Tag: listening

Happy Holidays – Weekly Article Dump

Happy Holidays – Weekly Article Dump

Happy Holidays

The holiday season is upon us, so I’d like to start by extending my best wishes for you to have a safe and happy holiday. I’ve personally been pretty busy the past few weeks wrapping year-end stuff up at work, so I’m looking forward to a few days of being able to catch my breath a bit. If you have some time off from work, I’m hoping you’ll get a chance to do the same over the holidays. I can’t sit idle for too long though. I don’t like not feeling productive, so once I’ve caught up a bit on some well deserved rest, I’ll be right back at it!

The holidays and end of the year are a great time to reflect on everything that’s happened in the last 12 months. Did you have goals that set you set and accomplished? What about things that you didn’t get to achieve or complete? Were you able to assist others in their goals? Maybe a year is too long for you to wait between points of reflection, but the holiday season provides the perfect opportunity for you to reflect–it’s at the end of the year, and generally you get some time off from your day-to-day!

At Magnet Forensics, we had a year-end review celebration and planning for next year. This was an incredible eye-opener for a lot of the amazing things we did this year. In fact, this last year was filled with so many exciting moments for our company that I thought around half of them were things that occurred in 2012. I was mistaken though. We’ve just been doing that much. I’m incredibly proud of the entire team and what we’ve been able to accomplish.

For my personal growth, this year certainly covered a lot of ground. I was able to work on some new exciting technologies like I had set goals for, and I had actually managed to take on more responsibilities in the workplace while reducing my perceived workload. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’ve also been able to identify a few areas that I’d like to improve in the new year. I don’t want to call it my “New Year Resolution” for fear of it never coming to fruition, but I think by acknowledging some areas I l’d like to improve I’m setting myself up to be constantly aware of them.

Try to get some personal reflection in this holiday season. Celebrate what you’ve accomplished and raise the bar even higher for next year!

Articles

I missed an update last week, so I’ll combine both of my smaller article summaries into one!

  • How One Company Replaced Meetings And Bureaucracy With Pairs, Ceremonies, And Storytelling: When I shared this article by Drake Baer on social media, I mentioned that there was one of the three suggestions that I felt might not be met as well. Any guesses yet?

    The first suggestion in the list is working in pairs. The notion of working in pairs has some popularity in programming (i.e. Pair Programming) because you get two sets of eyes and two brains behind tackling the same problem. Partners get rotated every-so-often and you can share knowledge really well this way.

    The second suggestion was about story telling. Story telling really let’s a company philosophy or mission get spread through the organization in a natural way. This also works for receiving customer  perspective and diffusing it as requirements from the user.

    The final idea presented in the article was regarding ritualization. Taking potentially boring or inefficient meetings and transforming them into rituals can provide more meaning and structure to them.

    If you haven’t guessed yet, I figured item #1 may be met with some resistance. I personally don’t enjoy pairing past the point of brain storming ideas together. After that, it feels inefficient to me. I also believe that certain individuals have a “comfort zone” for where they feel efficient in their work. So even if pairing works well for 95% of people (let’s pretend) then for that other 5% it might really be disruptive for them. I’m starting to learn that applying practices uniformly across a team often doesn’t make sense.

  • Some Workaholics Have More Fun: A quick one from Hiroshi Mikitani, but still very worth mentioning in my opinion. When people think of a workaholic, it’s often associated with a negative perspective. But maybe it’s not so black and white. Would you say there’s a difference between someone driven by external factors (e.g. meet deadlines for the boss, make more money, etc…) or someone driven by  internal factors (e.g. create something innovative, help or make a difference in the world, etc…)? I’m not claiming that these can never overlap or anything, but perhaps it’s just a bit of a perspective tweak. Take it or leave it 🙂

