Sunday, January 17, 2016

Accountability - Do you do what you agree to do?

How accountable are you for your agreements? When you say you are going to do something, do you do it?

There was a time when I would say I would do things but then often not do them. For example: an acquaintance would suggest we go bowling and I would answer something like: "Yeah, I'll call you." But then I wouldn't call. Or when I first started in my career, a manager might ask me to provide a write-up on something and I might say something like: "I'll have it by the end of tomorrow." But that day and the next would pass, without any high-priority emergencies, and yet I wouldn't finish the write-up.

Does that sound familiar? Do you have patterns like this? Maybe at work, or with a family member or spouse, or with friends or acquaintances?

What was I doing when I said I would do something but then not do it? In both examples above, I might have had mixed feelings about doing the thing, or I might have actually meant to do it. But somehow I never quite managed to get it done. What did this behavior communicate to my friend or my manager? Perhaps it told them that I couldn't be counted on. Maybe even it said that I didn't put much value on things are that important to them. They might not have realized it consciously, but I suspect that they received a message that I didn't care very much about them.

There came a time when I realized that not keeping agreements were weakening relationships with people in my life, at work and outside work. So I briefly decided that the answer was that I wouldn't commit to very much. So if that acquaintance suggested bowling, my new answer would be something like: "Yeah, maybe." Or with my manager, I would try to get away with telling him that I would complete the write-up "soon". But it quickly became apparent that this strategy wasn't strengthening relationships with people.

These days, I have a strategy around agreements that strengthens relationships with people. When I'm asked something, I stop and consider the request seriously. I ask myself whether I want to agree to it, and whether I'm for sure able to commit to it. If both are yes, then I give the person a date or time when I will do it, and then I follow through. So, in the bowling example again, my answer would be "Yeah, that sounds fun! Can you do it this Friday?" And with my manager, I would say: "I've got a lot on my plate right now; I'm not sure when I will be able to get to the write-up. Do you want to change my priorities? If I stopped everything else right now, I could have it by noon tomorrow."

Obviously, my new strategy doesn't require me to agree to everything. Maybe I don't like bowling. In that case, I could suggest a specific time for an alternate activity. Or maybe I really don't want to hang out with that person at all, I might just say: "Nah, but thanks for asking." Or I might tell my manager, if it's true, that I don't think I would do a good job on the write-up, and suggest a different person to ask. Or if it's just a preference, I could tell him something like: "If you need it to be me, I will do it. But if not, I'd rather stay on what I'm working on. Okay?"

Besides the way that this method of handling agreements strengthens connections with people, I find it has personal benefits as well. I'm able think of myself as a responsible person. And I don't feel guilty for indirect communication. And I get much more clear about what I want, what I'm willing to do, and what I'm not willing to do.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Even Well-Meaning Words Can Hurt - What Can We Do When It Happens?

Have you ever heard an exchange like this?

Person A. < some remark >
Person B. "Hey! That's not nice!"
Person A. "Jeez, lighten up! I was just joking."

What happened here is that Person B doesn't understand the difference between Intention and Impact.

Intention is whatever result Person B wanted their words to have. In the case above, they probably wanted people to laugh. On the other hand, impact is the emotional meaning that Person A received. In the case above, Person A felt slighted in some way - probably by one of the common "isms": sexism, racism, etc.

A tool I learned to work with Intention and Impact is called Ouch / Oops. I have only tried it in groups that are already close, but I bet it would work in somewhat mature teams as well. When a person receives a negative Impact, they can tell the other person: "Ouch" or: "That was an ouch for me." 

Here's the same example as above, but with Ouch:

Person A. < some remark >
Person B. "Ouch." or "That was an ouch for me."
Person A. "Oh, I'm sorry. What did I say that hurt?

Person B.
Person A. "Wow, I had no idea that what I said could be taken that way. Thanks for explaining it.

Here is another version of the above example, except that when Person B points out the impact, Person A can see the problem right away.

Person A. < some remark >
Person B. "Ouch." or "That was an ouch for me."

Person A. "Oh right, I'm sorry. I see what my words implied. That wasn't what I intended. Thanks for pointing it out."

By contrast to Ouch, Oops works in the opposite direction. A person says something, catches a possible Impact of their own words, and then uses Oops. Here's our example again, this time with Oops. Notice that Person A speaks twice before Person B speaks:

Person A. < some remark >
Person A. "Oops. That might have a different impact than I intended. I'm sorry. Let me say it this was instead: ..."
Person B. "Yeah, the first way didn't feel good. Thanks for catching it."

It is important here that neither person belabor the point during an Oops or an Ouch. The point isn't to punish person A. Person A needs simply to recognize their impact and express a brief apology. From there, both people move on. Any additional apologizing or lecturing can lead to hurt.

