Candor in the Workplace

Growing up, I’d received a very particular impression from a couple family members, but mostly friends, other students and neighbors. That impression was this: if you don’t stand firm and say what’s on your mind, you’re a coward. Having a problem with someone, not voicing it and likely talking behind the scenes about it would cement a person as weak. Working at blue-collar jobs for some years solidified that as well.

There’s some valuable and admirable things in that. I find it courageous to not back down, but address problems head-on. The execution of that was often shaky at best. Addressing a person in public was common, and left it to be aired out for everyone to hear. This often ended in ridicule for the related parties. Not graceful by any measure, and to a certain degree, this exacerbates problems rather than solve them.

In many cases though, I’ve found being frank and honest to be invaluable. In the white-collar world, it’s common practice to be secretive, and also try to “lay low” to avoid undesirable attention. This can often cause problems in companies, as there’s often a lack of trust among coworkers and real communication and problem solving can be hindered. On the flip-side, being consistently sincere gives the listener more confidence in what you say and do and gives an opportunity to air grievances and address them legitimately, making for a happier and healthier team.

Also, on the positive side, being open about good things is a great morale boost. People love to feel good about what they do, and so expressing gratitude and appreciation can really make someone’s day and push them on to further growth. I’ve seen many be uncomfortable with this, as it’s fairly uncommon or seems cheesy. But it doesn’t have to be a grand celebration with confetti and balloons: simply acknowledging someone for consistently good work, or for their part in a large project, or even for just being an easy person to talk to is pretty simple and can really put a smile on their face.

With being out of blue-collar work and into IT for 6 years now, one would think the way to communicate appropriately would have sunk in. That isn’t the case, though. This week, I found myself in a situation where I was surprised and jumped to a conclusion. This coincided with a rough night of sleep and some medicinal side effects, which made being overly emotional much more easy. I could have been up-front in a private way, but I allowed emotions to cloud my judgment and referred to the aforementioned form of expression. I’d aired my concerns publicly, and with a good layer of dramatics.

Without realizing it, the situation I’d brought up was completely intentional, and was in fact done for the good of other teammates. What I’d hoped would occur was in the works, and if I’d taken the time to speak to someone privately, I would’ve figured this out. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t regret that I was forthright and honest, or that I felt passionate about what I was talking. It was the execution of communication that was the problem, and it made things worse rather than better.

The take-away I got from this experience is that it’s far more effective to take time to create a plan for being honest. I can tend to be emotional, following my heart rather than my head. I need to be more intentional about how and where I express myself, and leave old habits in the past where they belong.

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Teaching Is Learning

Hello everyone,

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed teaching. It’s gratifying to relay information that helps others. Also, for anyone who’s taught before, they can tell you that it’s challenging. To teach properly is to know what you’re trying to teach with a great deal of certainty, lest you risk public embarrassment and passing out false information. So, at least for me, it takes a great deal of confidence in what I’m trying to teach before I teach it.

So far, I haven’t been confident enough in my current abilities in development to do a talk at a user group or conference. Not that I don’t know anything, but that I didn’t believe I knew anything that would be of great value to someone else. I feel that a talk should have content that is compelling and gives the listeners something that could help them greatly. I feel what I know would be better shared in this blog, as they’re usually little snippets of information that wouldn’t fill up an hour block for a session. However, thanks to the different perspective of good friends and colleagues, I now know I have something of value.

Seriously though, thanks!

Seriously though, thanks!

I hopped on Twitter recently, and noticed Seth Petry-Johnson, Matt Groves, and Calvin Allen of Heuristic Solutions and Craig Stuntz and Rodney Smith of Improving Enterprises wanted to get together at the Improving Ohio office to review CodeMash abstracts. Being curious, I was going to show up just to be helpful in reviewing theirs. It was pointed out that CodeMash does have Lightning Talks, which I didn’t know, because I haven’t attended yet. Although this type of talk would be more up my alley, I still didn’t know what to talk about.

For awhile, many in the community have suggested that I talk about more DevOps-type topics. This would make sense, due to my system administration and tech support background and more-recent familiarity with development. However, I’m more interested in a pure development role, and don’t wish to make it seem as if I’m interested in continuing down the ‘ops’ part of that role. So, I went to this abstract review in hopes that I would get some feedback on what else I can provide to the community.

