How honest can you really be in business? We all lie, at least a little. If for no other reason than to protect people’s feelings. In this episode, we talk about the concept in two classic books on this topic and debate the merits of how just how “radical” candor really is.
In this episode:
- “If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.”
- Honest feedback might hurt, but it typically leads to positive change
- Great coaches understand the difference between skill and talent
- Outbursts happen when we let irritations build up
- 10 things you can’t say in an office (but we wish we could)
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Is Radical Candor Effective?
Ian, you son of a bitch.
An often-quoted movie of both Frank and myself is Liar Liar with Jim Carrey from the cold open. It’s a fascinating take on a lawyer who cannot tell a lie. It’s a hilarious movie with Jim Carrey. It’s the peak of his powers. The story is fascinating because it makes you stop and think, “What if I couldn’t lie at all for a week? Would I be effective in the office and my job? Would I be effective in my relationships?” The truth is everybody lies a little bit every day. If you’re sitting there saying, “That’s not true. I’m a good person. I don’t lie,” sometimes being a good person means you lie a little bit. It means you withhold a little bit and don’t overshare everything. In that movie, he shares every thought that comes into his crazy mind. It goes to show that sometimes, lying is the polite thing to do. Sometimes, it’s terrible and it doesn’t get anything done, but there’s a little bit of balance. In talking about this, Frank talked about a book that changed his life a little bit. Do you want to share what book that was?
I’ve talked about this before and I’ve talked about it on other channels. I paid $15,000 in 2011 for a mentor. It was worthless. I told Ian about it and he’s like, “Go get your money back.” We strategized. I’m like, “I’m going to write it out.” The guy gave me two things of note. He introduced me to Jason Medley, which was great because that’s how I found The Collective Genius. The only other thing he did of value is he turned me on to a book called Radical Honesty. It is a book written by Dr. Brad Blanton. It was written in 1994 and was re-released in 2006. In 2006, when you ordered it, there were crickets coming out of Amazon. It took forever. It took 2 or 3 weeks for Amazon to get it to you. It’s very lightly printed. We’ll talk about different books and compare and contrast them.
The thing that it was helpful with me on was very philosophical, which most things that Ian and I like are more direct or give bullet points. This is a philosophical take. He beat you over the head for 400 pages on you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not completely and totally honest about everything. I was raised by a mother who’s a school teacher and always wants to please everybody. For me, this completely radical shift to the other side is something that helped me become more direct, more to the point and stand up for myself in some conversations that we’ll talk about. The other side of it is this guy has been divorced a bunch of times, and this was in the ‘90s. In twenty-something years later, I’m sure he’s been divorced more. The point is it’s a good piece of info to incorporate into your total body of work, but it can’t be your only pitch. If it is, you’re going to be looked at as an asshole. You’ll be completely alone and probably not be married.
Speaking of assholes, there is an entire genre of business books with the word asshole in them. There’s Assholes Finish First, Assholes: A Field Guide: How to Deal with Difficult People, The Massive Advantages of Dealing With Assholes, Just Don’t Be an Asshole: A Surprisingly Necessary Guide to Being a Good Guy, and Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump. In the lexicon, asshole is a big part of the Amazon bestsellers list. There’s another book outside of Radical Honesty that was written in 2017 by Kim Scott. It’s called Radical Candor. When Frank initially told me about it, I thought he got the subject to the book wrong. He was talking about Radical Candor because it is a big New York Times bestselling business book. It’s written more as a field guide for managers on how to be a good boss by being more direct. The book you read, Frank, the Radical Honesty is more of a general life book, a self-help philosophy book.Sometimes being a good person means you lie a little bit. Click To Tweet
What’s funny is we both assumed the same thing. The other guy is an idiot and he’s got the wrong title. When we finally started going over the agenda, we’re like, “There are two books. Who’s the asshole?” The other piece of it that’s interesting is I mentioned how hard it is to get the Blanton book. He’s just not honest. He’s an asshole. Do you have the statistics on what his book has sold?
On Amazon, his book is 1,361st in the self-help philosophy genre. That’s the only place that it has ranked. He has 400 rankings. Whereas Kim Scott’s book, Radical Candor, is top 5 in 11 different categories, including business, philosophy and self-help. She has over ten times the number of five-star ratings in there. Radical Candor is a more recent book, but it’s also one that has sold a hell of a lot more copies than Radical Honesty. We laughed about this a little bit. She takes a little different approach and they both used the word radical, which maybe has a high Q-rating.
She includes caring, a little bit more empathy and emotional intelligence in her process because she’s writing as a field guide for managers, whereas Blanton is direct in your face. It makes sense to me with a name like Blanton, which is a whiskey name. That’s how I am on whiskey. If I’ve drunk enough whiskey, you are going to get some radical honesty out of me every time with zero caring. You’re all carrying zero emotional intelligence.
