Cracking the Culture Code

with Kim Malone Scott

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Good communicators are good listeners.

Kim Malone Scott

CEO Coach, Management Manager, Author

Lessons Learned

You need to be able to share your credentials in a way that is both humble and confident.

You have a repeat yourself multiple times and in multiple ways.

Managers need to give the quiet ones a voice.


Lesson: Cruel Empathy with Kim Malone Scott

Step #7 Communication: Good communicators are good listeners

I think the most important thing to being a good communicator is to be a good listener. The most thing about communication is communicating in terms of what's important to the other person. And you can't know what's important to the other person if you haven't listened.

Another ancient framework about great communication was taught to me by Joel Podolny at Apple University, but it's Aristotle's framework. Basically imagine a triangle and one of the things that's important is logic, sort of sharing your rationale, sharing what you know. Another thing that's very important is credibility. What right do you have to be talking about the subject? It’s paradoxical, but you have to have a certain amount of humility to share your credentials. You have to be able to share them in a way that is both humble and confident.

Thirdly, emotion and it's not about your emotion; it's about the other person's emotion. You have to connect. You have to be able to tell good stories--show don't tell. You have to be able to use humor and to get on the same wavelength with the people you're talking to.

I think also, as a manager, one of the most painful things I've learned about communicating with people is that you just have to repeat yourself over and over and over and in every way imaginable. You have to be able to write it down. You have to be able to say it, say it not just once but 500 times. You have to be willing to act it out. You can't imagine how often you have to say it.

One of the things that most often happens when I'm talking to managers, and some of them very experienced, is there will be this massive miscommunication between them and the team. This manager will say, "But I told them. Look at this email." I said, "That doesn't count. That's like one email. You have to have sent 30 emails, and sent it in an all-hands 15 times, and demonstrated it in your actions.

I think one of the most important things you can do as a manager is to give the quiet ones a voice. And what I mean by that is you're always going to have people on your team who are loud. But just because they're loud doesn't mean they're right. You're also going to have people on your team who are actually very eloquent, but just because they're eloquent doesn't mean they're right.

So a few things: when you're having a meeting with a team of people, make sure occasionally to go around and make sure everybody talks. Read the body language. Read the facial expressions of people. Ask somebody who's done a ton of the talking and say, "We've heard from you a lot. I want to hear from the others." You've got to create sort of a safe holding environment in the room.

You want to make sure to balance. Having office hours is okay, but you're going to hear from the same loud people in your office hours. Maybe you'll get a quiet one in there. More often you'll get to them by walking around. It's why it's important to me to have one-on-ones and not office hours. Even when the team that I managed at Google was 100 some odd people, I would have a quarterly one-on-one with every single person on the team. It was only 15 minutes. It was kind of lame in that respect, but I just wanted to say, "Do you have anything to say to me? Anything's fair game: furniture to strategy."

It's very tempting to I think as a manager that you are responsible for other people's emotions. In fact, the most common advice that managers get about giving feedback is that it should be constructive. I think that's terrible advice because it's not in your control how the other person is going to take it. Maybe they'll take it constructively or maybe they won't. Obviously, you shouldn't give feedback in an effort to tear somebody down. So I guess to that extent, I agree. But the point here is that the most important thing you do is to be clear. One of the most important things you can do to be clear is manage your own emotions.

A few things that I have found that really helped me. One is just getting enough sleep and exercise. Another is breathing. Remember to just sort of take a couple of deep breaths. It actually physically changes your heart rate, et cetera. If you're really worried about a conversation, take a bottle of water with the top on it so that you have time to unscrew the top, take a sip of water, and put the bottle down.

Simple things like that can make a big difference. I think taking a walk for a really hard conversation can really help because you're both looking in the same direction. Thinking hard about the room where you're going to be giving feedback, so you're not on opposite sides of the table. So it's not an adversarial situation. So just being conscious of your own emotions and remaining calm is important.

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