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.

Accidental Jerk Still Equals Jerk

When my future wife, Ann, first met me in 10th grade she thought I was a “pompous jerk.” (She didn’t tell me that for years, though.)

It was because of how I talked. Now she says that, after she got to know me, she realized that was just the way I spoke.

She is too kind.

I was a jerk. But I didn’t know it.

I Am Blinded by What I Think I’m Doing

Our intention creates our reality. — Wayne Dyer

I didn’t intend to sound pompous — to sound like a jerk. (Most don’t.) So, of course, I didn’t see myself being a jerk.

Let me say that again in more detail.

Most of the time the words I choose come from habit. I expect that’s true for most people.

When I did consciously choose my words it was often to score points with authority: the teacher.  I knew I would get along better with the teachers (and get better marks) when I addressed my efforts to them.

In effect I tended to have a dry sense of humor. (It’s always better to tell a joke that only the teacher gets and everyone else doesn’t even realize was a joke.) I tended to use five-dollar words. (“Metacognition,” anyone? How about a dash of “epicurean?”) And I tended to have the right answer as often as possible. (You know, I was an annoying puke.)

Maybe in my mind I was “precise,” or funny, or just talking. I couldn’t see myself alienating others. That didn’t match my intent. It wasn’t in my reality.

Unintended Consequences: They Exist

In physics every action has an “equal and opposite reaction.” With people reactions are rarely so straightforward.

I developed a habit of speech to score points with one group (teachers). I did score those points. But reactions don’t end where you intend them to.

My habits carried over into conversations with my peers. I didn’t think about how it affected them. I didn’t consider that it alienated class mates.

I did it out of habit for getting something I cared about. I didn’t do it to make others feel bad. But it did. It had unintended consequences.

I Am Responsible for Outcomes

Condescending speech is alienating and ineffective. It breaks up relationships.

I didn’t intend to make Ann feel bad.  But it happened anyway. Unintentional jerk still equals jerk.

Intention may make your reality but it doesn’t control outcomes. And it is outcomes that you are judged by. Good or ill.

God “looketh upon the heart“, but the rest of us are poorer judges of others’ intentions — and that’s when we bother to try. Most of the time I’m too wrapped up in my own needs to care if that guy who cut me off in traffic was actually rushing to the emergency room.

People may cut you some slack when you cause them unintentional pain. But you still caused pain, and you have to own that.

Take A Regular Step Back — Self 360 Assessment

Be sure to regularly check, “Are my actions creating the outcomes I intended to create?  What unintended downsides am I blind to?”

If I had asked myself that question in 10th grade — better yet, if I had involved an honest friend in asking that question of myself — then I might have made more friends and given more happiness years earlier than I ultimately did.

What bad habits have you picked up that put off others?

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 Can’t Accept Every Meeting

Some time last year I realized that if I scheduled every meeting I’m “supposed to” schedule, and accepted the standard meetings others are “supposed to” schedule it would add up to more than 40 hours in meetings every week.

Up to this point I had been scheduling, accepting, and rejecting meetings in a one-off way. Realizing that I couldn’t possibly attend all the meetings I was expected to attend I decided that I need a rule — some guideline I can believe in to help me put limits on the time I spend in meetings.

The One Third Rule

In college they told me to plan on two hours of homework for every hour in class.  I started there with my standing meetings:

Spend no more than a third of your time in standing meetings.

The Chains of Standing Meetings

A standing meeting is like a mortgage payment: slavery. Continue reading I Can’t Accept Every Meeting

quitting often better than heroics

A lot of times it’s better to be a quitter than a hero.

“For example, let’s say you think a task can be done in two hours. But four hours into it you’re  still only a quarter of the way done. The natural instinct is to think, ‘but I can’t give up now! I’ve already spent four hours on this.’ So you go into Hero Mode. You’re determined to make it work, and slightly embarrassed that it isn’t already working. You grab your cape and shut yourself off from the world. And sometimes that kind of sheer effort overload works. But is it worth it? Probably not. The task was worth it when you thought it would cost two hours, not 16. In those 16 hours you could have got a bunch of other things done. Plus, you cut yourself off from feedback which can lead you even further down the wrong path. Even heroes need a fresh pair of eyes sometimes.”

Rework,  Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Chapter 13, 1m 55s

Lessons from Yahoo News’ Failures

Chris Lehmann’s Purple Reign gives an inside view into the demise of the Yahoo News machine.  Weighing in at nearly 9 thousand words it might take you a while to get through it.  I’ve snipped out some of my favorite passages from my own perspective. The original article is a much better read than my uneven summary.

Beg, Borrow, Steal

Lehmann relates how one of his reporters acted to get his job done without overdue concern to corporate support:

My reporting team did important and groundbreaking work on … the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill—our reporter moved down to New Orleans from New York, on his own dime, to cover it.

Often we have to get things done without all the support we would like–without all the resources we think we need. I like this example of dedication from this reporter who moved to the site of a big story to cover it.

Continue reading Lessons from Yahoo News’ Failures

Branding is a mistrusted craft

You need to see the value that other roles provide. Some developers routinely downplay the intelligence and importance of other roles (like marketing). If you are guilty, try to learn respect for their craft.

[The client], meanwhile, confessed he’d previously dismissed branding as “some kind of trickery,” but that since starting work with Ideo, he had begun “to appreciate it as its own craft” — a clarifying process, and a tool for doing good. 

Death, Redesigned. Jon Mooallem



Overcome Optimistic Time

Because I recently delivered a lecture at Utah Valley University titled “Overcoming Optimism” I’m tickled by Seth Godin’s quick post on optimistic time.

Giving optimistic estimates can seriously handicap a web developer.  The people getting your estimates use them as a yardstick for judging your competence. Often they don’t have any better yardstick for judging your ability than how well you make your own deadlines.

It’s hard for you to be good enough to make up for consistently missing your own estimated delivery dates.

Rule of thumb: Treat every estimated date as a commitment. Give yourself plenty of time to be wrong.

How can you become good at this? Pay attention to your track record. Actually take notes on the estimates you give and how they turn out. Ask yourself some questions and adjust your estimating behavior:

  • How many of your estimates are you hitting?
    • Less than 80%: you probably need to give bigger estimates.
    • 100%: you should consider whether you are being aggressive enough.
  • How frantic are you toward the end of a schedule?
    • Never in any rush: probably not aggressive enough.
    • Hair on fire every time: give yourself more time.
    • “What deadline?” Ouch! You need to care about deadlines.