If you want to know how Ian feels if you give him 7 or 8 Jack and Cokes, you wouldn’t think. He’s going to tell you a piece of his mind. There’s no doubt. In our outline in preparing this, we took a little bit from all of it and we’re going to try to share at least what our takes are on it. In general, there’s a spectrum. There’s 0 to 10 on directness, honesty and candor. We would skew more towards candor as our style. We’re direct guys. We tell people what we want. The zero on that would be a pussy.
Before this, if we were allowed to say the word anymore but it’s the cat is out of the bag.
I don’t know if we’re going to get canceled for saying that. If you’re a 0, you are passive-aggressive, weak and you don’t tell anyone anything because of a fear of how they might respond. On the other side, if you’re a 10, you are not only a jerk but you’re almost a psychopath. Someone who says everything on their mind would probably be considered someone that has a mental derangement.
You’re probably in solitary confinement somewhere. I don’t think anybody who’s a functioning member of society can be a 0 or a 10. Even in rare flare-ups, I don’t think you can go to either. The continuum goes. You might go to 7 or 8 on the right and 1, 2 or 3 on the left, but you’re probably not living in 0 or 10 because you’re just an insufferable prick or you’re such a wimp. You can do neither. It’s one of those things. We’re going to get to this. You’re probably a 10 if you’re under the age of 5 or over the age of 80. We’re going to talk about the differences.
This does not make a six-year-old a prick for being candid and not having any emotional intelligence yet. That’s right.
By six, you’re starting to get a clue. You got a wrist-slapping a couple of times. My two-year-old has no idea when he can’t say something.
He doesn’t know any better yet. When you said flares up, you say candor can just flare up?
If you’re pissed off or passionate about something or you’ve been suppressing something forever. Finally, it’s like, “I’m going to unload on you.” That’s a flare-up. That’s a bomb going off.
Candor is like hemorrhoids. They come and go. You get a little flare-up, then they go away and things are okay.
It’s like IBS after you drink all these Margaritas.
There will be no dairy products in my Margaritas. In both books, they say some form of the same thing, which is, “Lying is a primary cause of suffering.” Kim Scott in Radical Candor has a great example that she uses, which is the intro at the base of the book. She was stagnating in her career. On a regular basis, she had to speak in meetings and presents. She couldn’t stop saying “um” and she said it so much. She said it at every third word. A female executive pulled her aside and said, “I’m a big fan of yours, Kim, but when you are presenting and you say ‘um’ every other word, it makes you sound stupid.”
Kim talks about this and the way she delivered it was perfect. Her model is when you’re giving feedback that’s candid, you should talk about the situation, “When you are presenting.” You should talk about the behavior, “You say ‘um’ every other word,” and then the impact, “It makes you sound stupid.” She is talking about her perception as an executive, “I feel like you sound stupid.” The reason why Kim says that that was very effective feedback for her is this person cared. It started off with this executive cared about her enough to pull her aside and give her the feedback.
It didn’t feel like she was saying, “You’re embarrassing me as your manager by doing that.” She was saying, “I care about your career. I want to try to help you here,” the fact that she said, “It makes you sound stupid.” If she would have said, “Try cutting out so many ‘ums,’” Kim Scott said it wouldn’t have been effective feedback for her. She wouldn’t have thought about it. Every time she spoke from then, she thought about, “I don’t want to sound stupid so I better not say that word.” It made her think and cut out that word when she spoke.
George Carlin has a skit from the ‘90s and it’s incredible. One of the things he talks about is how shell shock became post-traumatic stress syndrome. He goes through all these different things that are in the lexicon and how we pussified all these words. We’ve taken them from shell shock to something that means so much less and it’s watered down. You’re making yourself feel better for what you put a veteran through in the war. His whole psychology around it is, “If it was just called shell shock, people might pay more attention to it.” Now it’s PTSD and all this other crap.Lying is a primary cause of suffering. Click To Tweet
The point that Kim’s driving at and what George Carlin does in a unique way is he puts humor around, “Sometimes, you need to get punched in the face.” We did an episode about how to give proper feedback. This manager gave her the feedback sandwich, “I’m a big fan. I’m ingratiating myself to you. You sound stupid.” It’s not, “You are stupid.” It’s very specific. On the way out, there was probably a good close around it. That’s why it was so impactful when it was interpreted. This is under the headline of lying. It’s how we’re attacking this. There are a couple of quotes we can finish with. There are two things. Someone could lie to you and this person did not lie to Kim, or you can lie to yourself. When I was prepping for this, what I thought about is Radical Honesty meant something to me because I didn’t have the skillset at that point in my life.
I started dating an incredible woman when I was 27 and we ended up dating for eight years. I knew ten months in, in one specific moment, it was over. Sadly, I didn’t have the skillset, the ability and the want to confront it. I felt so uncomfortable in that period. I lived in a relationship that was wrong for another seven years. I’m 35 when I broke up with this person. It’s a big part of my life. It’s 20% of my life that had gone to the wrong relationships because I didn’t have the ability to speak up. What I’ve learned at that moment is I probably could have done better things for myself had I had the courage to speak up. Not only that, pick your spots when you can appropriately give feedback. You can be the person who gives the feedback to Kim if you’re qualified, but you have to pick your spots.
