Delta File: Say You’re Welcome

When others treat you poorly, let it go. Forgive.

As you move on, break the incident down into behaviors–factual elements of the interaction. Commit to do better for when the roles are reversed.

Collect these entries in your own “Delta File:” a collection of the changes you want to be in the world.

My first entry:

When I hold the door open for someone and they look me in the eye and say, “Thank you!” I will not look away with a blank emotional affect and say, “Yep.” I will look back at them and say, “You’re welcome!”

“You’re welcome” takes almost no extra time. I know it feels much better to hear than a dismissive, “yep.”

Thank you, Mark

The idea of the Delta file came to me through Manager Tools podcasts. Mark Horstman has sprinkled references to keeping a “delta file” throughout the casts. For him, it is a list of things you plan on handling differently when you are a manager.

It Will Take Time

I’ve been trying to change my “yeps,” “uh-huhs,” and “no problems” into “you’re welcomes” for a few weeks now. It still comes out a bit forced.

In the mean time I notice that people saying “you’re welcome” does feel different. It feels better.

I’ll keep pushing through this awkwardness. After all, I used to hate to smile. Now I have smile lines. My first wrinkles.

You Will Have More Success

Any one habit aimed at putting others at ease can be argued with. You can’t reasonably argue with the fact that putting people at ease increases your success.

As I’ve learned more and more about the human side of work I am more and more astounded by how logical we aren’t.

Our rational capacity is bounded. Other people can ignore your antisocial habits, but it costs some of their reserves of rational behavior. You want them to find you easy to get along with so that your ideas get that much more attention.

Weasel Words Magnify Doubt

When you’re fact finding address your doubts before you return and report.

Don’t come back to your team with “allegedly” or “supposedly.” Words like that telegraph your own uncertainty in a way that paints your sources as unreliable.

If you really can’t be sure then state who reported which fact. Such as, “John told me the site was up at 5 PM.”

Even when facts conflict, simply report them.

For example: “John reported the site up at 5 PM and Eric reported that it was down at the same time.”

Notice how that phrasing points your thinking to the riddle: how could they make conflicting observations? Was there something different in their environments?

Now see how prejudicial it would be to say, “John reported the site up at 5 PM but Eric supposedly couldn’t reach it at the same time.” The weasel word “supposedly” and, to a lesser extent, the humble conjunction “but” paints a doubting arrow to Eric. We have an emotional reaction to the reporter of the fact instead of the tension in the facts.

(The affect can be subtle in alien examples like these. The doubt comes through boldly on teams that really do have trouble trusting each other.)

You can come up with more weaselly words that pretend to be reporting facts when they are really casting judgement: allegedly, apparently, purportedly.

Journalists use words like this more and more. I assume they are trying to insulate themselves from liability for slander and libel. It’s a mistake to add this kind of misdirection to our professional discourse.

When you qualify a fact with, “allegedly” you throw them into doubt in a way that often maligns the source. “Allegedly this bug was fixed last week according to Robert.”

Oh, and the same goes for “air-quoting” a portion of your colleague’s report. “John said the bug was ‘fixed.'”

Always remember, you’re job boils down to two responsibilities: deliver results and build the team. Weasel words do little to deliver results and much to tear down team.

Pretend It’s All Voicemail

Today’s Mad, Sad, Glad. by Wendii Lord hit dead-on for all three links.

Voicemail: Still Kickin’

I’d like to add my amen in particular to her note on voicemail: it’s still useful.

If you call me, get voicemail and don’t leave a message then I’ll probably assume you don’t need a call back. In fact, I’m not going to bother matching your number to a name if you don’t leave a message.

Sometimes I’ll call someone and get their voicemail only to realize I really could figure things out on my own. I hang up and find my own way.

I’m surprised when they call back and ask, “Hey, I missed a call from this number?” I’m sure they’re trying to be helpful. It seems kinda needy: you really have time to return calls when you have no idea whether or not they were a wrong number?

If it wasn’t important enough for me to leave a message then you definitely don’t need to bother yourself calling back.

Asynchronous On Demand

What’s really bothersome about the assumption/observation that people don’t leave messages anymore is that it points to a less forgiving communication model: talk now OR NEVER.

I’m no fan of phone tag. I don’t want to have whole conversations over voicemail. On the other hand, I’m no fan of letting my phone win every contest for my attention.

If I’m interviewing someone, if I’m meeting with an employee, or if I feel that not taking a call is a better use of my time then I should be able to let the call go to voicemail.

Phone Call Triage

Because I live in a world where voicemail exists I am free to miss calls — even when I hear the phone and am physically capable of answering.

For gee whiz, let me tell you how I decide whether or not to answer the phone.

Production Outages Win

I have a different ringtone (and different vibration pattern) for production incident calls. Since having the site go down affects hundreds of people every minute I want to immediately respond to these calls. Even if I’m in a one-on-one with my boss I’ll excuse myself and get this taken care of.

Scheduled Communications Win

If it’s not production calling, then the person I’m with beats the person on the phone. I may step out of a large informational meeting when my phone rings, but generally I prioritize planned communications over ad-hoc ones.

My Wife Has a Veto

Finally, my wife and I have a system we’ve used for years that balances both of our needs: she is free to call at any time; I’m free to ignore her call for any reason.

Really, any reason.

But, if my wife calls twice in a row then it’s an emergency and she knows that I’ll drop everything to answer. This system has worked very well.

Slow Down Jackrabbit

While it’s tempting to use on-demand communication to replace messages and post-its, it’s just not practical. The more frivolous calls I get the more I’m inclined to send you to voicemail.

As a matter of fact, before you call me pretend you’re going to get my voicemail. Prepare a quick message. If you get me instead then the call will go better anyway thanks to your preparation.

I Was a Condescending Jerk

Dear ManagerJS,

I’m upset about something stupid I did yesterday. I was in a meeting with several peers. One of them suggested an improvement to our hiring practices. Before I knew what I was thinking I was already speaking. I said, “I categorically reject that suggestion.” Can you believe that? Not, “I see it a different way,” or even, “I disagree.” But, “categorically reject.” Really?!

What a condescending jerk.

Within a few moments I was uncomfortable. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had gone really wrong. I played it out in my head. Slow motion. Trying to see why I did that.

The suggestion was one we had talked about before. I largely agreed with him. I just hadn’t found a way to really implement it. It wasn’t a top priority for me.

I see now that I felt called out — attacked. I see now that the thing that really drew attention to my shortcomings was my own impulsive blabbing

How could I have avoided my outburst? What could I have done in the moment to keep my head? Continue reading I Was a Condescending Jerk

Don’t Speak From “The Cloud”

Warning!: This is not a very helpful post. I’m just sharing because I have to. Feel free to round-file this post if you’re in a hurry. This isn’t important.

I followed this series of links and found something at the end funny enough to make me chuckle, then giggle, then laugh until I cried.  Your mileage may vary.  Continue reading Don’t Speak From “The Cloud”

Read: Crucial Conversations

About time for me to read Crucial Conversations again.

If Leadership and Self Deception had a baby with it would be Crucial Conversations. The book takes an intensely personal view of leadership and combines it with an emphasis on observable behavior and concrete action. More good information in this book than you can absorb after only one reading.

I highly recommend the book. It is universally useful. If you ever talk to other people then you will eventually need the skills in this book.