  • The Art of Listening: In this article by Gurbaksh Chahal, he touches on some really important aspects of listening. And yes, while listening is definitely important in the workplace, you can likely apply his principles to other areas in life. First, you want to engage people and let them know you’re actually listening. This can be conveyed will by eye contact and body language. For me, I like to lock my computer and turn to people when they come up to talk. It’s the perfect way to let them know they have my undivided attention. The next step is actively listening. Stop thinking of your response while someone is talking. Try actually listening to the speaker the entire time and interpret their words. There are no rules that say you’re not allowed to pause for thought to formulate your response when the other person is done talking! Gurbaksh has a few more pointers, and I strongly suggest you check out his article.
  • 8 Ways Using Humor Will Make You a Better Leader: I’m a big fan of using humour in the workplace, but sometimes I’m not sure if I use it effectively or take things to far. That’s why I always jump to these humour-in-the-workplace articles when they pop up. In this article by Kevin Daum, there are two key points I wanted to address. The first is that humour really does help disarm tense situations. Sometimes there are difficult situations at work, and using humour (properly) can really help break the ice. Of course, you still need to take caution that the humour you’re using isn’t going to make the situation worse. The second point is that humour helps build a bonded community. I think humour can have a similar impact to story telling in an organization when it’s used effectively. You can always related back to “inside jokes” when you were dealing with some high pressure times, some bad code, or just because something funny came up at work. You can always bring the newbies into the inside jokes too and make them feel completely welcome.
  • The 8-Hour Workday Doesn’t Really Work: If you feel like the typical eight hour work day really isn’t your thing… You might not be alone. Jeff Haden put together this pretty informative article about workdays and productivity you might find interesting. There’s tons of ground covered, including a few tips at the end for how you can optimize our work day. For example, try focusing on four or five things in a day that take up 90 minute slots. Certainly worth the read if you’re looking to hack your work-day.
  • The Hidden Danger of Success:  Another little article from Hiroshi Mikitani. So often we’re told to learn from our failures. But how are we supposed to learn from our successes? Hiroshi suggests we treat them equally. Sure, celebrate your success, but make sure you have take-away learnings from each of your successes. Don’t let them get to your head and always stay humble!
  • Keys to Resolving Conflict: Jim Sniechowski dives into some great points in resolving conflict. I think it’s a decent read for anyone who has ever been in some sort of debate or conflict. I imagine that’s most people! Anyway, two great points to start you off: Each side of the conflict needs to understand that there’s a mutual agreement that needs to be met and willingness to accept some of the other side is necessary for coming to a positive conclusion.
  • Four Principles to Inspire Innovation: Lockheed Martin’s CEO Marillyn Hewson provides four of her principles for innovation. Firstly, ensure there’s an environment that can cultivate innovation. Next, don’t treat innovation differently depending on the source. The final two principles I like to think of as one really. You want to innovate with a mission or goal that inspires and is driven by the values your organization embraces.

Please have a safe holiday season, but remember to relax and have a bit of fun too! Follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week. Thanks!


Listen First: The Human Sounding Board

Background

In the company I work at, Magnet Forensics, I’ve gotten myself into a leadership role. I wasn’t hired for this position (I’m a programmer at heart) but I’ve managed to stumble my way into it! As a young leader, I think one thing is really obvious for me in my daily leadership tasks: I don’t have all of the answers. Hell, I don’t even have a lot of the answers! So what keeps me from being entirely useless as a leader then?

I know who has the answers. My team.

The most important leadership lesson that I’ve learned (and I’m glad I learned it early) is to listen. The benefits to listening, and I mean actually listening, can be beneficial to the person asking as well as yourself as the leader.

How Can Listening Help Me?

Let’s be honest here. You’re a leader. You have things to do. How is sitting around listening to other people going to help you?

I briefly mentioned it already, but as a leader, I don’t have all of the answers. I’m also willing to bet that you don’t have all of the answers. In the end, probably nobody has all of them. The group of people you lead, collectively, probably have the best bet at having the answers though. Your team is not only core to production at work, but they’re also a great source of insight. Provided you have hired people from a variety of backgrounds, everyone has different experiences and perspectives to share.