When you talk about caring, I think of sharing at that moment. Kim could have come to her boss and said, “How’d you think I did?” She could have passed on saying anything. She could have said, “Great job. Nice presentation. Let’s move on to what’s next.” That executive had to force herself to be uncomfortable. I’m good at telling people feedback. I’m real direct if you ask. You need to be careful when you ask me for feedback because if you’re asking me, I assume you want me to come real with you. It never gets easy for me. It’s uncomfortable to call someone out. It’s easier to say, “You did great,” and then we move on to the next to-do list on my item. Telling someone, “You sound stupid,” is not easy. That never gets easy. To me, that person cared a lot by doing it and she told the truth. There’s a great quote from Warren Buffett that Charlie Munger says all the time as well. It is, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember your lies.” I love that quote. The more candid you can be with people, you don’t have to go back and think about, “What did I say to them?” Be as direct as you possibly can in talking to people.
I learned that in several ways through both my parents and my football coach. You got something interesting that you put in the notes about. When you get into fights with Jenny, it comes a lot from not chatting enough. I would love to have you talk a little bit about that.
I’ve been married for a long time and been in the same relationship with Jenny for more than half of my life. Whenever we get into some fight, it’s because we’re both being a little passive-aggressive. We’re putting off something that the other person is doing that is hurting the other person’s feelings. Whether it’s inadvertently or directly, we’re not sharing. Something I’m doing is annoying her and she gets more distant from me until we get into an argument and a fight, and then we have to sit down and talk. Absent the kids anywhere near. Kids make it even harder because you can’t have those real conversations. They’re always just hanging on you. They’re always around. Almost every time we get in a fight, it always ends with, “Why didn’t you just say this? Why didn’t you just tell me this three weeks ago?” When we kiss and make-up, it’s always like, “Next time, can we be more honest with each other? Can we share more?” There are few times where I feel like we overshare with each other. We know a lot about each other, but most of our arguments come from not talking enough and not saying that something the other person’s doing is annoying us.
I’ve been married a lot less time than you. On the surface, if you don’t know my wife, it’s an odd pairing. She’s a lot more liberal than I am. She’s a professor where I’m more of a capitalist. We butt heads with things but one of the things that’s incredible about her, and I would not have found her and chosen her as a mate had I not embraced some of these principles, she likes to duke it out, not in a way that’s yelling. She’s smart. She likes to debate and talk to a point where I’m exhausted sometimes. I come home from a long day at work and I don’t want to get into that level of detail.
What I learned in the first relationship is I couldn’t be honest. In this relationship, I’m forced to be honest because I married someone who forces me to talk way past my comfort zone. What we’re getting for in this point is honesty is important. You can’t be like, “Do I look fat in this dress?” It’s a landmine you want to avoid. However, there are topics that you want to talk through. The better you are capable of talking through things in a way that promotes a good conversation, this can be at work, personal or it can be everywhere, what ends up happening is you’ll have a more rich relationship. That is at the root of all this. You can go off the rails either way, but if you can have a good conversation that can be truthful or do it in a way that’s sensible, and you don’t blow your audience out of the water, you can have rich relationships.
Blanton has many divorces. He has a quote where he offers zero sources. His radical opinion is not radical honesty. His quote is, “85% of relationships are much more phony than authentic. Half or more of marriages split up and more than half of those that do stay together suck.” I don’t know how much field research your homie did in coming up with that, but there’s some truth behind all of that. Not all of it is the truth. There are a lot of relationships that are broken because they were more phony. People choose not to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. In my opinion, at least, I’m far from perfect as a husband but our relationship is healthy. We’ve been together for a long time. Jenny and I tend to be candid with each other when someone is getting on the other’s nerves.
I feel like we’ve done a good job of communicating the point of this. If you’re not honest with yourself and you don’t speak up, it becomes more of a problem. If you deal with it in a way that’s received, it becomes something that you can build off of versus avoid, which becomes a massive problem.
You started with kids a little bit. Kids are way better at this than adults. Part of it is they’re not socially ingrained enough to understand what they can or can’t say. There are times where being almost childlike in your interpretations and reactions to things you see can be helpful for people. I have a few funny stories about this. I lost a tooth playing street hockey when I was younger. I got a tooth knocked out. It’s on the bottom of my mouth. This is the mid-’90s. The best dentist you could find in old Trenton, Michigan wasn’t exactly cutting edge when it came to putting a bridge in. I got a bridge put in so I had a tooth. It was permanent, but it had a black metal background on it. My tooth in the bottom, you could see that black coming through so it almost made the tooth look black on the sides.
In my mind, I was always like, “No one could see the bottom of my mouth when I’m talking so what’s the matter?” Almost nobody ever said a word about my tooth. I went maybe ten years with this crappy bridge and everyone didn’t say anything. They were polite because what were they going to say? What was I going to do to change it? One day, I was talking to my niece and she might have been 5 or 6. She was like, “Uncle Ian, why do you have a black tooth?” I was like, “What?” I didn’t say anything. I’m like, “You’re funny.”
