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Level Up - Issue #98

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Level Up

June 27 · Issue #98 · View online

Level Up delivers a curated newsletter for leaders in tech. A project by https://patkua.com. Ideal for busy people such as Tech Leads, Engineering Managers, VPs of Engineering, CTOs and more.


“I don’t like it” is a perfect example of poor communication
On one of the slack communities I’m on, there’s normally a #help or #advice channel where people ask for advice. I recently answered a question by pointing someone to a “lessons learned” article that matched the situation they asked about. A different engineering leadership wrote the article, sharing what they experienced in the situation and what they learned handling their challenges. Another person jumped into the thread, responding with, “I don’t like the article.” Given I had posted it and I was curious, I asked, “Why?” Their answer? “The situation sounds unrealistic.” I hear many responses like this from engineers-turned-leaders and want to highlight the issues with this approach to communication.
Engineers take pride in themselves by having the “right” answer, solution or opinion on a topic. Ever heard the saying, “Strong opinions, weakly held?” Most simply have strong opinions. The statement, “I don’t like the article,” is certainly a strong opinion but, like with poorly-formed feedback, doesn’t add to the conversation, lacking detail and substance. In this case, the person could have improved their communication by sharing the specific points they disagreed with. Like with great feedback, avoid generalisations and try to be as specific as possible.
This response also demonstrated a lack of empathy. If you tell someone that the experiences they share are unrealistic because they don’t match your own, you’ll sound dismissive and disrespectful; as if only your experiences matter. Everyone has different experiences. Systems thinking reminds us that people in the same situation might even have different perspectives or different ways of describing the same situation. It doesn’t make one perspective more right or wrong. If you can’t imagine the experience someone shared, a bare minimum is at least acknowledging the experiences the other person felt or remembered. Better yet, try practising empathy and imagine yourself in their shoes. A good question to reflect on is, “What set of circumstances might have lead to such a situation?” rather than implying the situation was impossible. The world is much more complex than we think.
Finally, this response is a classic example of derailing a conversation based on feelings rather than focusing on the purpose of the conversation. Great leaders have strong emotional intelligence; If you have strong negative reactions to a new piece of information, sharing your feelings immediately is not always the best approach. Instead, reflect if sharing your feelings would add information to the purpose of the conversation (useful), or if sharing your feelings will simply make you feel better (less useful). There’s likely a better time and place and you can still share how you feel.
Effective communication is hard. But it’s even harder for engineers, who are trained to pattern-match and rewarded for quickly arriving at a solution or opinion. Use this example as a reminder that the small adjustments we make improve our chances of communicating well.
I hope you enjoy this week’s newsletter! Share it with a friend or colleague if you find it helpful, or drop me an email about topics you’d like to hear about in future editions.
Last few days! Level Up subscribers receive a 25% discount off the newest https://techlead.academy course, “Communicate Like a CTO,” using this link or the code “CLAC-LEVELUP” (until 30 Jun) 🎉🎉🎉

Leaders need to watch out for both *what* they say and *how*
Leaders need to watch out for both *what* they say and *how*
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Thanks for making it this far! 🤗
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Patrick Kua, Postfach 58 04 40, 10314, Berlin, Germany