge directly. So that was, that was a big feedback moment for me.
[00:19:35] Chris Duffy:
We're gonna take a quick break and then we will be right back.
[00:19:41] Chris Duffy:
We're talking about feedback with Kim Scott. There's a clear thread between Kim's first book, Radical Candor, and her second book, Just Work. It's how do you get people to feel like it is safe enough for them to share their full selves? How do you get actual honest feedback from them? And Kim's answer has been that you need to create a space that roots out bias and prejudice.
Here's a clip from a TED Talk that Kim gave with her colleague, Trier Bryant.
[00:20:08] Kim Scott:
We all have our biases. The set of assumptions that we make and the things we don't notice about people's race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, and other traits. They come from the part of our mind that jumps to conclusions that we might not even be aware that we have.
[00:20:26] Trier Bryant:
I really can't tell you the number of times people assumed I was the receptionist, when I was an executive at the company.
[00:20:32] Kim Scott:
That kind of bias gets in the way of good collaboration, performance, and decision-making.
[00:20:38] Trier Bryant:
It creates an invisible tax of resentment and frustration. The more frustrated we are, the more silent we are likely to be, and the more silent we are, the less we may be able to do our best work. The good news, though, is bias is not inevitable.
[00:20:52] Chris Duffy:
Okay, so Kim, what is it that we can do to make feedback inclusive?
[00:20:57] Kim Scott:
One of the most valuable bits of feedback I got after, after Radical Candor came out came when I was doing a radical candor talk at a tech company in San Francisco, and the CEO of that company had been a colleague of mine for the better part of a decade and is a person who I like and respect enormously and one of too few black women CEOs in tech or frankly in any other sector.
And when I finished giving the presentation, she pulled me aside and she said, Kim, “I'm excited to roll out radical candor. I think it's gonna really help me build the culture that I want, but I gotta tell you that it's much harder for me to roll it out than it is for you.” And she went on to explain to me that as soon as she would offer anyone even the most gentle, compassionate criticism, she would get slimed with the angry Black woman stereotype. And I knew this was true, and as soon as she said it to me, I thought, you know, is, what is going on for her? Is it bias? Is it prejudice? Or is it bullying?
And how often do bias, prejudice, and bullying masquerade as feedback? Like, all the damn time. And I hadn't even covered that, really in, in Radical Candor and I, it, that kind of prompted me to have a bunch of different realizations at the same time. The first was that I had not been the kind of colleague who I imagined myself to be.
I, I had failed even to notice the extent to which my colleague had to show up unfailingly cheerful and pleasant at every meeting we had ever been in together, even though she had what to be ticked off about as we all do at work. And I just, I had failed to notice the toll that that must take on her. So I'd kind of failed to be an upstander.
So that was number one. Number two was that I had been in denial about the kinds of things that were happening to me as a white woman in, in the workplace. Uh, not only had I been in denial about what was happening to her, but also what was happening to me, and I think I had been in denial in no small part because I, I'd never wanna think of myself as a victim, but even less than wanting to think of myself as a victim did I ever want to think of myself as a culprit.
And my third realization was that I was most deeply in denial about the ways that I had caused harm to other people, never intending to, but the ways in which I myself had been biased, prejudiced, or, or had bullied others. And then the last thing I realized was that as a leader, you know, I thought of myself as person who created these great BS-free zones in which everybody could do the best work of their lives and build these wonderful relationships. And I realized I had failed to address bias, prejudice, and bullying the way that a leader should address them. So that was, that's, that was really set me down the path of writing Just Work.
[00:23:50] Chris Duffy:
When I think about this aspect of feedback, right, of the feedback around things that can be very charged, right? So bias, bullying, prejudice, I think that I want this feedback. I don't want to be biased, I don't want to be prejudiced, but I also feel a real sense of risk in soliciting this kind of feedback because there's this fear of like, “Oh, but what if I ask for this? Are they gonna realize that it's actually way worse and I'm gonna get in like all sorts of trouble and I should just, like, keep my mouth shut and not think about these things?”
And I think obviously, you know, when you do that, you just preserve the status quo. You don't make anything better. But, and there's a real privilege to being able to do that and to, to say like, “I'm not gonna do it.”
[00:24:26] Kim Scott:
[00:24:26] Chris Duffy:
But it's scary to ask for feedback around these things and just think like, “Uh-oh, is this gonna lead to, like, me getting in trouble or like all of a sudden people realizing that I am, you know, quote-unquote ‘bad’?” Which, obviously I, I think, is an unrealistic fear, right? That's not, that's not what happens in good feedback anyway.
[00:24:41] Kim Scott:
I think even before you get to that sort of conscious questioning, there's like, there's an amygdala response. I don't know about you, but when, when I get feedback that I've said or done something that's biased, I feel ashamed.
