Ghosts from the Week #7 — Hallowe’en Edition

My main takeaway from this week, fittingly, is that sometimes the scariest thing to confront is your own fears and admitting your own failures.

Listening to Understand

I had quite a shock this week to learn that I’m not as good at listening to understand (versus say, listening to respond) as I thought I was. It’s always jarring when how your perception of yourself is discovered to not equate with how other people perceive you.

Our CTO likes to remind us of and warn about falling victim to Fundamental Attribution Error, because it’s so subtle and insidious:

The tendency to believe that what people do reflects who they are.

Or, much less charitably

I do what I do because of the context that I’m in. You do what you do because you’re an idiot.

A group of us spent time together trying to ‘listen to understand’ through Reflective listening, defined as:

… seeking to understand a speaker’s idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly.

The intent is to put ourselves in the shoes of the other people in the group, and using our empathy to understand what they are thinking and feeling.

The most important thing I learned was that because I’ve been at Unruly a long time (six years) I’m perceived, and perception is often more important than reality, to have more sway over decisions than I actually have. Also that my approach towards evaluating possible change, which is by my own admission quite analytical, could be perceived as being “not supportive of change”.

This was a really hard thing to hear, especially given how I perceive myself as being a strong driver of change and improvement.

Being aware of this throws my interactions into a new light, and I’ve resolved to take better care in situations where the perceived power dynamic is uneven.

Cross-Team Advocacy

I’ve mentioned a couple of times how one of the main problems that my team face is advocacy and adoption for standards and consistent approaches to repeated tasks.

Chance has been lucky enough to throw two really good blog-posts at me this week that really hit home on some of the things we are trying to do.

Three Sales Mistakes Software Engineers Make

As I’ve mentioned in a previous weeknotes, we (Shift) often have to sell better solutions to other teams. Cost of change to the unknown means that these can be long and hard pitches, but we’ve largely kept to the points in this point.

Shift members often go and sit, ask questions, and watch other teams to make sure we’re solving the right problem. We’re good at building only when necessary, and I’ll write up a longer version of our journey towards Structured Diagnostic Logging in the future.

Monitoring Legislatures: The Long Game

I picked this one up from the Democracy Club Slack, and while it’s ostensibly about civic tech and not building scrapers for everything, the underlying philosophy about getting standards adopted hits really close to home for us.

I can rattle off a number of times where we’ve leveraged:

  • It’s good to have friends on the inside.” — people who’ve rotated into Shift for a small amount of time go back to their home team with knowledge and advocacy for Shift
  • Be polite and helpful.” — a lot of what we do is helped by ‘building social capital’ by helping and demonstrating good faith cooperation.

This was a week full of learning which I’ll no doubt follow up in future — learning about the motivations and concerns of the other team leads, learning about my own motivations which I may have not spoken aloud before, and learning about how we can be a better team.

Onwards into November!


Originally published at blog.probablyfine.co.uk on November 2, 2018.