Brutal honesty delivered kindly

On my way to SF this week, I stopped over in Boulder, visited Techstars and then had dinner with Brad Feld, where got to talking about the dynamics inside and around venture firms.  He has obviously been doing this for a long time, and for me, less of a long time (3-1/2 yrs at this point).

I was remarking about the working dynamic at USV, and in particular the way — that I’ve never experienced before at another workplace — that we are able to have pretty serious conversations about a lot of complex issues, including divergent opinions, and yet still do it in a way that is shockingly respectful and seemingly apolitical.  I give the USV team a whole lot of credit for being able to work this way, and it’s really a joy to be around.

Same goes for the dynamics I witness between partners and founders.  We deal with a lot of hard shit — something, somewhere is often badly broken and requires hard choices as well as creative and tough deal making — and getting to the bottom of it means staring it in the face.

Another way of saying both of those things is that I’ve been impressed by the way folks on our team are able to be tough and smart but also kind.  And the more I see difficult situations come and go the more I appreciate the importance of empathy in this business.  It’s fucking  hard and stressful and things break and go wrong all the time, and that’s just the way it is.  And getting through that — either succeeding, failing or some combination of both — takes a combination of brain and heart.

Brad said that he and his partners have a mantra for how they think about this: brutal honesty delivered kindly.  No dodging or glossing over problems and challenges, but also no being a dick.

I like that way of thinking about it.

12 thoughts on “Brutal honesty delivered kindly

  1. Great way of thinking about it, especially once it becomes a part of the accepted culture. Sometimes I worry that I deliver brutal feedback more harshly than I’d like, not out of any malicious intent but because the discomfiture I feel with the conversation can make me a bit short and blunt. The more practiced at brutal honesty you get, the better the feedback becomes I think.

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  2. Is there anything that deserves to be delivered “not kindly”. Supposedly, Victor Hugo said “La forme c’est le fond qui remonte à la surface” which one could translate into “Form is meaning coming to the surface” (with a play on word with “fond”, which means both “content” and “deep” in french).

    In practice, I think it means that how you deliver a message always “tints” the message and that, even for bad news, there’s no point in showing anger, disappointment, of aggressiveness, unless of course, that’s what you mean.

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    1. I think of this as being about respect

      If you can summon human respect for the person you’re dealing with, then I think that guides this

      But I recognize the idea that there is meaning in the delivery and often times messages are intended to be antagonistic, both in content and form. For example, Donald trump on immigration

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  3. I think I have better advice – Read the book “Crucial Conversations” -learn how to master dialogue and as as Brad would say you can “Do more Faster” but I think it should be Do More Better.
    If you are setting a safe environment for the emotionally charged situation, (which you aren’t really safe when around VC’s because its usually about power and control, but anyways) -, you wont have to worry about the BS or dodging problems if people don’t feel like they are going to be 1.disrespected and 2. they believe there is a mutual purpose for a common outcome and that you care about the other person goals , interests and so on. –
    If you are always about you controlling and winning you will always have a hard time getting the right information and getting good outcomes in tough situations. –

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