[00:24:54] Chris Duffy:
[00:24:54] Kim Scott:
And, I mean, I can tell you where I feel it in my body. The backs of my knees start to tingle. It's the same sensation I get when my children walk too close to the edge of a precipice. I mean, it's a real fear. It's a real primal fear. And we rarely respond at our best or are open to the feedback when we're in shame brain. And so figuring out how to move through that shame so that one can be open to the feedback…
[00:25:22] Chris Duffy:
How do you modulate when you're giving types of feedback? And I, I feel like shame may be one of the main pieces to think about here between whether it's better to give it privately and versus publicly, and when you decide between in the moment and afterwards.
[00:25:36] Kim Scott:
I think if you're gonna offer someone criticism, it's almost always better to do it in private, but there's a difference between kind of an in-the-moment correction and criticism. So in the moment correction is somebody's given a presentation and there's a typo on page six. You know? That, I think that's fair game to say in public, whereas “You always make typos and your work is sloppy.” Like, the, A) that's a bad way to give it, but B) if you, if you had that criticism, you'd need to have that conversation in private.
So that I think is important. And also as a general rule, I think you wanna give feedback when you're giving it as close to the incident as possible. Almost immediately. As soon as you can get a private moment with the person.
To give really good feedback, you want context, observation, result, next step. And if you do it right after the meeting, you can just say “in the meeting” and you don't have to remember all the other context.
[00:26:42] Chris Duffy:
Let's talk about, and I guess this is a form of feedback as well, but how do you disrupt bias?
[00:26:46] Kim Scott:
Yeah, so I think the first thing to do is to be clear in your mind what's the difference between bias, prejudice, and bullying so that you know what it is that you're disrupting.
So if bias is not meaning it, it’s like a, a mental hiccup. Prejudice is meaning it, it's a consciously held belief and bullying, there’s no belief, conscious or unconscious at all. It's just being mean. So if you think what's happening is bias, and you don't have to be right, but you're guessing it's bias, a simple way to sort of disrupt it is an “I” statement.
“I don't think you meant that the way it sounded.” And that you can, if you're, whether you're the upstander or whether that bias was targeted at you, that can be helpful, but that almost never happens.
I mean, I'll tell you a story about bias disrupted. A friend of mine, Aileen Lee, was going into a meeting with two colleagues who were men, and they sat down at a conference table, waited for the other side to come in, the people they were negotiating with.
First guy came in and sat across from the guy to Aileen's left, next person came in and sat across from the guy to his left. Then everybody else filed on down the table, leaving Aileen dangling by herself, and Aileen was the person that turned out that had the expertise that was gonna win her team the deal. So she started talking and when the other side had questions, they directed them at her two colleagues who were men, not at her as though she weren't speaking, as though she weren't even in the room.
And it happened once. It happened twice. It happened a third time. And finally, her colleague stood up and said, I think Aileen and I should switch seats. So that's an “I” statement. And that was all he had to do to totally disrupt the bias in the room. Everybody else realized what was going on. And they changed it.
They didn't intend to do it. They were just sort of instinctively doing it. And he did that because he cared about Aileen and, and didn't like seeing her get ignored. And he also did that because he just wanted to win the deal, and he knew if he couldn't get them listening… So that's an example of an “I” statement, but that kind of thing very rarely happens.
I had to kind of talk to a lot of people to get that story for the book. So what can you do as a leader to make that happen more often? And there's, there's a process, a bias disruptor process that I recommend. Three steps. The first step is to come up with a shared vocabulary. What's the word or phrase that your team will use to disrupt bias in the moment? Uh, I like “purple flag”. It's on the floor, so I'm not gonna reach down and grab it.
[00:29:21] Chris Duffy:
We can imagine you're sha—you’re waving a purple flag right now.
[00:29:23] Kim Scott:
Yes. I'm waving a purple flag. So, a purple flag is, you know, it's a friendly flag. It's not a, it's not a red flag; it’s not a yellow flag. It sort of invites someone in, and I, it's like an “I” statement. It invites someone in to notice that that bias has just made itself known.
[00:29:41] Chris Duffy:
Bias or Prince has entered the building.
[00:29:42] Kim Scott:
Something has entered the building.
[00:29:44] Chris Duffy:
Yes, yes, yes.
[00:29:44] Kim Scott:
The other teams that I've worked with have used things like “ouch” or one team would throw up a peace sign. So whatever it is that, that, your team, what's the, what's the way that your team agrees to, to flag biases when it happens. So that's a shared vocabulary.
Next is step number two, which is really to help everyone come up with a shared norm for responding when it's you whose bias has been disrupted. Because we, as we were just talking about, you feel ashamed in this moment. And this has to happen publicly. Bias disruption, if, if, if you ignore it and whisper in the person's ear after the meeting, then the, the bias gets reinforced.
