Some Thoughts on Manipulation

Recently I've got a question from a colleague: "Have you had a situation when somebody was trying to manipulate you  or your behavior? What can be the best way to stop/resist this sort of attitude? Stop any interaction with the person?" From my perspective manipulation, generally, has to aspects to it:

  1. Other person wants you to do something (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
  2. She wants to make you do it in a sort of "covert" way, which I would generally call a bad thing in professional environment.

When it comes to response to manipulation, all things being equal, I would have a conversation with a person saying something along the lines of "Hey, I've noticed that you try to trick me into something and don't like you doing that. If you need something from me, let's discuss, but don't try to trick me."

This kind of feedback serves two purposes: (a) letting other party know that you've noticed manipulation and don't like it (who does?); (b) showing a better way to do business with you. If a case is not helpless, this should help.

What do you do when somebody tries to manipulate you?

2 steps to more effective communication

I'm reading Garr Reynolds' "Prezentation Zen" and his points about efficiency of presentations, which can naturally be translated into efficiency of communication, resonated with my mind:

The presentation would have been greatly improved if the presenter had simply kept two questions in mind in preparing for the talk: What's my point? And why does it matter?

Now communication is more important than ever for me, since I work on-site with client and do not have luxury of face to face communication with my team. Should I be asked to generalize Garr's statement I would do it this way:

The communication would be greatly improved if the person speaking now would simply keep two questions in mind, when preparing to speak: Why my speech does matter? And what is my point?

I have heard dozens of perfectly made points, which unfortunately were not relevant and simply consumed the bandwidth. Alas bandwidth of communication is more limited than we usually think.

Keep that in mind and be an effective communicator.

Inducing a change

I'm currently working on site with client. The other day I had a conversation with one of the project managers and somehow we landed on a topic of inducing a change in organization. Especially, when the change needs to be supported by management and management is not very supportive, because the problem is not very high on the priority list. Depending on the actual environment and type of change involved here are two strategies that might work.

Get allies. Often times you and your fellow colleagues feel the pain, know the problem and see the solution, but management does not really understand what it is that you are trying to solve and therefore is reluctant to support you or allocate funds needed to implement change. What you can do it to get an ally, who shares your vision and is willing to take the problem and solution to the management with you. If two people show up with the same problem, it is easier to get attention and have manager spend time thinking about what you have to say. When you open a meeting you called to resolve this problem with "We've discussed this problem with such and such (and those people are in the room) and we are in agreement that solution would be..." it is much easier to get through manager's internal "why do I care?"

Propose to try. This is based on The Puppy Dog Close approach. Here is how Tim Ferris describes it in The 4-hour Workweek:

The Puppy Dog Close in sales is so named because it is based on the pet store sales approach: If someone likes a puppy but is hesitant to make the life-altering purchase, just offer to let them take the pup home and bring it back of they change their minds. Of course, the return seldom happens.

The Puppy Dog Close is invaluable whenever you face resistance to permanent changes. Get your foot in the door with a "let's just try it once" reversible trial.

There is psychological resistance to make perceivably big decisions without "proper" consideration, which, of course, never happens if the problem does not seem very important to management. By making the change temporary you lower the barrier for amount of consideration on the change. If the change will be for good, most likely no one will question the decision to make it. And, of course, if change for some reason does not bring the relief, you need to be the first to admit it and revert back to older procedures.

What do you do to induce a change in organization?

(Image by Dina Middin)

SOA Manifesto

Recently I discovered that during 2nd International SOA Symposium they published SOA Manifesto. It follows the spirit of the famous Agile Manifesto, which provoked many discussion and debates over the actual meaning of the statements of that manifesto. (Not) surprisingly there are many other manifestos related to software. Here are some to name a few:

But there is important thing, which puts SOA and Agile manifestos apart from others -- they can not be simply declared by an individual to work. While one can accept, for example,  the GNU Manifesto and act as declared and make a difference. With SOA and Agile you can not manifest something individually -- the team has to embrace these ideas together in order to make them work.

I wonder when (and if) we will move to team manifestos instead on manifestos of individuals.

Professionals are always around you

Today I had an inspiring chat with one of fellow QA engineers about one of the systems we recently developed. I had a new requirement in mind that triggers complete re-test of the system.

Me: How long does it take to re-test our solution?

QA: Any new features or components?

Me: No, "just" another communication protocol.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Great job!"]Great job![/caption]

QA: Give me 10 minutes, I'll consult with the Test Plan and Design.

Me: ...Ok.

And if initially I was going for really quick and dirty estimate, I just could not make myself ask for that. I've got my needs under complete control of a professional.

Professionals feel responsible for everything they say to you, their internal code of conduct just does not allow them to fool you or compromise quality of their advice, even if you ask for it.

Professionals, unlike amateurs, will always ask you for what they need to deliver you the best possible result.