I went over to Jenny and I was like, “Do I have a black tooth?” She’s like, “Yeah, you got a black tooth. Everyone knows you got a black tooth.” I’m like, “What the hell? You haven’t said anything.” She’s like, “You should get that fixed.” I’m like, “Damn it.” Within a week, I had an appointment at her dentist. I’m in there and he’s like, “That’s bad. Who did this?” I’m like, “It was a guy in Trenton, Michigan. I want you to fix this.” It’s hilarious that that honest little girl was the only person that told me the truth and it led to something great. I went and got a much better bridge. Now I don’t have a black tooth that matches the color of the rest of the teeth.
Another example that impacted my career is I was weighing whether to leave NVR. I was unhappy and I wasn’t enjoying it. I talked to you and a number of other friends outside of NVR. One day, I was driving my car and my kids were in the backseat. I heard them talking to each other. One of the two said, “How come we have to ask dad the same question five times every time before he answers?” I picked up on that one. I was ignoring the rest but it impacted me strongly, Frank.
The reason why they had to ask me that many questions was I was so distracted. I had a company on my mind and the burdens of the job. I didn’t like my job anymore. I didn’t like my boss. I wasn’t getting along with him. I was never there when I was with my kids. That was a very candid question that they asked in a sweet way. It wasn’t hard but it shook me a little bit and helped solidify a decision I was coming to anyway but much faster, which was, “Dad, you might be around but you’re really not around when we see you.”
It’s funny because we were talking about kids and for me, the most honest answers you ever get are from kids under the age of seven and adults over 80. My kids are young, they say some crazy stuff but they’re mostly just repeating what we’ve said. Instead of purging myself, what I’ll say is a funny story about my granddad. He’s almost like a cartoon character. I had come home from the gym when we were all up there. I was working out in my late 30s. He’s like, “You went to the gym, huh?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “You go often?” I’m like, “Yeah. I go as much as I can, 5 or 6 days a week. I’m in good shape.” He’s like, “I’ve seen you thinner.” He’s sitting on a lazy boy. He’s got diabetes. He’s 50 pounds overweight and he calls me out on it.Praise more than give negative feedback. Click To Tweet
That is amazing. You can’t get mad at that because you just know that he’s correct. It’s an unfettered answer. You’ve eaten grandma’s meatballs for six days. You’re 15 pounds heavier in water weight than normal. You’d had your ass eating salads for a couple of months when you got home because grandparents are honest. In the book, Radical Candor, Kim Scott says that you got to have two things to be radically candid. You have to show that you care personally and you have to challenge directly.
Someone who’s being radically candid has shown they care personally and they will challenge you directly. If you don’t do that, there are three other approaches. There’s you care but you don’t challenge. She calls that ruinous empathy. You challenge indirectly and you don’t care. To me, that is manipulation. That’s passive-aggressiveness, which we need to spend a lot of time talking about. Just about everyone hates a passive-aggressive person. There’s challenging directly without caring. That’s obnoxious aggression. I like the way she thinks of that. You’ve got to care and you have to challenge if you want to be a good boss. You can’t have one or the other and you definitely can’t miss both.
Frank, one thing that we talked about is to be radically honest, you’re noticing, you’re reporting what you notice and acknowledging these things. As you experience things, you don’t let them just come and go, and then come back. You’re addressing things as you go. Emotional intelligence is critical in this. Someone without any emotional intelligence could screw this up if they were trying to be radically candid all the time. That concept could make people start to hate you or it could get awkward. Without emotional intelligence, none of this works.
One of the things that we’ve talked about in prior episodes and we quoted the Pope because he’s the only person we can see who came up with this. I learned this from one of my first managers and he said he learned it from one of his kindergarten teachers. It’s, “See everything, forgive a lot, fix a little.” That is management summed up neatly. What you need to realize is, “Am I being an asshole or am I going to make an impact and make things different?” I can think of tons of examples of this over many years of my career where you can come in and you can lacerate someone. You can give them tons of stuff.
If you do that, you can burn the person out, turn the person over and cripple any initiative they ever had because you’re doing what happened to Kim Scott. You’re saying, “You sound like an idiot,” or “You sound stupid,” without the, “I like you a lot,” or “I care about you.” You’re not qualifying it. You’re just being the jerk. If you do not want to be alone in life, you need to come at these things with some sense and some smarts, and think about what you hope to get out of it. Let’s say you’ve interviewed someone and you bring them in, and three months in, you want to have this conversation. You’re an idiot. Who’s the idiot? You interviewed them, tested them and hired them. Are they the idiot or are you the idiot? What I have noticed is it’s usually a little bit of both.
No emotional intelligence is just a blast. Emotional intelligence is, “I feel like most of the things you’re doing are good. There are some fall-down items here and we need to fix these. In the broader context, we’ve got a lot of work to do but if we can fix these few things, we can get a lot better, have some momentum and move in the right direction. If we do that, you’re going to start to feel better and achieve and we can grow.” We had a performance management conversation with someone and that’s the conversation. It’s like, “We either fire the person or we don’t.” I lead the meeting with, “I’m not firing you. We’re going to write these things down and go through them because I want to see you get better.”
