writing / I want you to f-ing get it

Story of a time I experienced effective communication

In spring 2016, I worked at a seed stage start-up called “Radical Candor,” founded by Kim Scott and Russ Laraway to build software to help managers become better managers. Everyday I coded in the back seat of a Lyft on Highway 280 as I rode to our office in the Flintstone House, 45 minutes south of San Francisco.

One morning after arriving at work, Russ, TJ (the other engineer), and I were sitting around the dining room table waiting for the team to gather for a morning meeting. Russ was explaining something about the business strategy to us. Russ and I didn’t often work closely, so I enjoyed hearing his perspective.

But then I noticed Russ start to repeat himself. He made the same point a couple times in different ways and expounded on key points. It wasn’t a lecture and totally in bounds for a normal conversation but it did start to drag on a bit. He went on long enough for me to eventually think to myself, “Okay Russ, you can stop. I f-ing get it.”

And then something magic happened — he stopped talking and the conversation moved on. It was like Russ had read my mind and knew he’d gotten his point across.

Russ wasn’t talking to hear his own voice. He was communicating as a leader so that TJ and I were completely clear on the strategy. We didn’t often cover this material with Russ but after that conversation, he could be certain we would be operating with an understanding of the broader strategy.

Principles of making your point stick

When communicating as a leader, you don’t want the team to “mostly get it” or “sort of get it”. You want them to absolutely freaking get it.

Engineers tend to speak in a technically correct manner. We’re accustomed to communicating with computers and teaching computers to communicate with each other. Sharing precise information with computers is ideal, but unfortunately, it's a terrible way to talk to humans.

People need extra context and reiteration. They need you to proactively share then check their understanding and clarify. Everyone has so much going on that you often need to repeat the important things to help them sort out the signal from the noise. It’s better to feel like a broken record than have your team working with incomplete or inaccurate information.

Key takeaways

If you want people to understand something important, you need to repeat yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you bore people. The only thing that matters is that they understand what you’re trying to communicate.