So you've gotta disrupt it. It's like a correction. It's like, think of it like a typo. But people need to learn how to not get defensive when their bias is, has been disrupted. So, it should always start with the shared norm. Should always start with,“Thank you for pointing it out.” And then, one of two things.
Either “I get it, I'll try not to do it again,” Or second thing you can say is, “I don't get it. Can you explain it to me after the meeting?” The “I don't get it” part is really hard ‘cause now I'm doubly ashamed. I'm ashamed ‘cause I've, I've harmed someone else and I'm ashamed because I'm ignorant. I don't know what I did wrong even.
And in that case, people need to understand that that's gonna happen, that that ha—that is gonna happen to all of us, and that we're educating each other, that it's okay for you not to know. Why do I suggest talking after the meeting? The reason is, I think bias disruption should happen in every single meeting you have.
So that's the third thing is shared commitment. But if you're gonna disrupt bias in every single meeting, you don't, you wanna disrupt bias, not the meeting. So you wanna, you wanna talk about it after the meeting.
[00:31:32] Chris Duffy:
What are some ways that I could make the end of this podcast better than the first for you as an interview?
[00:31:36] Kim Scott:
I would love to talk about bullying, and I would love to talk about a specific form of bullying. I would call it bloviating bullshit.
[00:31:46] Chris Duffy:
Let’s get to bloviating bullshit right now. Talk to me about bloviating bullshit.
[00:31:49] Kim Scott:
All right, so have you ever been in a meeting where one person who is, shall we say, usually overrepresented and overconfident, takes up all the air time, even though they really don't know anything about the topic that the meeting is, is addressing? Ever happen to you?
[00:32:06] Chris Duffy:
I, I've many times been that person.
[00:32:09] Kim Scott:
Yes, me too. Because it works. That's the problem with bloviating bullshit is that it actually works quite well. In fact, I learned this when I was in high school doing Model United Nations, and usually, I, like, was super prepped for the UN, for the Model UN.
But this year I was, I, I forgot what happened, but I didn't prep at all, and I went in, I was terrified and then I just kind of watched what was going on, and I realized people were just hurling insults at each other. And so I was like, “Well, I can do that.” You know, and I jumped in and by the end of the day, I felt kind of disgusted with myself.
You know, I had been, you know, I'd been kind of a bully, and I had made a bunch of stuff up. I didn't really know what I was talking about, and I kind of went home. I thought, “Oh gosh, somebody's gonna punish me.” And my mother came, burst into my room and said, “They're calling you. You won the best delegate award.”
[00:33:01] Chris Duffy:
[00:33:02] Kim Scott:
Yes, it was really a lesson, and it took me a lot more years to realize that that was not the person I wanted to be. That that kind of postulatory boldness was, was not really productive and that it was, that I was able to get away with it, uh, probably in, in no small part because, uh, of privilege.
And so one of the things that I really encourage leaders to do is to create consequences for bullying. Sort of conversational consequences. You gotta shut it down in the moment. You also wanna create compensation consequences. Don't give high ratings and bonuses to people who indulge in any kind of bullying. And you wanna create career consequences. You don't wanna promote your bullies, and if they can't stop bullying, you may even wanna fire them.
I would really encourage leaders to focus in on this bloviating BS, ‘cause I think one of the reasons why teams are not as successful as they could be is when one person dominates, when one person does too much of the talking.
And I think it's much easier for people who are overrepresented to get away with that kind of BS-ing. Uh, and so what do I mean by underrepresented? Like as a white person in California, I'm part of an overrepresented minority. So I think it's, it's useful to think about things not in terms of minority-majority, but just in terms of underrepresentation. If there's underrepresentation, there's usually some bias, prejudice, and bullying going on.
[00:34:36] Chris Duffy:
Kim, it has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for making the time to do this show, and I'm so excited to hear all the feedback from all of the people listening on how much this has helped them and, and all the ways that they've put it into practice in their own lives. Thanks for being here.
[00:34:50] Kim Scott:
Thank you so much. Love the conversation.
[00:34:54] Chris Duffy:
That is it for today's episode of How to Be a Better Human. Thank you so much to today's guest, Kim Scott. She is so fantastic and her books are called Just Work and Radical Candor. I really, really recommend them both. I am your host, Chris Duffy, and you can find more from me, including my weekly newsletter and information about my live comedy shows at chrisduffycomedy.com.
How To Be a Better Human is brought to you on the TED side by Anna Phelan, Whitney Pennington Rodgers, and Jimmy Gutierrez, who in addition to purple flags, are all currently designing personalized flags of their own, which they'll be using to claim snacks around the office.
Every episode of our show is professionally fact-checked. This episode was fact-checked by Julia Dickerson and Erica Yuen, who are always radically candid, but also fair and just.
And just on the PRX side, our show is produced there by a team that has both figuratively and literally, no Bobs. Morgan Flannery, Rosalind Tordesillas, Patrick Grant, and Jocelyn Gonzales.
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