An important piece here on feedback that isn’t addressed in either of the books is the difference between a lacking skill or a lacking talent. Those two things are big. A simple example would be if you’re coaching youth baseball players. You have a kid who’s not fast. He gets thrown out at second, hustling his butt off, but he gets thrown out on a play that all other eight kids on your lineup would have made it into second. The last thing you do is pull them aside and say, “You got to get faster. When I watch you run the bases, I want to close my eyes and not watch because you’re so slow.” There’s no advantage. That’s the honest truth but what can he do about it? He’s slow. That’s genetics. Picking on a kid because he doesn’t throw hard enough. There are certain things that they can’t do versus a skill.
Let’s say he got picked off at first because he wasn’t paying attention. He was looking out in the left-field and not paying attention. That’s an area where you can coach. That is a skill of paying attention. “You got to be on the base until he stepped on the rubber and all you’re looking at is his front leg. Nothing else in the park. If you can’t get better at that, you can’t bat in my lineup in tournaments because I can’t have someone who hits good but gets picked off all the time.” That’s radical candor. That’s a skill that you can coach a little, give them some knowledge and can let them know a few ramifications, but it’s not a talent that he’s lacking. It’s the same in business. Some people are not built for certain tasks. There’s no point in writing them all the time. You hire them knowing some of their strengths and weaknesses. Focus on their strengths and on the areas where you can build. The stuff that they’re not good at, leave it alone and manage around it. Don’t keep pushing them on their weaknesses. We’re who we are by the time we’re twenty years old.
A few things. In baseball, they have something called a pinch-runner. The reason you have a pinch runner is because if your catcher gets on and needs to score, you pull the guy out of the game and you have someone who goes faster in there. That’s the best use of it. Let’s talk about the kid who got picked on first in your example. The other piece of it is the kid that’s getting picked off on first base could be driving the car and have their daughter safe from the backseat going, “How can we have to ask dad the same question five times before he answers?” It’s called having a lapse in attention, having other things on your mind or not being present.
I’m guilty of it during this show. That’s what happens. Things come into your head. That is something you can say, “I need to make you aware of this. You shouldn’t have gotten picked off on first base because you weren’t looking,” but let me give you a hint or a clue. It’s going to happen again. It’s going to happen when you’re an adult, in the conversation with your wife, in an interview. Things come into your head. “You’re on first base. You got picked off. You and I both know you’re better than that. You weren’t paying attention and you weren’t in the moment, correct?” “Yeah.” “Let’s pay attention and stay focus.” Give him a pat on the shoulder and get back in the dugout. That’s part of life. If you are going to condemn a kid for getting picked off at first, you’re lying to yourself because it happens to all of us.
Unless it’s your son. “If that ever happens again and your head is so far up your ass, I will never tell you again.” It is a different story. That’s it. That’s on you. IJ cannot get picked off. If you’re a manager, one thing I find is sharing honestly. If you don’t share honestly in something that is impacting your business, the team or someone, it’s like pressure building up in a pipe. There are pressure release valves and pipes for a reason. If the pressure builds too much, the pipe explodes. The same thing happens with managers. If you’re not good at sharing, “I’m frustrated and here’s why,” what happens is you see managers who yell, who have outbursts, who get emotional in the office. It’s because they’re not terribly good at being candid on a regular basis in the right way that’s constructive. They let this pile of issues build up with someone without sharing it with them. That employee doesn’t know that that pressure is building up in their manager until one day where they lose it.The person you lied to more than anyone in your life is yourself. Click To Tweet
I talk about this all the time. When I start having those imaginary conversations in the shower with people, I’ve let something gone on way too long. You’ve talked about being in bath time with Max and you’re not present with him because you’re thinking about some of the work that you’re not addressing. Radical candor, however you define it, is healthy for you as the manager and for the employee because that employee ends up having this ugly conversation with you. That could have been a string of more congenial conversations with you. You are letting all this stress and pressure build up inside of you and impact your personal life and health. All of those things are impacted when you can’t learn how to be honest with someone if they’re doing something that is driving you nuts.
I was a young manager. I took a training class. The way this was taught to me was in a term called collecting stamps. Collecting stamps is the equivalent of letting steam build up in the pipe and then it blows up. What I have learned and what’s most effective for me and with people I’ve worked with is to think of these two different examples. “Ian, great job with this and this. I saw this one item and you could do a little bit better with it but overall, great job.” One little piece of feedback, done, real-time, over. If you see it again and again, you can address it again and again, but most of the time, you give people a little bit of a nudge and it goes in the right direction.
The opposite is I saw Ian screw something up and then I see something else a couple of weeks later. He collects stamps and then something happens. You don’t just have one thing to talk about, but you’ve got 5 or 10 things to talk about, “You did this, this and this.” Think of the worst arguments you ever have. They usually have a list in there somewhere. All these things over and over again, that’s what happens. That’s the stamp collecting. If you can be honest, give feedback and talk about it at the moment, most people like little bits of nudging in coaching. That’s perfect. When you do have something that’s big, you don’t have all this other baggage. You can just deal with the big item.
