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‘Radical Candor’ author Kim Scott says being too nice is worse than being mean

If you don’t have anything nice to say — say it, Scott advises on the latest Recode Decode.

Courtesy Kim Scott

In her new book “Radical Candor,” entrepreneur and CEO coach Kim Scott proposes some new names to describe how leaders behave and misbehave. For example, rather than calling someone an “asshole” as if that’s innate to their character, Scott says people should be called out for their “obnoxious aggression,” because it’s something we all can be guilty of at times.

But being an asshole — or being obnoxiously aggressive — isn’t the worst, she writes. On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Scott said that 85 percent of management mistakes happen because the manager is being “ruinously empathetic.”

In other words, they’re being too nice. And it’s rampant when men are in charge of women.

“A man managing a woman is more likely to be ruinously empathetic with that woman than with the other men on his team, not giving [her] enough feedback,” Scott said. “It’s hard to be radically candid with someone who looks just like you; it’s even harder to be candid with someone who looks different than you.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

Scott argued that the old axiom your parents may have taught you — “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” — is a horrible lesson to bring into the workplace. Bluntly telling an underperforming employee that they need to do better may sting for both parties, but it’s clearly better than risking layoffs or lost business because that employee was allowed to continue floundering.

“If you are a woman and your boss is a man, it’s really important that you demand criticism,” Scott said. “If you’re a man, just be aware that you might be pulling your punches, and don’t do it. She can take it, I promise.”

She acknowledged that being candid is harder for female bosses than male bosses. Women in business who are accused of obnoxious aggression may be called a “bitch,” where a man would be called an “asshole.”

“I don’t have data on this, but I’m pretty sure it hurts more to be called a ‘bitch’ than an ‘asshole,’” Scott said.

“You don’t want to become the angel in the office,” she added. “Virginia Woolf said the goal of a female writer is to kill ‘the angel in the house.’ The angel has left the house and entered the office. And I think, very often, women do put undue pressure on themselves because it’s being put on them by others, to bake cupcakes, to do all the office housework.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge's Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

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