Saturday, 20 October 2012

Why do others think that I'm "hard to deal with" and that "I don't listen"

Here is a bit of self-analysis for you :)

One of the common complains that I've heard about me, is that I'm "hard to deal with" and that I "don't listen" (to others opinions).

Apart from the fact that I can also complain about that myself (I don't always listen to me too, and my 'instinct opinion' does usually takes over), I think that it is important to analyse the root causes and see if there are solutions to improve it.

My instinct (who I tend to trust a lot), is kinda pointing me to this:
  • I do a lot of public activities and actions that open the space for others to comment 
    • I also proactive ask for comment (i.e. inviting 3rd party participation)
  • In a lot of these activities I'm not 100% in charge, or at least am avoiding to play the game 'my way or the highway'
  • This means that the 'others' participating in the conversation, and providing comment/advise on the questions asked, have an 'expectation' that their comments will be 'listened to':
    • Here is the first problem,  a lot of people (me included) think that 'listening to somebody' is the same as 'doing what they said'. And this creates an expectation problem where if what 'they said' doesn't happen, they think that the recipient didn't 'listen' (which is usually not the case, just that they didn't agree with the proposed solution/comment)
    • The 2nd problem is that most comments are made without a proper understanding of the problem at hand (and its multiple variables). Now sometimes this is great, since a fresh perspective can bring something new, but in other cases it just raises ideas that have already been discarded by previous experimentation and analysis (see next point)
    • The 3rd problem is that the 'others' providing the solution will NOT have to deal with the side effects of that solution. I.e there will be no direct implications for them if their solution is accepted/implemented. This is important, since I usually have to deal with the implications/side-effects of those ideas/solutions, which again makes me much more resolute and focused.
  • Usually when I 'pick a fight/path',  I tend to do my homework, and take the time to find good solutions. Here is my usual workflow:
    • DefCon A) I have a problem to solve!
    • DefCon B) I start to go in all sorts of different directions (some of them massive tangents) in order to figure out a solution (every idea is a good one at this stage). I also try to think as many steps ahead as possible (and in 3D)
    • DefCon C) For the promising options/ideas,  I try to create (as much as possible) working PoCs (very important since in technology, a lot of 'this sounds like a good idea' stuff will not work, and the 'humm this might not work' stuff will actually work!
    • DefCon D1) For the issues that I don't have a solution (or don't like my approach), I ask the question to a wider audience, or
    • DefCon D2) When I have a solution that I like, I present the issue to a wider audience
    • DefCon E) I have a final solution and am implementing it at full speed
  • The problem is when the 'others' (who say that I "don't listen" to and am "hard to deal with"), come into the conversation, I'm usually at D1 or D2 DefCon mode, which means that I have already done a LOT of thinking and experimentation about the problem at hand.
    • This means that unless the guys on the other side really found a blind spot in my thinking/logic, it is very unlikely that they will find (in 5minutes) a solution that I have not considered.
    • Of course that if they DO spend the time, and do some experimentation and PoCs, there is a very high-possibility that they will find a good/better solution (but it will take time)
    • If the 'others' start the dialog by expecting me to 'listen' to them, the conversation will not last very long (this is actually my fault and loss, since sometimes I should be more diplomatic)
    • Usually the D2 DefCon mode is actually part of a B DefCon thread, which will also give to the 'causal observer' a feeling that I'm going in a really weird direction and am not doing things 'the right way'
  • And since I have done so much thinking about the problem, I'm really hard to argue against, because I usually already have good/strong answers for the first-batches of objections / issues / questions.
  • Another problem that I know I have, is that I trust my instinct a lot (i.e. my inner brain has found a good solution but I haven't rationalised it).
    • In practice this means that I will make a decision or choose a particular path (on my way to DefCon D2 or E) and when asked, initially I will struggle to give a good explanation (even to me)
    • But after (usually a couple hours of) some debate, I am able to present a number of clear and objective reasons that defend my ideas and that the recipient gladly accepts (not by 'giving up on the conversation' but because my point of view now makes sense)
      • In fact, usually the complaint I get at this stage is "... Hey man, why didn't you give me THOSE XYZ reasons 2 hours ago, I would had understood it immediately!!!" , and my reply is usually "... well 2 hours ago I didn't have them :) , I just knew that the right path was that one..."
  • I also have been right so many times in the past, that I have an inner confidence to just do it. In fact, what I found recently is that I have more and more confidence to go outside my confort zone, since too many times in that past, the returns (and final results) have been amazing.
    • I also have tons of cases where those 'others' that disagree with me, come back years later saying ' know what  ... you were right on that one...'
    • And yes, there as been a couple of '...I told you so....' :)
  • Another thing that I tend to do, is on the cases when I do change my mind (which btw I'm happy to do), I also tend to 'move on' very quickly from there, and start looking at the next batch of problems (i.e. pressing down the accelerator even more)
    • This is also very disturbing for the 'others' since, although they are happy that 'their idea' won, they expect some 'peace time' where the status quo stays on that idea (and don't like the fact that I already accepted it and evolved it into the next set of issues/questions/problems)
    • I also think that one of my best assets is to be able to VERY quickly change my paradigms, and be able to quickly start thinking under the new reality (this is probably a side effect of programming, since that happens all the time when we're trying a new technology/technique, which suddenly 'works'!!)
  • In terms of accepting ideas, I like to think that I do accept others ideas, in fact I'm a big believer in the 'standing in the shoulders of giants' concept, and always try to put the 'global objective/mission' ahead of anything any personal feelings.
    • for example when I was organising the last OWASP Summit, my vision was to create the most 'productive place on the planet for the OWASP community' , so any idea that helped with that, was accepted (and any that didn't, was strongly opposed)
  • I also take the view that only 75% (or less) of my ideas are any good, the problem is that usually when I have those ideas, I don't know which ones are good (and will stick) , so the only way to find out, is to try them out, to drop the bad ones and to evolve the good ones 
    • Also my experience is that 'good ideas' don't just happen. They are an evolution / refactoring of good and bad ideas, up until the moment where it 'just feels right'
  • On the topic of 'choosing the moment/timing' that ideas should gain a wider audience (i.e. when to 'officially' ask for an opinion):
    • If I ask the questions during the DefCon B) mode, I usually massively confuse the other side, and they think that I'm crazy and lack focus (i.e. going on all sorts of different directions)
      • This is usually made worse but the speed that I tend to operate at DefCon B) mode, when by the time they see my question , I've already tried a bunch of solutions/ideas and most likely are already with another set of chalenges
    • If I ask the questions during the DefCon D) mode, I already have a lot of thinking about the problem, and have raised a lot the bar for somebody to productively collaborate.
    • If I ask the questions during the DefCon E) mode, its even worse.

