About the talk
YC Partner Kevin Hale talks about the importance of building a successful working relationship with your cofounders, and setting up processes to optimize for the strengths of your team.
Transcript and lecture slides here: https://www.ycombinator.com/library/6n-how-to-work-together
This lecture is part of YC's Startup School, a free online program and global community of founders. Register and join the community at https://www.startupschool.org/
00:30 Marriage advice
2:33 Four things to avoid when fighting
4:22 Planning for disagreements
13:05 Non-violent communication
22:48 Pay down emotional debt
Looking for a co-founder? Try YC's new co-founder matching platform: https://www.ycombinator.com/cofounder-matching
00:30 Marriage advice
02:33 Four things to avoid when fighting
04:22 Planning for disagreements
08:13 Attachment style
13:05 Non-violent communication
16:00 Emotions vs thoughts
18:46 Universal needs
20:31 Requests vs demands
22:48 Pay down emotional debt
Kevin Hale was the cofounder of Wufoo, which was funded by Y Combinator in 2006 and acquired by SurveyMonkey in 2011. He was responsible for Wufoo’s much-admired design and speaks widely about UX. Before Wufoo he wrote about design for Particletree and was editor in chief of the web development magazine Treehouse. He has a BA from Stetson University in Digital Arts and English.View the profile
these are some guys, I saw in Kyoto turn down the scaffolding, and I just think they're Amazingly poetic and how they do their work in a startup. Founders basically have to figure out how to optimize for a relationship that lasts for like 10 years. And that's a crazy thing to do with someone. You might only know for a couple of months or I've only known and it sort of work setting. And the thing is, like, the only models for Understand that kind of relationship actually,,
probably for my parents. And so I'd like to start off with some marriage research. So this is John gottman. He studied his marriages in Seattle. He's a bitch in This American Life and a bunch of different places. And basically he has a cool magic tricks. You can watch a couple fight about something for 15 minutes and projects with 85% accuracy. Willowdale be divorced or not for years from now if he watches them for an hour and have them also share their hopes and dreams his prediction rate goes up to 94% And this is the same videos they would show to priests
psychologist psychiatrist marriage counselors, successfully, married couples, and they don't predict better than random chance. I said he's figure something out. It's something about the way. We won't have an argument that determines longevity and one of the most surprising things that you discovered was that it's not that successfully married people who will last a long time that they never fight, turns out everybody fights. And then we all fight about the exact same things money kids, sex time jealousy and the in-laws
And time is usually what are we going to do with our free time? And the thing that's interesting is like I think all of these map out to the stuff that we're going to fight about in a company. And so you with your co-founders are going to have these issues. And the thing is what's nice about knowing everyone fights and that, you know, what, you're going to fight about is that we can make a plan for figuring out how to deal with this one situation that will determine whether we will work together on the thing that were so passionate about down the road.
The other thing that John got me figured out is that there's four major things we want to avoid when we're fighting. And when we do these things, they will create sort of leading indicators that the relationship is in serious trouble. I'm going to go through each one of these. So criticism. This is basically like you're talking with someone and was like, hey, you know what? I have a serious concern about this bug that we are trying to fix, and I'm really worried about this thing, and I'm not sure that we're to be able to deploy on time and someone comes up and says,
like, what, you know, what I don't like, is the fact that you leave a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink. And criticism is, basically this idea that we don't fight on one topic. We start trying to bring all these other issues into play instead of addressing the one issue at hand dangerous. Contempt is pretty easy. One intention to insult the basic. I say like, hey, I am worried about this bug and what I can do, and we'll do the plant. I'm the one says, I don't like your face, that's contempt. And what you want to avoid this, making things personal
business. This one's kind of easy to understand is that someone not owning responsibility about the problem until we can't move forward because someone won't admit that, there's a problem. There. We defend that we haven't done anything wrong and therefore, that can't be resolution between two people. The other person thinks there's a problem. This one is a super dangerous one and it's one. Basically you're like, hey, I got a problem and the person just walks away, won't engage won't talk to you until there can be no way to create any
kind of resolution. So just as you wouldn't do this without doing some of this, we want to make a plan and I'm going to talk about four different things that we can do. That helps avoid and protect us from those four horsemen. The first one is divide and conquer. This feels pretty straightforward. But you want to do this early in a relationship, with your co-founders and in the early stages of your company. So, here's our list, again of the types of things that we might have problems with. And in the early stage of the start. Let's say a Dora and
I are doing a start together, just heard me then, what you want to do is just kind of say like, oh who's responsible, what stuff? And what this will do is like if there's a problem in that category, then that person that we have assigned ahead of time to be in, charge will be the ones that will ultimately make the decision or ultimate are responsible. This protects us from defensiveness. So notice Iran jealousy. This is about competition. Usually. And so, usually in the early says your startup. You should not be worried about competition. Competition
