Effective Communication

So this post has been something that’s been mulling around in my head for a bit, but I finally decided to write things down instead of leaving them percolating in the old noggin. One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve been working remotely is how poor communication can sometimes be when it’s digital. This isn’t to suggest that poor communication doesn’t happen in person, but I think it’s a lot more prominent online than it is in person since, ironically, being face to face has a tendency to humanize things.

The thing that spurred my thoughts on effective communication was a post I found on Twitter. It came from Tom McFarlin, and the title is Code Culture Problem. The post did a great job of reminding people that when you’re reading someone else’s code it’s easy to judge what they’ve done because you only know part of the story; you don’t know how long they had to work on the project, what kind of constraints they were working with (look at some code from plugins written for WordPress 1.6 or something and judge how good it would be now!), or how the developer may have grown since then but they don’t really care to revisit an old project. Not to mention that it discourages people from contributing since constant criticism becomes a culture problem.

Effectiveness Rating: -42%

Effectiveness Rating: -42%

Honestly, I don’t really care about someone else’s code quality because I’m busy writing about usability and doing onboarding documentation. I don’t have time to go make fun of someone for using a space instead of a tab. However, I really liked that the post made me look at the way people communicate, and I think there are some relevant take-aways for everyone, regardless of what kind of work you do.

Many times when we want to point out what someone else did wrong or how we disagree with them, we just want to shout it out to everyone. Does anyone (and I know I’ve been guilty of this probably more than the next person) actually stop and think, “Why am I doing this?” After becoming conscious of this action, I’ve tried to think about why we feel the need to share all of our judgments. Are you trying to get people to change? If that’s the case, there are far better ways to go about communicating.

For example, not long after I read the thought-altering post (as I call it in my head), Pressgram was launched and I remember reading an article about how there was this awful security loophole. The author felt like everyone had a right to know that they could be using this insecure thing that wasn’t much better than Instagram. Great. What was the point in writing this? To get the security patched? Nope. Because if that was the case, you’d just contact the developer and say, “Hey, dunno if you realized this, but your passwords are stored in plain text here, and they’re vulnerable.” If someone said that to me, I’d probably be like, “Holy crap, I didn’t realize that since I’ve been furiously creating this massive piece of software. Thanks so much for pointing it out and I’ll fix it tout de suite.”

Does yelling from the rooftops HAI GUYZ I FOUND THIS ISSUE solve the problem? Maybe. But why do we feel the need to publicly decry that there’s a security conspiracy when none may exist? Because we’re selfish. The motivation in posting something like that is not to get the problem fixed. It’s to (a) show everyone how much smarter you are, (b) make you feel better about yourself, (c) gain “recognition” from your peers for being totally awesome (not), and/or (d) generate more page clicks so you can possibly make more money (like news sites that post controversial stuff). Except that it’s not awesome. It makes you kind of an ass. There’s actually a psychological term for bringing other people down to make yourself feel better, but I can’t remember it.

You look this douche-y when you tear people down for no reason

You look this douche-y when you tear people down for no reason

Now I know this seems judgmental, but don’t mistake my pointing this out as an assertion that I’ve never done this (I probably continue to do so a lot despite my best efforts). I’m merely trying to change the way I communicate, and I invite you to do the same so that we’re all better people for it. Before you go trying to call someone out, write a comment about how someone missed this super important thing, or go blowing them up on Twitter for this perceived mistake, ask yourself, “What am I trying to achieve?” Then go do something that will actually achieve that end instead of doing something for yourself. Hey, if the developer says they’ll fix something and they don’t, then by all means, a public shaming is warranted since it’s hurting other people. But why do this first if there’s probably a far better way to get the problem handled?

So here’s my challenge to you: let’s all stop being jerks. Next time you find a mistake, see someone doing something differently than you would have, or see something that you think can be improved, let’s help people and give them the benefit of the doubt. Unless of course you’re just after the page clicks, in which case I’d challenge you to be upfront about the fact that you’d rather profit from bringing other people down. Let’s make people better instead of just making ourselves feel cooler, since that’s all we’re doing by thinking we just have to expose all these bad things instead of communicating like decent humans. Want people to think you’re awesome? Then be awesome: make everyone around you better and be truly impressive in your work and demeanor to get recognition — don’t tear people down and stand on the bloody stumps of their bodies so that you feel like you’re higher up than all of them.

And someone please for the love of God let me know what the psychological term for someone who tears down other people to make themselves feel better so I don’t lose my mind :).