It’s not Mean, It’s Clear

As odd as it may be to hear this from a 35-year old man, this year is the first year I’ve genuinely learned to express myself clearly without getting emotional. Usually in the past I’ve chosen to simply say nothing or placate somebody. 2018 is the first I’ve realized that it’s fine to disagree with someone and it’s fine to say so. It’s OK to not like what’s been said or what’s going on, and to express that too. The truth is that not only is this acceptable, it is actually the best course of action for all participants.

Kim Scott tells a story in Radical Candor about walking a beloved but undisciplined dog. The amount of love for this dog is preventing her from cracking down on its bad behavior. A passerby rolls up on the two, and seeing and understanding the situation, gives some direct orders to the dog. The dog complies, and as the person then turns away they leave with a parting statement: “See? It’s not mean, it’s clear!” Effective communication is achieved when both parties are 100% understood by each other and cool heads have prevailed.

Now when I go into a conversation, I try to go into it with a goal. I ask myself, “what do I need to say?”. Make a plan, visualize it. Similar to accomplishing anything difficult if you tell your brain what you want to do, when you’re in the moment you’ll be more likely to do it. Try this out sometime. Let a few seconds of silence sink in, while you answer yourself in your own head, “what do I really need to say here?” Then let it flow.

The Outcome Doesn’t Matter

Annie Duke’s book Thinking in Bets was transformative for me. I was one of those many people who see the outcome of decisions and let that define the entire experience. Annie taught me to evaluate the decisions that led to the outcome, not the outcome itself.

Ultimately, good decisions are only more likely to have good outcomes. They are not guaranteed. Similarly, bad decisions are less likely to end in good outcomes. But they still can. If I jump out of an airplane with no parachute (to use a fairly absurd illustration) and somehow survive, would you think that it was a good decision to jump without a parachute?

Let’s make it a bit more real. You meet a girl in highschool, fall in love, get married at age 19, and have a lifetime of marital bliss. Does your successful marriage mean that it was a great idea to get married to the first girl you dated when you were still a teenager? Hell, I bet you didn’t even have a pre-nup. I would argue that you made a bad decision that resulted in a good outcome – good for you, but I wouldn’t have bet on it.

And there you have the title of the book – every decision you make is actually betting on one outcome or the other. How certain were you about the bets (decisions) you made today? Did you really have enough information to make those bets accurately? Thinking this way has really opened my mind to uncertainty being one of the fundamental rules of life.

Thanks, Annie!