is not used to it. Kills you in the very early stages of your company as your company ages. It might change and look something like this. You'll sign thing, two different sort of positions, and heads. And as a result, then when their problems come up, you know, basically. Sort of his delicate, that what happened. If things go out of hand even about those sort of levels, will basically what you want to do, is decide after you delegate, who has ownership, determine what a success and failure. You want to know. Also ahead of time. Hey, we
divided up the task. We lost one and I was like Hey, when is there going to be interference with a person that is supposed to be leading? These decisions? What is considered like its success enough that we shouldn't be interfering. Just let them do what they think is best and what is considered really bad. So that we have to interfere and something has to be done about it. So and this case could examples would be like, hey, you know, who successfully fundraise? Like, we don't need to talk or like replace the person that's responsible for that shipping on time ever rated,
top 3, amongst the art of peers, or we've built referral program. That's working. Hey, we don't need to be criticizing the person that's working on the stuff or they're doing a good job. On the corollary, we want to just fine. Hey, what are the things that basically are going to trigger conversations really hard conversations. Like, hey, if we hit this sort of area, we need to put the brakes on, I mean, to discuss what's going on and actually try to resolve these problems. A lot of people like the delicate stuff, but they don't have a way of saying. Hey, when are we going to
have a conversation about this when there's trouble and he's a really, really easy to do. And the reason you want to do these early, While You're Sober, emotionally sober, it's cuz once you get angry and emotions come into play, then you might not be thinking rationally, ultimate in the end. Usually, it's the CEO. In the company, was final. Say now you as a team to decide differently, how you want to resolve it. If you do, if you divvy up the stuff, but ultimately whoever's the CIA uses when he was off that and if there's problems with the CEO, then it's the board
and the early stages of startup. The board is usually composed of just the founders. So you have to ultimately work it out. The second defense against the 4th Horseman is knowing yourself. This will protect you from stonewalling and when I mean is what is your attachment style? So there was all this research that was done in the 1960s about how people Approach relationships. And basically, I was determined that the sort of three major types. There's a secure attachment style. And that means basically like hey, you know what,
you have a problem going up to people relying on them and having them rely on me and sort of like us creating a relationship. I don't mind being vulnerable. And I don't, I don't mind other people being vulnerable with me that's called a secure attachment Style. Is an anxious now, so there's a type of person that will be like, you know what? I kind of don't get enough. Love, that's not as much as I want. Kind of want to like hold on to people and I kind of want to have people come to make them for with me that they want to be with me. I feel like it's a little difficult and
it's not the point. That kind of person is like I find it kind of difficult. Creating relationships with people and I kind of want to run away sometimes because it's really scary or I'm worried that I'm going to mess it up. And the thing that's super important here between your cup under, as you want to know, your co-founders attachment style. Is that going to dictate how you are going to be able to resolve and understand your differences. That what it turns out early enough is that anxious attachment person. And an avoidant attachment person. These are the two most common in the world.
There's not that many like, well develop, secure people out there. They tend to want to be with one another. So the person that wants to run away and the person that wants to clean until you have is someone who needs space to make a decision and a process problems. Intention, as someone who needs validation constantly the process. Complex and issues, and so when those two people are together and they don't realize what the other person needs, they don't realize that they're going to have to been to sort of make it work. What's a good books on attachment Styles is a wonderful Wikipedia page
that covers that I would recommend watching this YouTube video. It's from school of life. And what I would highly recommend is basically understanding that like if you're with someone that is at the opposite type that you're going to have to do work either to reach across the aisle, like, if you were an anxious person, you're going to and you're talking to and avoid the person, you just have to realize, like, oh, that person's needs space, but that doesn't mean they're running away from you. And if you were to avoid a person with an anxious person, that if someone needs your attention, or if you
need your space than you have to let them know. It's okay. I'm going to be back. I realize that you're going to need an answer for this. I'm going to go away and I figure stuff out and I promised a time that we will deal with this. Document a process. So this will protect you from criticism. And so basically when you're emotionally sober, is the best time to create a processed for dealing with this agreement and a reason you want to do this is cuz once you're upset and angry and filled with emotions, you are not going to be thinking straight. And
so the odds are you might say something. You regret might say something that you don't mean on the other person might do so and then you will have a much different problem. Then the bug not being fixed and deployed on time. Tell one of my favorite examples of this matter and they created a spreadsheet for dealing with this agreement. Basically, it's a disagreement, a decision framework and they say just talks about. It's like hey, We have a disagreement. We should just documented this house. Makes things really, really transparent faces. Understand both sides.
