A former Google and Apple exec explains how 6 seconds of awkward silence can make you a better boss


Kim Scott

Kim Scott

Get your employees to say what's on their mind. Radical Candor founder Kim Scott pictured.

A lot of leadership experts dole out the same piece of advice: If you want to be a better boss, ask your team for feedback.


In theory, this tip makes sense. You can't begin working on your problem areas until you know exactly what those problem areas are.

But if you've gone and tried this strategy with your employees, there's a really good chance you've gotten multiple responses like, "Oh, everything is fine. Thank you for asking."

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And if you put yourself in your employees' shoes, you can see why. Who in their right mind would sit face-to-face with their boss - a.k.a the person with the power to fire or demote them - and rattle off a list of things they're doing wrong?

In her new book, "Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity," Kim Scott puts forth a potential solution to this dilemma.


The next time one of your employees gives the standard "Everything's fine" response? Silently count to six before saying anything else.

Just so there's no confusion, these will probably be an extremely awkward six seconds.

But the goal here isn't to give your employee a heart attack - it's to get them to say what's really on their mind.

Scott is a former Google and Apple exec and CEO coach who now runs her own company, also named Radical Candor. The company provides software and training to organizations to help create better bosses.

Scott visited the Business Insider office in March and told us why the six-second strategy works: "Almost nobody can endure that much silence. And they'll tell you something."


Maybe they'll mention that you're not so great at meeting deadlines, or that you consistently pay more attention to one person on the team. Whatever they say, don't dismiss it.

"The most important thing that a great boss can do to start creating that kind of [positive workplace] environment is to focus on soliciting feedback," Scott said.

For her, the best way to do that is to occasionally ask, "Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?"

You can tweak that question as you see fit, but the goal is to encourage your team to come up with concrete suggestions. Then, Scott said, "the most important thing to do is to shut up and listen to the answer."

It's natural to get defensive in this situation, but Scott recommends that you try not to.


If you really disagree with what they said, she suggests focusing on the "5% nugget" of their criticism that you do agree with. A few days later, you can follow up by explaining what makes sense to you and why you disagree with the rest, in a respectful way.

And if you agree with what they've told you, go ahead and fix the problem.

As Scott said, "don't dish it out before you can take it."

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