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Episode 9: No Gossip Please

Episode 9: No Gossip Please

During every new hire’s first week we teach team members the “Clearing Exercise” and how to have tough conversations with each other. The result is a company with no gossip.
You know what feels so good in the moment? Talking shit. Gossip tastes so sweet, but it is so bad for your company culture. That’s when we brought in the Clearing Exercise.
It’s pretty bold to say that we’re a company with no gossip… we STRIVE to have no gossip. In full transparency gossip still exists. When venting (which is also gossip btw) comes up, we hold each other accountable. “That sounds important to you, you should definitely speak to that person about that.” This exists under the premise of, “what gets measured gets improved.” We want to reduce gossip, so we created a cue around it. If you don’t verbalize it and set it as a goal, how does it change?

The Clearing Exercise is a shared strategy that we use to communicate issues in a skillful aka not dickish way. We use it to communicate directly-- to people, not about them. It is a true game changer. Remember, the fight is never about the fight, it’s about three things before the fight. A strong practice in clearing can help eliminate that gunky build-up.

There are four parts:

1. The facts

2. Your thoughts and feelings

3. Your role (own your part)

4. What you’d like to see moving forward

Clearing Exercise worksheet
Stephen: Hey Shaun, I have something to clear with you. (This isn’t scary because it has become an accepted practice at goodr.) The facts are that you no-showed to that meeting last Thursday. My thoughts are that it really hurt because I’ve been working my ass off on this project. It’s really important to me. It really devalued all the work I’ve been putting in. It made me feel like you didn’t care. My role in this is that I never communicated to you how important this is to me and how I need your support. Moving forward I need you to be mindful of this and communicate with me when you’re going to miss a meeting.


Shaun: What I heard Stephen was, when I no-showed to that meeting last Thursday, you’ve been working your ass off, it devalued your work, and made you feel like I didn’t care. The role you played in this is that you didn’t communicate it to me sooner.

Stephen: Just making sure you’re mindful of how important this is to me.

Shaun: I will definitely keep it in mind, because I never want you to feel diminished, or that your work is not important. Are we clear?

Stephen: We’re clear.

The point is to be heard and understood. It is not to “win” an argument (feel free to join a debate team if that’s what you’re all about). If you follow the format it is impossible to have an argument. When you’re talking about facts and your own feelings, people get it and it hits hard.

Stephen and co-founder Ben started using the Clearing Exercise together at first. They used it very regularly. It was then rolled out to the rest of the team after an awkward product naming experience. We name our sunglasses crazy names, and the team named a pair of sunglasses, “Poker I Don’t Even Know Her.” After it was named it came out that it felt like it alluded to promoting rape culture (not something that we’d want to be associated with doing). It was a Friday afternoon and we had already spent so much time going back and forth about this name. We ended up changing the name, but decided to run the experience through the Clearing Exercise after the incident. It went something like this:

Person: Fact, the name “Poker I Don’t Even Know Her” promotes rape culture.

Stephen: Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s not a fact. (The only time you can stop somebody is when you disagree with a fact, this is why facts must be universal.)

::: Crowd goes wild ::: “It’s a fact!” “That’s not a fact!”

Ben, the analytical Enneagram-type-5-lawyer, steps in and says: The only thing that is a fact is that we named a pair of sunglasses “Poker I Don’t Even Know Her.”


Person: Fact is that we named a pair of sunglasses “Poker I Don’t Even Know Her.” Fact, we’re in the middle of this “Me Too” movement. My thoughts and feelings are, to me this promotes rape culture. goodr is a place that really empowers women, and I’m sensitive to these issues. My role in this is that I am sensitive to this, and I would like this name to be changed, but more importantly, in the future, I would like names to be posted so we can comment on them.

As soon as we were able to separate the facts and the feelings, the tension left the room. It was a huge shift. Saying, “Poker I Don’t Even Know Her” is a name that promotes rape culture, comes off as an accusation. It made anyone that liked that name, or approved the name originally, feel like THEY promote rape culture. Not true, this is totally unstated. The Clearing Exercise helps people get around this.

Stephen loves it when people clear with him. He wants to create a pin that the clearer gets when clearing with the CEO or after giving him critical feedback. At goodr we currently have ten pins that you spin a wheel and get when people express gratitude for you. So this pin would be extra special. Yes, we’re turning into Disney pin collectors. No lanyards yet, but they don’t seem out of reach.