A final point I would like to make, is that sometimes the complain made is a variation of 'Dinis is not listening to us and is blocking out our ideas'. 

I'm going to be blunt on this one, but this is usually BS:
  • Most of the stuff that I do is in an open environment, so if somebody thinks that their idea is better, they can just get on and do it (and prove me wrong)
  • If I (Dinis) was the reason why those ideas never happened (i.e. it was me the blocking factor), then surely, in the cases where I step-down or were not involved any more, those ideas would flourish and eventually happen:
    • What usually happens when I leave, is that 'Nothing (major) happens' (or at least those ideas 'that I was blocking' dont happen)
    • This means that my energy and drive were being used as an excuse for the 'others' lack of productivity, focus or energy. 
    • It also means that those ideas 'not accepted by me' where probably not that good in the first place
  • Finally 'not accepting half-baked ideas that dont make sense and (in my view) will not work' is something that I am VERY guilty off :)
I would also like to add that I always try to do the most ethical and morally-right thing. I'm sure I don't always get it right, but I do genuinely like to help others, and really enjoy making connections and serendipity (i.e. when you grab two separate persons/activities and put them together in an environment where something special happens). 

I also like to live by the 'Karma points' model (as in "...if one sows goodness, one will reap goodness;...") and never really expect anything directly back after doing a good deed, helping others or just being kind.

I guess after all this, I'm not sure how I should change :)

I work hard for the things I believe, I do put in the time/effort, I am still helping others, and I do have good track record of creating 'stuff' that makes a difference. 

So I guess, I'll use this post in the future to point to somebody that currently thinks that I'm "hard to deal with" and I "don't listen", and just say: 

... hey this is how I am....

...sorry about not 'listening' to you...

... got any more ideas about the problem we're trying to solve...   :) ....