Receiving "Hey! That's not nice!" is uncomfortable. Often, a"Hey! That's not nice!" response is met with defensiveness. This could be because a part of the speaker may feel shame, and sometimes a way to deal with shame is to lash out and blame the other person. By contrast Ouch offers the possibility of the parties involved learning something and becoming closer. Being on the receiving end of Ouch may still be unpleasant, but is less likely to invoke shame. Calling "Ouch" focuses on the impact on the listener while presuming good faith on the part of the commenter, rather than implying that the commenter is mean, insensitive, or prejudiced. Similarly, with the focus on the impact received, there is less room for someone to be misjudged as touchy or over-sensitive.

Oops is a way of acknowledging that the listener has valid feelings and that the speaker's words may have been received as hurtful, but that the speaker doesn't intend to hurt the listener. Like with Ouch, this offers the pair the opportunity strengthen their relationship.

Increasing my Blogging

I've decided to really try and be consistent and blog good content on a regular basis. I am taking a free 6-part course by instructor and author of "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual", John Somnez. The course is written for software developers.

On John's site I signed up for "How To Build A Blog That Will Boost Your Career" ( Again, it's free, and I don't get anything if you sign up.)

John's course takes you through:
  • Deciding on a theme (mine is Understanding Yourself and Others to Improve your Dev Career) 
  • Easily creating an actual blog site using Wordpress + Bluehost (but if you want to use something else, or already have something, no problem) 
  • Creating a big backlog of blog topics 
  • Choosing and committing to a posting schedule, including when you are going to write (I'm going to publish every other Monday, writing on Sunday night) 
  • Generating traffic to your site without using anything scammy 
  • Marketing yourself 

I like the course format. It comes out twice a week. Each email has a couple of homework assignments that require real work but are doable by the next email. I am really keeping up, and I tend to procrastinate some things like this.

Disclosure: Writing and publishing a post about the course is one of this week's homework assignments. It simply says to write a post about the course and include the links. I wrote the content without any input from him, he didn't see it before I published, and I don't get paid for it.

Raspbery Pi Open Space Session for Codemash 1/8/2016

I'm Jeff Hoover
I work at Pillar Technologies as a software consultant.

Contact info:
jhoover ( a t ) jhoover (D o T) com

Why am I doing this?
My Zetalink Four Letter Word has been running in my home
nearly 24/7/365 for more than ten years.

I'm going to be referring to at:
(FLWD stands for "four letter word")

Monday, January 4, 2016

How's Your Self-Care?

How well do you take care of yourself?

Sometimes work, family, and activities make it challenging for us to take the best care of ourselves. Not taking care of ourselves can have significant repercussions, including:
  • low energy
  • strained relationships
  • poor work performance
  • poor health, even including premature death
What other impacts do you notice when you don't take care of yourself?

Here are some things that come to mind when I think of self-care:
  • regular medical checkups, including annual physical
  • regular brushing / flossing / dental checkups
  • taking medications as prescribed
  • enough sleep, including good sleep hygiene
  • eating in response to hunger and fullness, while allowing for occasional indulgences
  • fun / pleasurable activities
  • physical activity that you enjoy
  • rewarding work
  • appearance care
  • counselling / psychotherapy / support group, if needed

What other things do you consider self-care?

We Need Integrity

With the 2016 election campaigns already well underway here in the US, some of us are likely to be entreated to: "Elect a candidate with integrity!" But what, exactly, does integrity mean? Generally, we associate integrity with strong moral character. Miriam Webster defines it as: "firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values". I'd like to propose a more specific meaning:

Having integrity means that my words and actions are aligned with my thoughts/beliefs.

For example: If I think the environment is important and I tell people that I am pro-environment but I over-water my lawn, create lots of plastic waste and buy beef raised on clear-cut forest fields, I am not being in integrity.

Another example: I believe and say that family means everything to me, but I spend very little time with my kids, I don't share all the family tasks fairly, and I spend most of my time after work drinking and getting in trouble. Again, I am not being in integrity.

The expression "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is a way of saying that our so-called goodness depends on our actions, not merely thoughts or beliefs. That's integrity.

So, why does this matter?

If I become known as a person of integrity, I will be trusted with more things, and more important things at work. I will most likely be less micro-managed. If my reputation for integrity extends outside of my employer, I'm more likely to attract better opportunities, whether I am actively looking or I find myself suddenly in need of a job change.

By contrast, if you become known for a lack of integrity, people will hear your good intentions but they won't trust you to do what is right. Employers might watch over your work more carefully, or lay you off in a first round. Job opportunities could become constrained, being limited to only positions where mostly doing the right thing is good enough.

A closing thought about integrity: don't rely on other people's views of you to determine whether you are being in integrity. You know. When contemplating action, do a "gut check". Does what I am about to do reflect what I believe and what I say?