Not a lot of things make it onto Stephen’s plate because of clearings. People are spending time talking to each other and solving conflict rather than complaining, gossiping, or wrestling it out in a mud pit.

If leadership is not bought in on this, you’re fuct. But if you lead a team, you can bring this in yourself.

Here are some tips on how to have successful clearings:

1. Try to clear between 48 and 96 hours. Definitely wait at least 24 hours.

2. Only clear one thing at a time. This makes it easier for the person reporting it back to you!

3. Keep it simple.

4. Don’t confuse facts and feelings.

5. Take ownership of your feelings. “I felt this way,” versus, “you made me feel this way.”

Stephen has wanted to clear things with people and started typing out the clearing and realized there were zero facts. “Shit that’s on me then.” Know that a clearing is really good if there are no next actions. If you’re playing out a conversation more than three times in your head, that’s when you need to clear.

Truly, this is the training wheels for giving feedback and conducting tough conversations. A tough convo is when something needs to be changed. If it is a consistent issue it needs to be nipped. Going through the Clearing Exercise often leads to the change you’re seeking.

The preparation is the hardest part. If you’re not preparing for tough conversations, you’re going to fuck it up. Stephen prepares for at least an hour, scripting it out, so it goes as well as it can. When someone wants to clear with you, it’s a way of them showing you respect. It’s not a haphazard throwing of a fireball, it's intentional, thoughtful feedback. Perhaps more like a shot of Fireball.

explosion golfers wearing goodr golf sunglasses
Know that people aren’t good at receiving feedback. For that reason, we can “container build” around the experience. Set the stage, and make it clear that it’s about feedback and not a conversation. Doing this helps prevent individuals from jumping into the defensive zone, and they come ready to listen instead of fight. Teeing it up the right way is crucial, and will help you give the feedback. If you get an eye roll during your feedback session, don’t hesitate to call it out, “Hey that’s a really poor way of receiving feedback.” That will respectively knock them down a peg. If you’re someone who struggles with receiving feedback, seek it out, so you normalize it. Remember that this is all for the name of improvement. And at the end of the day, you don’t have to take it.
“When you start increasing to black belt level, you are giving clear and consistent positive feedback more than critical, so that when you need to give critical feedback, it’s heard.” ~Stephen Lease

Stephen’s secret sauce formula for giving feedback:

1. Preparation.

2. Get clear on your ask moving forward.

3. Don’t put ambiguous meetings on the agenda, call it what it is.

So how do you invite someone to a meeting where you’re going to give critical feedback? At goodr we have 1:1s monthly, and feedback meetings planned after events. By setting the table for these conversations you can’t hide from them. In doing this, we work really hard to give consistent feedback throughout the quarter, so when we get to our quarterly reviews everyone knows what’s up already. Stephen can be the good guy and swoop in with reinforcing positive feedback.

Stephen has received tons of feedback that has been useful in his career. From being told to ask more questions and talk less during leadership meetings, to conversations with one of his mentors, Morris Miller. Miller once said to him in a discussion, “Stop, stop, stop, you can figure this out.” The context was basically, “Stop making fucking excuses. You can run the company.” Sometimes you need to get hit with that.

Why are you so anti-gossip? It’s a cancer.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being perfect) how well are we doing at avoiding gossip at this point? Probably a 7.

What would have to change to get us to that 10? More rigid accountability.

How many clearings do you think you’ve had? I can’t even guess… more than I could count.

How do you prepare for a tough conversation? Mapping it out clearing wise, and putting a lot of thought into it.

What’s the one thing you always do to make sure a conversation goes well? You never “make sure,” you always “try.” But you need to ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT.

“Being blunt and being an asshole, is not being good at having tough conversations. That is being good at being blunt and being an asshole.” ~ Stephen Lease
We’re good-ish at having tough conversations. Check your ego though, there is always a lot of room to grow. If you answer, “I’m great at tough conversations,” you’re probably not. Unless you consistently have tough convos without getting hurt or without fighting, you can do better.
For next actions, print the clearing worksheet and tell people about it. It’s like when you tell somebody you’re running a marathon, now you have to do it. Happy Clearing!