Very, very clearly. We talked about the different options. We say, who made the decision, what the decision was the date was done, and the rationale. And when we walk through this process, that we've decided this ahead of time, then it means that we are not afraid when disagreements come up. It's like we have a process for dealing with this, and we will figure it out by filling out XL. There's lots of different ways to do this. You don't have to follow dares with a very specific framework. They have lots of, really great justifications in their
article. You just have to agree ahead of time. What you want to do. So there, for, when you are upset, you just go. Okay. We have a process for this and it processed says, oh, it says go have a timeout or eat a bologna sandwich or like, take a nap first and then we'll figure out what we have to do. It could be a process where it's like a if there's a real disagreement and both sides equally strong, we will flip a coin and then that will be the decision for the test of time. We will let Lady Luck to decide. It doesn't matter. You just have to both agree. This strategy will protect you from
contempt. So the way that you avoid making things personal is you have to figure out weight of communicating with another in a way that will not be threatening. There's an amazing book on this. It's called nonviolent communication by Marshall Rosenberg and it helps. You be honest with other people without criticizing, without insulting without putting down other people in the magic comes in the structure that feels somewhat fake for people who are not into being touchy-feely, basically, when you're giving some kind of criticism you want to basically have it in
this format. So when some observation, I feel an emotion because I'm needing some Universal need, would you be able to request So, we're just going to break down each one of these different parts and they're all every single one of these are tricky. And it's a thing that lot of people would try to do in your Center, whole life, trying to get really good at. And if it's really difficult. The first one is you need to make an observation versus having an evaluation. So basically what you want to do is start your disagreement or criticism by anchoring at the
something that is concrete. You do not want it to be something that is connected to opinion. It should be something that you actually saw or heard cuz there or if you can't disagree with something that actually happened versus something. I heard of I heard a rumor or something that has to do something that needs a motional or something. That seems like an opinion. So I give an example. An observation would be like you said that you send that document last week and I haven't received it. All right, so that is a great observation and evaluation. That someone might say, instead
In the Heat of the Moment. Is that your fucking lazy? Right. Kind of feels like an observation, but it's not. It's a value in the person. Give me another example, your work is sloppy. That is not objective. He said a three of the numbers in this report were inaccurate. That's where you want to start. You're always late. Going to be really careful because that the generalization in evaluation observation. Hey, you arrive 10 minutes late to the meeting this morning.
Evaluation. You ignored me. Observation. I sent you two emails and I haven't received a response notice. When we start with observation. We start with a fact that can't be refuted until we're not going to end up arguing about something else. Notice all those other evaluations, the immediately will trigger an emotion in you. And do I tell you want to be really careful that we can start this criticism that you don't start with one of those. The Nexus we have to talk about her emotions, right? So I saw this. Irrefutable
observation, and it made me feel something. And what we have to be, really careful of is not saying thoughts, but instead talking about feelings, which is kind of odd, but it's connected to the next point in the, in the structure. So emotion will be. I feel frustrated. Now, I thought would be and they could be put in the same structure as like. I feel that you weren't taking this seriously and the way you can tell, if something is a thought or feeling is you substitute the phrase, I think with I feel and it still works.
So I think frustrated doesn't work. So that's a feeling. I think that you aren't taking this. Seriously. That's a thought. Does a couple of emotion that we have to be. Particularly careful of one is anchor because anger is usually tied to a bunch of host of other things. So when someone says that I feel angry you, or you realizing that, you feel angry, you want to be really, really specific about what's causing the anger, what's triggering it? The other trick emotions are evaluative emotions. And usually, what you need to figure out is what
underlines that evaluation. So, I'll give you an example. So I feel blamed someone else's evaluating me. I feel blamed actually, is I feel scared. Someone is blaming me until I feel scared. So, take a lot of work to understand that. When someone is giving me some time feeling like some kind of judging feeling, what is at the core root of it. Other examples are I feel judged? Social impact, as I feel resentful. I feel misunderstood impactful statement is actually, I feel frustrated. I feel rejected. The really packed is I feel
hurt. It's super hard. It's super. Super hard. Know how to link inside of this presentation to a PDF. It's three pages of evaluative emotions. Impacted feelings. You probably actually are feeling and then connects his 2 and Universal need that you need to overcome it. Which leads us to our next thing, every negative emotion. Lies and unmat Universal need. And so, what that means is that like when you're feeling one of these frustrated or blamed or scared or hurt feelings, there's
something that's missing. That you're going to need. And this thing that's really tricky about Universal need. Did you have to be careful realizing? Is it a strategy or is it in need? And is it truly Universal? So, I'll give me example, right? You might be able to say, I need a sandwich. Man, is not Universal. Did you have to be really careful? Right? And then you might say, like, I need a sandwich to give me nourishment. That's more like a strategy. A much better way, might be. You
