Effective Reactions in the Office

…what to do instead of rolling your eyes.

Let’s face it, every sufficiently complex project comes with its share of stressful situations. Haven’t you experienced a case where someone made a decision that you didn’t agree with but you had to support? Have you had to include a piece of technology that wasn’t the most stable? Have you had to work alongside colleagues with whom your personality didn’t quite gel? We all have, and it’s usually a good idea to speak up about your frustrations. But how can we do that without sounding like someone who is always complaining?

Early in my career, I may have responded to certain management decisions with extra snark or the occasional eye roll. These forms of communication do work as feedback but they send the wrong message. Human nature is to receive this type of body language and become defensive or to conclude that I do not support the team.

That’s not the impression I wanted to give: I wanted to be viewed as a leader in the organization. Instead, what I was feeling was that I had doubt about a decision. My response was to react emotionally and openly. I have since learned some very important techniques for communicating my critiques in a way that people can respond to. These techniques have complemented my software developer skills nicely.

The strategy I take is that whenever I have to communicate something negative, whether that be news about a struggling project, a disagreement with some decision, or a questionable choice of technology, I try to make sure that I do not react without being able to articulate my rebuttal. Instead of an eye roll, I might say “may I offer some feedback on that?” Then I will mention two or three reasons that could serve as opposing considerations.

Ideally, the reasons you propose will be rooted in statistics or facts, as opposed to stories/anecdotes from your experience. Still, there is something to be said about mentioning your gut feel. Sometimes someone just has a bad feeling about a project, task, or idea that can’t necessarily be articulated on short notice. It can still be useful to speak up and mention any qualms, but it should be done in as objective a fashion as possible.

Oftentimes, rational critique starts a discussion that enlightens me on more aspects of the decision and I actually understand why it was made and begin to agree with it. You can expect that this will be how we at Unstoppable Software approach communication with our clients and partners, even if we don’t always agree right away.

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