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16 October 2018
Don't Make Me Guess
It’s Sunday. I’m at home, drinking tea and writing a new document for one of our future investors. One of my contacts in Telegram all of a sudden shoots me a message. I haven’t talked to this guy for at least two months. He is a software developer. I know him because he works at Zerocracy. His name is Paul.
Paul: “Hey, it’s broken!”
Me: “What exactly?”
Paul: “The link.”
Me: “What link?”
Paul sends me the link.
Me: “Where did you get it?”
Paul: “On your blog.”
Me: “Where exactly on the blog?”
Paul gives me the link to the blog post where one of the links is broken.
Me: “Thanks for noticing!”
Paul: “Sure, have a good Sunday, sorry for bothering you.”
Me: “No worries.”
Now I’m asking myself, why didn’t Paul just send me a single message? It would sound something like this: “Hey, the link … in your blog post … it’s broken.”
Moreover, why didn’t Paul just go to the GitHub repo and submit a ticket?
Even more, why didn’t Paul just fix the broken link and submit a pull request?
Do you know the answer?
I have three hypotheses.
The first one is that Paul is a lonely guy. He has nothing to do on Sunday and wants to talk to someone. A broken link in my blog is a perfect excuse to start a conversation.
The second one is that Paul was testing my reactions, like those funny radio shows do by calling strangers, trying to be super annoying to trigger their angry response.
The third one, and this is my favorite, is that Paul simply doesn’t know how to deliver information together with its context. And this is where we get serious.
This is the mistake so many programmers make, in my experience of dealing with them. When they deliver the question they have, they think that I, their listener, am right inside the same context as they are at the very same moment. They think that I’m sitting right now reading exactly the same blog post trying to open the same broken link. That’s why it’s a good moment to just tell me: “Hey, it’s broken!”
Is it a mental disorder or just negligence and lack of respect for the listener?
Honestly, I think it’s a bit of both.
I wrote some time ago that if I don’t understand you, it’s your fault. However, sometimes this “verbal terrorism” (isn’t that what it is?) has to be punished. Here is my short list of countermeasures:
Silence. Instead of trying to clarify the message, I just don’t answer. Sometimes it works, but very often it’s not appropriate, since I realize that the information coming to me is valuable. Just like in this situation with Paul. I was interested to know what exactly was broken, either a link or maybe one of my pet web services is down. Thus, silence wasn’t an option.
Being Silly. Instead of clarifying, I sometimes try to make the situation even worse, pretending that I understand the message and that the context is clear to me, but that it’s a different context. For example, right after “The link is broken” I would answer “No, it’s not, I just checked!” That would confuse Paul, since he would then need to put some extra effort to explain to me which link it was and that it is indeed broken.
Long Pauses. Instead of a complete silence I sometimes take very long pauses between their comments and my answers. Some of them realize that the comments are out of context and attempt to provide additional details. Others just wait, which very often helps me switch them to the silence treatment.
Is this blog post offensive? Or have I said what many of you also experience when dealing with tech people? Or is it not only limited to tech people? I can’t be sure, but most of these verbal terrorists I meet seem to be programmers.
Please, guys, try to be more respectful and careful in your conversations, especially digital ones. Your listener is not your personal best friend, thinking and doing exactly the same as you are thinking and doing right now. Always imagine that the context of the listener is completely different from yours and just saying that “it” is broken is not enough. You have to specify what you are going to talk about before jumping straight to the point.
This is definitely one of those soft skills I’ve mentioned before.