...but not this kind of feedback!

…but not this kind of feedback!

They suggested I use my perspective that I’ve gathered from my previous blue-collar and system administration/tech support positions to assist in an area that developers may not be aware of. It was also suggested that it be something that I’m passionate about. This is so I will be fully engaged and have a good amount of material to talk about, as it will be a priority to me. Immediately, I think of the social struggles that many developers have, and some do not realize the implications of these issues, or that these issues even exist. I’ve witnessed these issues in others, and have struggled and overcome many of them myself, so I felt this was a good fit for a talk.

I wrote up the idea in a gist and received a ton of great feedback. Although this was to be a lightning talk, I got a lot of ideas from Justin Foley, who showed up randomly at the review. These ideas, coupled with having to wait a couple more weeks to submit my Lightning Talk, I decided to submit it as a full session. Whether it will be selected or not is yet to be determined. Even so, it will give me a great motivation to continue learning on the subject.

I’ll update via the comments section and all the social sites whether my talk is selected or not, for those who are interested.

Thanks for reading!

Another Soft-skill Post

Hello All,

I wanted to address an issue that honestly I don’t think is very important, but I think will greatly help people in both their professional and personal lives. I hope you won’t count this as some ramblings from some young whippersnapper and really try to take it to heart if it applies to you.

What feels like a long time ago in a not so far away land (the South End of Columbus), I was a young man who was trying to fit in. In fact, I tried to fit in so much that I was actually being fake.

I went to high school at Marion-Franklin, and was living in neighborhoods that predominantly embraced the American rap culture. In order to fit in, I would wear tall t-shirts, baggy jeans, and high-top Nike’s. I would use the relevant slang of the time and even mimic an accent that sounded more like a rapper’s. I would do things that others were doing, even though I didn’t like some of those things or didn’t think they were beneficial to me. It was a lot of work, and in the long-run, it didn’t benefit me. No one liked me more for it, and even some saw through my fa├žade and disliked me more.

I know many of my readers probably can’t relate directly to this scenario, but there is some relevancy here. I see many people trying very hard to fit in. They’re keeping up with trends, picking up habits and things that they don’t seem to be comfortable with, and overall doing things that I can tell aren’t things that go well with their character and personality. If this is you, I only have one piece of advice: be yourself.

Anyone who knows me now knows that I am not the same person that I described above (I still enjoy a smaller portion of hip hop, but it’s much more reflective of my beliefs and personality). I decided one day to stop faking and just be me after seeing others that were genuine. They looked free and happy, because they were content in their own skin, and that’s what I wanted. So, I started listening to music I liked, regardless of what others thought of it. I wore clothes that I liked and were more functional. I even stopped talking like other people, and just started speaking the way I thought was right, even if I sounded ‘uncool’.

In the long-run, the people that cared about those things walked out of my life. However, the people that stayed are people that actually care about me, and won’t be swayed into thinking less of me so easily. These are the people I want in my life. I also felt free to say and wear what I thought was appropriate, not tied down with trends and spending time (and whole lots of money) shopping for the latest fashion. I felt free.

There’s obviously some exceptions, such as in a professional setting. However, that’s for another post.

Take this as you will, but I hope it will help someone. Thanks for reading!

Is it possible to be genuine and professional?

Going off my usual topic, I want to talk about some soft skills. Specifically, can someone be genuine or “real” while still being considered professional?

I bring up this topic because I’m at an impasse. I’m convinced that I should be completely honest with both my words and my actions. It doesn’t seem right to me to “fake it ’till I make it” or smile even when I’m not happy. I don’t find it to be beneficial to “let things roll off my back”. If something’s really important, I want to actually understand and truly believe in it’s importance, so then I won’t have to fake it. I feel that I should be heard and something should be done about things that make me unhappy so that I have a real reason to smile. I’d rather work on problematic situations instead of ignoring them.

However, these are all the answers that I seem to keep getting from professionals and bosses over the years. Also through the years, I keep getting backlash about wanting to be genuine. Wanting to work on problems and come to better solutions. Wanting to be truly happy and smile. It seems awfully weird to me that so many professionals see these things as unproductive and much less beneficial than just keeping your mouth shut except to pull off a fake smile.

Maybe I’m not understanding their point of view. Here’s where I hope you readers come in. Please leave a comment below or tweet me your input on this.