I don’t think every time you give someone tough feedback, it needs to have four positives. “That’s the third sales meeting in a row you showed up five minutes late to. When you do that, you show everyone else on the team that you don’t care about their time and you’re not serious about working here. Change it.” That’s radically candid. “You’re pissing me off. You’re being a bad teammate.” I don’t need to say, “You’re a great employee in the beginning” or “Here are the three things you’re doing. You were late three times. That’s rude. Fix it.”
What I’m saying here is this. In most instances, there’s usually some positive that goes around with something. It’s a lot of positive with a little something that needs to be adjusted. However, if someone is an asshole, late or needs something, you don’t need to qualify that because most of the time that you give feedback, you give positive stuff with a few things. You’ve earned the right and built up the trust. When I confront someone and say, “People think you are being a jerk. This is happening. You’re not doing this.” They usually look at me and go, “You’re right. I’m sorry. Thank you for the feedback.” That’s all part of it.
For me, praise more than give negative feedback. Where you and I often disagree on this. You’re going through all of it and you’re always praising. When it’s time for me to give negative feedback, I’m not a fan of mixing in a bunch of cookies. If I’m giving you tough feedback, it’s because all the time I’m giving you positive feedback, but that’s not what this conversation is about. Kim Scott’s manager didn’t call her and say, “Great job bringing in that client and you did an excellent job in working with that employee that you hired. By the way, don’t say ‘um’ because it makes you sound stupid.” It wouldn’t have been as impactful to her at that moment than a conversation of, “This conversation is going to be direct and it’s something I want you to fix, but I had nine other conversations with you in the last two weeks that were positive.” I’m saying the same thing as you where we disagree. I don’t mix them in the same conversation. When it’s a tough conversation with radical candor, it’s just that.
We’re articulating it in different ways, but we’re saying something similar. What I’m saying is most of the time that you manage people, there’s usually a lot of positive but there’s a thing or two you can fix in the course of day-to-day life and management. However, if there’s a big item, I don’t come in and say, “You’re doing these seven things great but we’re putting on performance management,” then it’s like, “You’re in here because these things aren’t working. Don’t you agree?” That’s when you must be incredibly staunch in what you’re saying and it needs to be delivered from a place of incredible power and certainty because it’s not going to land otherwise. If you’re a pussy at that moment, they are not going to hear the message. It’s on you as the manager because you don’t have the courage.
When I think staunch, I think Frank Cava every time. I don’t think of anything else when I hear that word. We’ve talked about dealing with other people, dealing in relationships, and being direct with other people. Where radical honesty comes into play more than anywhere is leaning into discomfort with yourself because the person you lie to more than anyone in your life is yourself. If you can’t force conflict with yourself, you can’t get better because cognitive dissonance is such a powerful process in the brain that you end up lying to yourself all the time about what you believe and what your actions are. You come up with great reasons why you can’t move forward in certain areas.
The self-handicapping aspect of this comes up. A lot of this is what lies we were telling ourselves. When we were coming up with a list, for me, it’s like, “My diet will start tomorrow,” or “I can eat this and I’m not breaking my diet.” Little things like that. You’re not holding yourself accountable. You’re lying to yourself. I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with this. If I’m honest with someone in email or something, I don’t always want to read the response. I know that I need to be strong in how I send the email, but then I know that email is in there. I want to avoid it because I’ve moved past the moment, and then it’s like, “I got to go deal with this.”
I 100% feel that. I do not like getting replies when I’ve worded something. I will leave it in my inbox for a week and not even open it.
I’m the same way.
I never wrote it in the first place. Sometimes, I’ll even delete it without reading the response.
Sometimes, I’ll ask one of the people who monitors my email. I’m like, “So and so sent me an email. How was it? What were the highlights?”
You don’t want to read it. That’s absolutely hilarious. It’s easy to lie to yourself. David and I, with our car loan company, came to a conclusion where we are racing to hit this arbitrary date at the end of the year when we would have production units. We kept making these little sacrifices here and there and compromising all over the place. Until one day, we were talking and we’re like, “We’re racing to ship a crappy product. This isn’t even the product we’re proud of where we’ve compromised so much.” We had to start by being honest with ourselves. That wasn’t someone from outside the company saying, “This product sucked.” We needed to come internally and say, “We’re not proud of the product we’re making. Let’s pause. What resources do we need? We’ve beefed up our engineering team.” Things are different now. The most insidious lies we tell are normally to ourselves.
This is relevant and this is why. I think that moment of we’re not building the product we want and having a moment of truth there. Clearly, it’s something where you didn’t let yourself lie or go down the wrong path, but this is more important. It’s also part of the process. You have to do that. I bet Ring doorbell had the same moment. Anything that’s ever been built, there’s always had to be that ripcord pulled up, “Nope. Wrong direction. I don’t like it.” The other thing is as you go into this, if David is honest, it’s the fourth thing he’s invented. I will bet you if he goes back and looks at the revision history of all four products, there was a moment of, “I’m heading down the wrong road. We got to pull this back.” The whole reason we were having this show is you’re going to see these forks. Can you identify it before you’ve gone too far down the road?