Say you’ve run into a problem where developers can’t code things in parallel because everyone has different versions of the source code. Someone on your team suggests source control software. Cool. What the heck is it? Let’s ask a couple other people for their perspective on it. Now you know that some people have used Subversion, some Git, and others CVS. You still may not know what they are, but you know that introducing one of these could solve the problem at hand. But which one? Ask. What are people comfortable with? What are the pros and cons? What are people’s person experiences with these? Use the information provided by your team to guide your decision making process.

That’s Great, But… I Knew That. What Else?

If you’re a leader in your place of work, you may have encountered a situation like the following. You have a junior staff member come to you to ask questions. Like anyone else, you’re busy with your own stuff to do, but it’s your responsibility to help out your staff (and junior staff need the most assistance)! So, you do the obvious thing: give them the answer.

Sound familiar? It’s a common situation and it probably doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. Sometimes after a handful of questions, these junior staff members get up to speed and the questions cease or slow down. Other times, you might notice a bigger problem. That junior staff member becomes a bit more of a familiar face. You actually see a lot more of him or her now. And the questions? Don’t you worry. He or she has tons of them. In fact, they have an unlimited list of them.

If you listen to what these people are asking you, you can better shift the solution to long term. Don’t instinctively spit out the right answer. Let them ask you. Then ask them some questions back. Listen to their responses. If listen to what their problem is, you can find out where their pain points are. Guide them through it by asking them more questions and using their responses to steer the conversation.

This is beneficial for you because you’ll start seeing less of this person for asking questions. But why? What have you started doing?

Benefiting The Person With The Questions

And now we’ve arrived at the other core point: become the human sounding board. By listening (and listening well) you can actually let other people answer their own problems. They really just need some guidance in the whole process. It’s really similar to rubber duck problem solving (from the programming world). People often come to you with questions, and they’re on the verge of arriving at the answer.

You end up conditioning people on your team (that sounds king of wrong I guess, but let’s roll with it) to think first. People won’t come to you because they know they can get a quick answer from you. It’s not like doing a search on The Internet and relying on the first result anymore. Problem solving often doesn’t have a simple instant answer so don’t teach people to use you for that.

How Can I Listen Better?

Stop talking. It’s that easy. When someone comes to you with a question, don’t interrupt them with the answer before they’re done. Shush your lips. Besides, nobody likes being interrupted. You’re also demonstrating you’re not listening if you wan to interrupt them to answer. They could throw in a curve ball at the end that completely changes the context. So… hold your horses, zip your lips, and open your ears. If you find it hard to do this, actually shut up and count to 3 before you respond. You might get some funny looks for a week or so, but you’ll be listening a lot better after that.

Give your full attention to the person asking you questions. If you’re typing 3 emails, checking your facebook and twitter accounts, programming and interrupting the person asking you questions, you’re doing it wrong. When someone comes up to ask you a question, provided you aren’t in the middle of something that you can’t get away form momentarily, lock your computer. Lock it, turn to the person, and give them your full attention. You certainly aren’t listening well if you’re multi-tasking while someone is asking you questions. How do I know? Well, I guess I don’t. But I’d be confident in saying that you could listen better if you gave him or her your undivided attention. This also makes the person asking you feel more engaged. They know that you’re listening.

Reword people’s questions back to them. When someone asks you something, paraphrase it and ask it back. Confirm that what you’re hearing is what they’re asking. Why does this matter? It ensures you that you’re not misinterpreting something and it ensures him or her that you know what they are asking. It engages the person asking the question and it forces you to actually listen. It’s pretty hard to paraphrase something if you’re only hearing words and not getting any meaning from it.

Summary

By acting as a human sounding board, you:

  • Need to listen to what people are saying. Actually listen to the meaning.
  • Need to practice giving full attention.
  • Need to bite your tongue. Just. Stop. Talking.
  • Paraphrase what people ask. Boost engagement from both sides of the conversation.
  • Empower other people to make decisions better.
  • Utilize your number one information resource: your own team.

There are many benefits to listening. Start now to help yourself and help your team. You’ll see the results of this immediately. Try it out!


  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I work as a team lead of software engineering at Magnet Forensics (http://www.magnetforensics.com). I'm into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

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