They are near you, just look around.

Be reasonable

Be reasonable with your requests. Be reasonable with your responses. Human actions (at least, in professional and business fields) are mostly driven by reasons. People never (or very-very rarely) do something out of spontaneous wish at work.

Yes, you can have a spontaneous idea, but it, anyway, will serve some particular purpose. Idea tries to solve a problem, and the is the reason why you do that - you want right the wrong or make something better.

Often times in order to do what you want to accomplish, you will need to request something from your fellow colleague. Usually, you will need to have it done by certain deadline. This is where the interesting part begins.

You know exactly why you want something to be done by certain date or time. But are you sure your fellow colleague, from whom you request, comes to know that by reading your e-mail? Does he get why this needs to be done today? Is it in any way more important than what he is working on now? Unless he is a powerful mind-reader the answer to all such questions is "No!". E-mail just does not bear with itself enough of  the mental energy to discover all of that!

Do you want you request to be handled in the best possible way? I bet you do. So, be reasonable. Write you request in a best possible way. Explain why there is a need to do something and why deadline is such as it is. Do not send unreasonable requests!

Same line of thought applies to responses. And even if you receive an unreasonable request - there is a reason why it went out. Help the requestor. Ask him questions. Unreasonable response will just turn into a dead-end. Often quickly bricked up behind your back while you drive there.

Do your best to explain your reasons and understand reasons of others. If you are not sure if you were understood correctly - follow-up your e-mail with a call.

And be reasonable with what you write and what you say.

Critique is not easy

When people communicate they exchange facts, ideas and opinions. When they hear something which is not a sure fact like "At present, Earth orbits the Sun" they will either agree or disagree. As Paul Graham suggests this is a natural behavior. But disagreeing itself is somewhat simple: nothing remains after the conversation except for changed or not unchanged mind of participants.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Opposition"][/caption]

When people hear idea or proposal it is another beast. Something is going to remain after the talk is finished and that is a decision whether to proceed with presented idea. And that decision, be it positive or negative, is going to affect everyone involved in a conversation. As Paul noticed

Many who respond to something disagree with it. That's to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there's less to say.

Only very bad ideas will not ignite discussion. If the idea is worth at least something the conversation will start. The conversation will start with disagreement and critique and will revolve around the problem idea tries to address and the idea itself.

The worst form of critique which often can be a "discussion killer" is when the reply is "This is not going to work" and nothing more. There can be several cases why one would say that and actual meaning of that response can range:

  • from "Hey man! You are so stupid to propose this. Your idea is not even worth discussing."
  • to "Dude, I had thought this idea in and out and you really do not want to implement it" and "The problem you are trying to solve isn't really a problem. Let's move on to the next item."

No matter what the actual meaning is expressing it with "This is not going to work" is wrong. You must uncover reasoning for "not going to work". Such unsound responses kill all the constructive outputs that can arise as a result of conversation on the topic. Such responses create forces which oppose to development of better outcomes for the concern raised.

Good response would be something that will help arrive at conclusion that will be both acceptable and accepted by all the parties engaged in the conversation. Something that will prompt for further discussion is already good enough, e.g. "I do not clearly see the benefit of implementing this. Can you please explain in more detail?".

When discussion starts it is important to distinguish two things about the proposed idea:

  • problem the proposal tries to address
  • the idea itself

First of all there should be an agreement on why dealing with the problem is or is not important. With readiness to attack the problem you can move on to define a solution to that starting with proposed idea. Once the problem is revealed a solution should be found. The solution might be completely different from what is proposed now, but there should be one. And only constructive dialog that gradually improves currently proposed idea can deliver that.

Jim McCarthy calls this a "better idea" approach. To quote Jim:

An accountable "No" is respected, but it's got to be accountable.

You can say "No", but no, you can't go away without a better idea. Because if you don't have a better idea, then that's the best available idea and you always act on the best available idea. You can always change it tomorrow, or next week if better ideas come around. But, by definition, if you don't have a better idea, you have to vote "Yes". So when you stop the show you are expected to carry the next vote, which happens immediately. And this makes people say "No" much less.

Mind how you respond to ideas of your fellows and be accountable for what you say. Let ideas emerge and be implemented.

The Project Management Podcast

I've already mentioned several times that I absolutely love Advanced Selling Podcast since the first episode I've listened to. One day I said to myself: "If there is selling podcast, there should be project management podcast". I went to Google and found the Project Management  Podcast. I've downloaded a whole bunch of episodes some dating back to year 2006. And I have to say that I'm happy with what I hear so far. One particular merit of the PM Podcast site is Helpful Resources section which references all the books, articles or whatever that Cornelias interlocutors mention during the show.

These days I'm highly into team dynamics and all other questions related to building effective team. So I particularly enjoyed the "Overcoming Team Dysfunction" episode and the following articles that were mentioned: