Getting through to someone

Today was like a whole new day for me. I got through to someone. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but I have teenage kids. So, I don’t exactly feel like “I’m getting through” to people each day, y’know.

So, here is what lead up to this: Our dev processes is pretty good, but there are still opportunities for improvement. Last week, things didn’t go so well. So in our weekly meeting, we wanted to talk about it and see what we can do better. Here is an excerpt.

  • Dissatisfied client: Your team did this thing and it caused me a bunch of additional work. I wish that had not happened.
  • Defensive teammate: No, let me explain. It wasn’t my fault because something, something, blah blah blah. (long-winded explanation)
  • Dissatisfied client: I wish you had informed me of this problem, because it would have saved me a bunch of time, researching the root cause of the problem, on my own.
  • Defensive teammate: Let me explain. (goes over the same explanation, but with a few minor details added)
  • Dissatisfied client: Well that is nice but still
  • Defensive teammate: (still trying to explain why it is not his fault)
  • Team lead: (interrupts both of them) (to client) I understand what you are saying. This was an honest mistake on our part and you are right. We should have kept you informed. Next time we will take steps to prevent the mistake from happening, but if it happens anyway, we will let you know what is going on, so you don’t have to wonder.
  • Dissatisfied (but improving) client: Okay. Thank you.

Let’s just say, I’ve seen something like this before, and not just from one person in my career. (ehem, looks in mirror). If you work with technical people, please be aware that, when something goes wrong, they LOVE hearing the story about “why” and “how”. To them, it is like a Readers Digest mystery. Mentally tantalizing, and briefly entertaining, but much more enjoyable if it didn’t happen to you.

Unfortunately, non-technical people h-a-t-e this sort of thing.

It reminds me of people from New York. If you know anyone from New York, they are notorious for having a complete lack of patience. They have some imagined notion that they are losing money for every word that they hear. If you are speaking, you are taking money out of their pockets. They might chagrin, or give cues that they are getting impatient. Eventually they snap and say “is there a point to your story?!” (abruptly like that!) If it ever happens twice, you will surely get an earful. It is your reward for being cordial and chit-chatting with them. Mee-ow! In New York I guess, “pay-shins is fuh doctuzz”.

Anyway, non-technical people feel the same way about technical people sometimes. They don’t want the back-story. They just want to know that it won’t happen again. Maybe they want to hear about how you will ensure that “this will never happen again”, or maybe not. Look for clues in body-language. (chagrin, gestures, eye rolling, or a “glazed-over” look)

Good luck telling that to a technical person. …. 0.0

Yeah. That technical-person will be stunned by your abruptness. He probably believes it would be incredibly rude (on his part) to solve a problem and NOT explain it to others. It sounds too selfish and uncooperative. Certainly, we don’t want technical people with those kinds of manners on our team. Now do we?!

So, with my colleague, I had to find some good words to reach him:

  • Me: The client said they didn’t like what happened and you started arguing.
  • Defensive teammate: I was just trying to explain … (goes over the entire explanation for me, again)
  • Me: How did the customer like your response?
  • Defensive teammate: I don’t know. I guess they kept asking for a better explanation.
  • Me: are you sure about that? Because your team lead seemed to give a different response, and the client seemed more-satisfied by that.
  • Defensive teammate: I don’t recall that. But I do recall the team lead interrupting me.
  • Me: Did the customer seem more-satisfied by her answer?
  • Defensive teammate: I don’t know (and starts explaining the ENTIRE story AGAIN)
  • Me: (interrupts). Hold on. Is it possible that the customer wanted a different answer, and once he got it, he stopped asking for a different answer?
  • Defensive teammate: (attempts to explain the goshdarn story, yet again)
  • Me: (interrupts again) Your answer was valid and I liked the answer, but the client was looking for a different answer. Your teammate interrupted, to give the answer that the client wanted. This resolved everything and we moved-on.
  • Teammate: (stops to think for a minute). Then attempts to explain the situation differently to me, AGAIN.

At that point, the irony of the situation hit me and I started laughing. My perplexed teammate stopped for a moment.

I explained that this was very ironic. He was simply repeating the same pattern with me now, and giving me an answer that I didn’t want. “Can you see that I just asked you (a few times), because I wanted a different answer? Basically, what I really wanted was reassurance that this wouldn’t keep happening over-and-over again.”

He was silent for a moment and displayed an expression of deep-thinking. I let him think about it for a minute or two. He relented that sometimes, you need to change your approach, to deal with different kinds of people. We agreed that there are times when we should look-for cues from people, which could indicate that we are not interacting-with-them in an optimal manner. Changing our approach can change the entire dynamic. You just have to look for those cues, so you know when to change your approach.

I must confess that it made my day. I knew it would be a lot of work, to get through to someone, but it is totally worth it when it actually works. I’ll try not to let it go to my head. 

Be patient my friends, and be ready to change your approach periodically. You might reach someone.


About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in IT Psychology, Lessons Learned, Professionalism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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