Get your way, make them smile

January 01, 2019

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

The quote above is so important.

I was in a meeting today where we had some disagreeement. I saw things one way, a few others saw it differently. I was being gentle and explained, in a way I felt was reasonable and persuasive, why I felt how I did.

A more powerful person disagreed with me. To his credit, he let me finish my sentence. But right after, he said, "I'm going to just, cancel that comment".

I let it go. I didn't feel that strongly about it either way, and truthfully, I've never been part of a corporate culture that tolerated open debate. I think they exist (Microsoft had some of this, and Bridgewater prides themselves on being an "idea meritocracy"), I just haven't seen it firsthand.

But either way, his comment left a really bad taste in my mouth. It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but not everyone is going to see it that way all the time.

What's ironic is that I made this post on Hacker News a few days ago:

Correct that this is your #1 job. But it would be even better if you could do that job, AND not make people feel shitty / mad / disrespected in the process. As someone who struggles with this, getting the "emotional layer" right, on top of the base objective of doing your job, is sort of the next level of competence you might think how to achieve. It is very difficult to get right.

The original poster was talking about the importance of "doing his job", and how he'd preempt people if necessary.

I've realized there are three levels of competence in a lot of human undertaking:

  1. Being able to identify the right thing to do.
  2. Being able to get others to do the thing you want to do.
  3. Getting others to do what you want to do, without alienating them.

I think the fourth level might be, "Getting groups of others to do what you want to do". I'm not sure about that one yet.

I like to think that when it comes to software, I'm at about a 2.5 on this scale. I think I usually know what to do, and can usually convince others to do it. But too often, I steamroll others, or get hot-headed. I think I'm okay overall at the emotional piece, and can usually see it if I really try, but often it takes me too long, and I make mistakes in situ that I only recognize after the fact.

Having said that, deliberate practice has indeed helped. That, and being married. 😃