In a startup, in general, you’re limited on your money. Every month, we’re burning $100,000-plus in salary, expenses and building this product. We raised $4 million. It goes to say that if we wait long enough, we will run out of money and it will be harder to go get money from people the second time if we don’t have a product. Startup culture is going to be much better at radical candor than a big company where you’re not running out of money. You’re just trying to protect egos with us if you’re not radically candid. An engineer comes up with an idea, “Let’s use this component. I’ve tested it. I think it works.” If another engineer comes up with a better component and a better idea, he is supposed to challenge the other engineer. What I found is at least in startups, engineers don’t take it as personal as people in other companies might because engineers are wired to find the best answer and path. On a daily basis, we get on these scrum calls and I hear people not arguing but saying, “A different path is there.” You can’t get wedded to your ideas. You have to be open to having your ideas challenged in a startup. That’s the process of iteration.
I’ll tee it up. What we’re going to get into now is we are going through things you can’t say. We were joking about the crazy shit that could come out of someone’s mouth. We’re like, “We’re going to go Liar Liar on you. We’re going to go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and say, ‘There are different things you deal with on day-to-day of a business or being a normal human being. Here are the things you absolutely can’t have come out of your mouth.’”
Here are our top ten times not to be radically candid. These are things that we’ve not said and you shouldn’t say. Number one was, “My boss hates you.” I’ve had many of these circumstances where someone who reported to me that I thought highly of was not on my boss’s list of people that was getting a Christmas card. For personal, silly reasons in my mind, I would never be radically candid about that. I would say something like, “You’ve got a lot of work to do before you’ve earned Bill’s trust.” Knowing in the back of my head, Bill hated this person and was never going to like them because Bill was stubborn. You can’t tell that person, “My boss hates you.” You have to say something a little softer if you don’t want them to quit because they’ll quit. If you know the boss of the company hates you, you’re not going to stay. You have to soften that and say it a little bit different.
The thing you have to ask yourself as the manager is, “Do I hate this person or is it just my boss? Is my boss wrong. If my boss is wrong and there’s value in you,” then you shield that person. We’ve talked as well about, “If I hate you and my boss hate you, we probably need to get you out of here.”
Bosses come and go. My boss has gone at a different time and I respect this person, so maybe it won’t be an issue at some point.
When that person moved on, you have the person underneath you that you can do things with it and we all have different opinions. Another one is you’ve reached the ceiling. You don’t want to say to someone, “You reached the ceiling,” unless you want that person to quit or you want to hasten an exit. Everyone has a ceiling, even Ian and me, as hard as it is for us to admit it out loud.
Once we opened up this show, we showed everyone our ceiling.
You can’t say that to someone unless you want to turn them over. What you have to do in that instance is you have to navigate around it. What I have dealt with is, “I don’t want you to be here because you’re past your ceiling.” I’m incredibly honest and I usually lead with, “You and I both know this isn’t working out. We’ve talked about that before,” because that’s the ceiling. It’s like, “You’re not in the spot where it’s best for you and this can’t work.”
That’s a person you want to leave. If it’s a person I wanted to leave, I would tell them, “You’ve reached the ceiling. Go ahead and leave.” Let’s say it’s a person that is strong who thinks they deserve to be promoted, who I know is not capable of it. In my viewpoint, I’ve seen enough to know, “You can’t move higher in this organization.” If I like that person and I want them to stay in the company, I’m not going to tell them they’ve reached a ceiling. I’m going to be specific in the areas they need to get better knowing damn well they can’t. Wrong, right, or indifferent, there are people that I’ve made my mind up to, “That’s about as high as you can go in this organization,” but I’ll never say that to you. I’ll never say you’ve reached a ceiling. In my mind, I’ll just say, “These are the areas where you need to get better.”You have to be open to having your ideas challenged in a startup. That's the process of iteration. Click To Tweet
The next one is, “My boss is wrong but I have no influence with him.” If you say that out loud, the problem that you’re running into is you lose credibility with people that you work with. They’re not going to believe you, trust you or listen to you if you say you don’t have any influence. What I have noticed for managers is that in some instances, they have the influence, or they give the perception that they have the influence. They certainly have more influence than you have as the person who’s being managed.
Ian, you did a great job of that like the way that you came to NVR. We’ve talked about before how you presented at the annual meetings and you did all these things. You made it seem to all of us that you had these incredible relationships with people in many instances that you didn’t because you took the initiative to control the frame and the narrative, and you can do this in an incredible way. The other thing that’s important to say, “These things are moments in time. I might not have the influence with my boss now, but in six months, I might earn it.” If you let that toothpaste out of the tube, you can’t put it back in. You’re doing yourself a disservice by saying that.