might say something. Like I need you to copy Mia on every single email. But the thing is that's not a universal needed. That's becomes a very, very specific Universal. Need would be, I need some transparency about this process. You have to be careful of not making needs about something that's very specific to yourself or just that situation because once it's a universal need, then it's something that everyone can agree that everyone should sort of have two other Universal needs are like I need support. And the way you turn it into Universal need is by saying something. Like, I
need support from you. Everyone needs support from Henry, right, but everyone does need support. That says you include from you. It stops being Universal. Do you want to be really careful of this? Okay. Request versus the man at the very end. So basically said like hey, I noticed something that can't be refuted. I told you about a feeling and how it impacts me and I told you the basic it results in some Universal need that we all can agree that we need to have. And now we get to Stop. Like they have changed as a result. And what you
want to make is a request, not Adam. And the difference is that a request is an invitation to the other person to meet our Universal needs. It's much easier to be able to do than to say like I order you to do something. So we want to do is make it very specific request. So I request for you to be more respectful is not that great because who defines what's respectful? My version of respect will might be different from someone else's? Your request should be something like I request that
you arrive to meetings on time. Say what you want. Don't say what you don't want. So, what a lot of people with his, I request that you don't dismiss other people's ideas straight away. The thing is it doesn't indicate the behavior that you do want. And so it becomes really difficult to act on a better one would be I request that when a team member shares an idea you ask two or three probing questions before sharing a conclusion. And then stay curious. And so sometimes you might make a request
and someone might say no and what you need to do is not just freaked out that the whole process isn't working. The idea is actually to be like, maybe I haven't put this request in a way that can meet more needs than just myself. Could I do this in a way so that they can understand to be on board for everyone to be assertive involved. Do you want to learn more? Does a really great article on delivering constructive feedback and if it was suggested by Dave Bailey, the zombie tomorrow have a link to it. He goes into far more detail and is a very, very good starting point for giving
out this really hard feedback. We all know what technical debt is right? So, when we're building out software, really, really quickly and sometimes you like. Well, that's not going to scale really well, and it's going to be dirty. And when you get out the door, and I'm just going to put that in the back of my mind. It's something I have to fix later well into our relationship to another, you will incur emotional debt. And only technical. You really don't want that to go for very long. You want to pay this down every day. So it turns out, also, John gottman to
research that it wasn't that People who were really good at being in a marriage. Only thought about really big things, turns out they like weed immediately bring up stuff even when it's really tiny or small, they would never let a small thing grow to be a medium thing. And then, eventually the big thing, the meeting will talk about us. Like, can you close your mouth when you're chewing real quick? It's just like going to bother me right now and they do it in a way that sort of respectful and do like when you're with your co-founders and you're
in this really sensitive relationship and you're finding stuff that's being really troubling. Like you can communicate those needs really quickly and you will prevent those small. Things are becoming big things. The best way to start doing, this is a practice. So, A twice a week, all these level three conversations. So level one that informal conversation and we have other people where is just like date exchange. Passing information back and forth, level 2 conversation, have some emotion, talk about some things that are personal level, three conversations, the
relational. They're engaged with something that's happening right now. Between two people that is super, super important. It is a deep dive into What it might be really troubling. What might be really matter to two people and in a start-up there's a lot of things that's going to matter to all of the people working on the company. So, let's go to some examples of things that you guys can do after this talk. So goals, some good ones are what are short-term goals for the company. You'd be surprised at how often people are not on
the same page about this. Are we using the right metrics? We got letters on those answers. I hope. So by now. And then are we That's supposed to be hitting our goals that hiring our goals. Are we hitting our goals? Goals, who's responsible? What super sensitive, right? So, is it clear? Who is responsible for, what? I'll just have that conversation. Do we agree that the current division makes the most sense? And this might be super simple answers. But if there is any kind of disagreement, we want to cash that out and
performance. Okay. So is our workload distributed in an optimal Manor today. Do we all feel a high level of dedication and motivation right now? Great thing to just check on it every day. And then What mechanisms are in place for providing feedback to one another? That we carved out time for paying down, emotional. Do we feel like we can have these level three conversations? At any time. We have a process in place for taking to the stuff so that we can be honest about where we are in our company.
Play some things up. How to work together everyone fights. So you want to make a plan? You need to figure out what's your attachments now, what's your rolls? But your goals and a process before emotions get involved. Do it while you're sober. Use nonviolent communication to share honest feedback without criticism, and then pay down. Emotional debt on a regular basis. This is the most healthy way that you will, make sure that things will not turn into a giant blow-up. You can
start having hard conversations right now. There's no doubt in my mind that there's probably some issue that the two of you or three of you or four of you or God forbid, seven of you are not talking about. Okay. Thank you very much is mango.
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