Number four, “What do you mean you’re pregnant?” Every single time anyone is ever told me they were pregnant, I have said the same thing. “I’m so happy for you. That is amazing.” I give them a little hug and I say, “Great job. You’re going to love being a mom,” but in the back of your mind, you are melting. You are freaking out and all you can think about is, “How are we going to replace you? How am I going to live without you for two months? How in the hell am I going to do my job and yours at the same time?” Anytime anyone has ever said they were pregnant, I have gone into immediate panic mode about how badly it was going to impact me, but you can’t be radically candid at that moment. You also can’t be radically candid when a guy comes to you and says they plan on taking three weeks of paternity leave. What I would like to say to you when you say that is, “That’s great. I took two days. That’s interesting. Enjoy your three weeks.” All you’re thinking about is, “What are the laws and what am I not allowed to say?” That’s a time where my mind shouldn’t be as candid as it wants to be in that moment.
The next one is, “Ian, you’re the reason I hate casual Fridays.” Before this show started, Ian was wearing a fishnet shirt.
Let’s be real. There are some people that don’t look good in jeans on Friday. I hated jeans Friday. I was against it for years. I wouldn’t let people wear jeans on Friday. It’s because I would see the people walking around in the office with the jeans that they brought in. Our people saw customers. There were too many guidelines around what casual clothes you could wear. I always hated casual Fridays.
The best example that I could give you is I used to love Sex and the City. My wife and I have watched that several times and there was a casual Friday where a homosexual guy wore a see-through, plastic shirt. You can’t do it at a gay bar in San Francisco, let alone at a law office in New York.
Let’s say we’ve got an employee, 1 of 10, doing the same job. The other nine are getting their job done in their 40 hours a week and this person’s always behind and complaining to you. What you would like to say is, “I’m sorry you’re behind. What have you been doing with your Saturdays?” I would love to say that because Frank and I are the people that would come in on a Saturday if we’re behind. “We don’t feel too terrible for you that you can’t get the work done that your peers are doing. Why don’t you work on Saturday? You lazy turd.” We don’t say that.
What’s funny to me as a young professional and I wasn’t a manager yet, there was a woman who was in the settlement office in our Ryan Homes South office and she was always in there on Saturdays and Sundays, and I thought she was incredible. We hired this young woman in her mid-twenties and she was playing Brick Breaker on her computer Monday through Friday. What I realized was this other girl is way smarter than that last person. She can get so much more done.” She was in there over the weekends and she didn’t need to be because she got to get the job done. Here’s the next one, “Ian, I only keep you on this show because of your personality.”
That wouldn’t hurt my feelings. You could say that. Personality is a skill when it comes to podcasting for sure. In an office setting, there are a lot of people that aren’t good at their job but everyone likes them. It would be heartbreaking to fire them and you know that. You probably wouldn’t be candid with that person in saying, “You’re not talented but we all seem to like you so you can keep the job.”
I’m going to do the next one then you can do the one after that. “If I had time to find someone better, you would have been gone a long time ago.” You can’t say that. There was a situation where I had a manager and he wanted one of our 1099 crews. He wanted to take them off of single-family homes and put them on rental homes and for-sale homes and move them over. He’s like, “I’m going to go tell him.” I’m like, “Why?” He’s like, “The work isn’t good enough.” I’m like, “You’re just going to piss him off. Why don’t you tell him, ‘The next house available for you is this one,’ and never have that confrontation.” Just give him a rental. Have some tact because you may have to pull them back in, and then you’re going to have completely eviscerated them, where you can say, “Good job. We’ll move you over here.” Sometimes, you got to be somewhat strategic.
I think 9 and 10 fall in the same category. Let’s do them at the same time. Nine is, “We’re running out of money.” Ten is, “I’m not sure we’re going to make it.” That’s an owner or a manager in an office that’s already panicking.
I started a business with very little and I’ve grown it. If you’re not experiencing this as a leader, you’re lying, but you don’t share it. Even if everything is burning around you, you keep that shit to yourself because that’s what leadership is. You hope you graduate to a point where you don’t have these problems. I was watching a documentary with my wife on Bill Gates. Even after divorce, he will be 1 of the 20 richest people in the world. He’s the top four richest person in the world or something like that. He said, “In the early days of Microsoft, all I wanted to do was save enough money where I could pay for payroll for two years.”
Out of nowhere, my wife reached over, grabbed my hand, held it and goes, “It’s hard, isn’t it?” I’m like, “Yeah.” It’s real for anybody who’s ever started a business. The thing you talked about, Ian, you got 40 months’ worth of runway. You better build the damn product or you’re going to be out of money. You’re making a lot of bad phone calls. Pressure is part of this but the thing is you have that conversation with your friend on a Saturday when you’re walking around. You don’t say that on the team call because that’s how you kill morale.
Ian, you son of a bitch. I love you.
That’s great radical candor. Thank you. I appreciate you.
- The Collective Genius
- Radical Honesty
- Assholes Finish First
- Assholes: A Field Guide: How to Deal with Difficult People
- The Massive Advantages of Dealing With Assholes
- Just Don’t Be an Asshole: A Surprisingly Necessary Guide to Being a Good Guy
- Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump
- Radical Candor
- Amazon – Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth