Listener Question: Simon Asks About Over-Positivity
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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Sometimes encouragement is the last thing that we need. This isn't true across the board and it's not true at its basic level, but it's true at a deeper level because encouragement may not necessarily always be warranted. In fact, encouraging me to do something that I shouldn't do, well that's really bad for me isn't it? You're listening to Developer Tea, my name is Jonathan Cutrell. Today's episode is coming from a question from a listener. My goal on this show is to help people like Simon who sent in this question today and people like you who are listening to this show to become better developers. And I'm not the best developer in the world by far. I'm not the most experienced developer. I certainly don't have the highest IQ. My goal on this show is to help you by providing you with thoughts and discussions that provoke you to think for yourself. They provoke you to think about this stuff rather than just taking what you've seen or heard elsewhere and just applying it, blanket. I want you to start thinking for yourself. I want you to be able to take the reins in your career and answer questions like what Simon has sent to me and have good discussions with the people around you. Honestly, I have discussions about this kind of stuff with my wife. I have these discussions with my parents, with my friends who have nothing to do with the development industry. So this stuff is really applicable across the board if you're not a developer and you're listening to this or if you want to send this to a friend of yours who isn't a developer, you don't really have to be a developer for this stuff to make sense. So let's dive straight into today's episode. I'm going to read this question from Simon. Simon has sent in questions before. In fact, we've covered two of his questions in the past. So I encourage those of you who are listening to this. If you do have a question that you would like for me to answer or some kind of discussion like for me to have on the show, please send it to me. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. So here's the question. Simon says, hi, Jonathan. Thank you for the great content you're providing on your podcast. After one year of working abroad in a small agency, I'm eager to share knowledge and opinions about development methods and techniques. However, in the country, the company culture that I'm in, it seems that everything and everyone has to be positive. I prove this trend towards positivity, but I also believe that disagreements and contradictions are necessary to reach the next better step. Learning requires some kind of questioning and sometimes it requires criticism. For example, two days ago, a coworker showed me a feature he had built. My first comment was that it looked good. It looks clean and shiny. Like everyone else had already told him, but my second comment was that this feature was not really relevant. It would probably be better to use an email sending service like Mailgun to get real data about bounces and drops. So my questions are, how do I stimulate questions and thinking without sounding like the unsatisfied one? And how do I formulate hesitations or criticisms when everyone only wants to formulate praise and fulfilment? Thank you, Simon. I mean, this is an excellent question. And it's one that all of us probably have dealt with at some point in the past. This is definitely part of the kind of a backlash in culture to old management styles. Simon also included a link to a satirical article by the way that's called gluten-free management. But the idea is that this old management style was harsh, that it was only focused on productivity and performance. And now we've moved away from this and we've gone too far the opposite direction. And what that has led to is management and co-workers who are really afraid to provide any kind of meaningful critique, any kind of meaningful thing that isn't positive. So the real question at hand though, it's not really about how to be less positive, right? Hopefully you and anyone listening to this doesn't believe that the antidote to this is to be the negative person. In fact, you've asked very specifically how to not come across as the unsatisfied guy. So I highly doubt that anyone would disagree that positivity is a good thing, right? But the question is about being positive at inappropriate times or in lieu of being honest or providing legitimate critique, right? And these are very different things. Being negative just for the sake of being negative or being positive when you shouldn't be, these are two different things. We've all found ourselves in this type of environment and many of us have also had personal relationships with people who fall into this trap, right? Hopefully you can recall in your mind somebody who you felt like was just kind of always happy or overly happy sometimes to the point of feeling kind of plastic, kind of unrealistic, right? And rationale is, as long as I stay positive, things will be okay. My relationships will be okay. My job will be stable. My clients will be happy. And the idea is that anything that isn't positive is negative and anything that is negative is intended to harm the person that it's directed at, right? And this is a lie that we can't believe. It's not something that I want you to believe in because it just simply isn't true. Here's how I want you to realign your thinking. Instead of thinking about positive versus negative thoughts or positive versus negative feedback or positive versus negative moments with your coworkers, I want you to think about honesty and truthfulness versus manipulation. Let me say that again, honesty and truthfulness versus manipulation rather than positivity versus negativity. The reality of this truth is kind of earth shattering for some people because so many people believe that positivity and truthfulness, they're kind of in separate fields, right? That being positive and being truthful, you can always be positive and always be truthful. And that's actually not true. Mis- and positivity do not always align. Being truthful and being truthful with a purpose are two different things as well. Some people misunderstand truthfulness for inappropriate candidness, right? So truthfulness and positivity do not always align. In other words, in order to be truthful, sometimes you can't be positive at the same time, but that doesn't mean that you are inappropriately candid, right? In other words, sometimes a thought may go through your mind that is candid, a candid thought about another person, about another person's weaknesses, for example, their personal experiences, a truthful, candid thought may go through your mind that isn't valuable to share, right? If you misunderstand truthfulness with inappropriate candidness, you're going to find yourself in a really tough spot. So that's a lot to think about. There's a lot to think about here. Tons of weaving paths around what it means to be truthful, what it means to be positive, and how can we align those things as often as possible? And I have a way forward for you, and we're going to discuss it right after we talk about today's awesome sponsor, Flywheel. Today is the first episode sponsored by Flywheel. It's specifically sponsored by Flywheel's local. Local is a completely free local WordPress development application, right? So if you don't understand what that means because if you're a WordPress developer, then you may not have come across this yet. Basically, local is an incredibly fast application, a native application that you install on your Mac, for example, with isolated sites that are powered by Docker. What this means is that each of your sites has its own entire virtual machine on your local machine, right? Install of Linux on your local machine. You can have different versions of Apache or Ingenx or PHP. All of these things can be configured inside of local. And it's just a few clicks away to get a new site up and running locally. This makes your management of local sites super simple and efficient. And it includes a bunch of extra features, and it's a beautiful interface, by the way. It improves the workflow of designers and developers. You don't have to be a developer to use this. Most other local development applications don't really provide this. And most of the other ones, quite honestly, are not very attractive to look at. Local has spent, or Flywheel has spent a significant amount of time actually working on the design of local. The Live Links feature allows you to create shareable URLs to show off your local sites to clients. This is a super, super cool feature. The Blueprints feature allows you to save site templates to use again in the future, and you can speed up your workflow this way. So if you're like whiteboard, for example, we have our own set of themes stuff that we use. And we can create a blueprint that we can reuse in the future. It makes setup much faster. Of course, the most compelling part of this is that it's totally free. There's no reason for you not to go and check it out. You can find it at local.getflywheel.com. That's local.getflywheel.com. Flywheel is also currently working on a pro version of local, which will have even more features. So go and check it out local.getflywheel.com. This is what I'm using for all of my WordPress sites now, by the way. They did not pay me to use it. I decided to use it. In fact, I was really excited to have local and flywheel come on as sponsors because I believe in this product so much. So go and check it out again local.getflywheel.com. Thank you again to local and flywheel for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So the antidote to over positivity. That's what we're talking about today. And we're not really talking about over positivity on its own because there's not really too much of a good thing in this scenario. You can't really have too much positivity. What you can have is inappropriately timed positivity. You can have dishonest positivity. In other words, manipulation. If you are being dishonest with your positivity, particularly if you are doing this on purpose, if you're intentionally saying something positive about something that you actually feel is not really that good. For example, there's work that you see and it's not really good work. And you know it and the people at your coworkers probably know it as well. And instead of actually addressing that, you say something positive and move on, this is actually somewhat manipulative or at the very least. It is escaping the uncomfortable situation that really needs to actually take place. So what is the antidote in this scenario? Well, I want you to take this phrase away. I want you to take this phrase away as the antidote to the over positivity. And that is thoughtfully candid. There's an excellent book about this subject. It's actually called Radical Candor. I highly recommend that you go and check it out. We are reading most of the leadership at Whiteboard is reading this book right now, but radically candid people. They tell the truth and they provide honest feedback. That's really what we're talking about here. But I've changed this to thoughtfully candid because I want to kind of juxtapose it to the idea of being inappropriately candid. Inappropriately candid is sharing thoughts that are not really useful, sharing thoughts that may be personally insulting, for example, right? Sharing thoughts that are unfiltered and that don't really add much value. So thoughtfully candid means that you recognize the situation and you provide honest thoughts when appropriate. Because honest thoughts may contain a critique. They may contain a praise. They may just be commentary. The thoughtfulness of your candid is important because you need to understand how and why you are being honest with someone. Is the critique you are about to provide actually important? Will it help make that person or your collective efforts as a team better? So be thoughtfully candid. And I'm going to give you three ways that you can create an environment where critique isn't feared and positivity isn't used as a crutch or as a manipulation tool. These are the three things you need to do to create that kind of environment. Number one, create a consistent culture of honest feedback. There's a lot of key words here. Consistent culture of honest feedback. Consistent means you do it on a regular basis. You do it once a month, not you do it once a week, but you do it almost on a daily basis that people can expect it to happen. That it's just a part of who you are. That's part of the culture word as well. This is something that you encourage that other people do that you get involved in. It's not something that's coming from one person, but rather it is a shared part of the identity of the work that you do and the people who do that work with you. So this consistent culture of honest feedback, honest means that you're actually sharing what you think, and of course feedback, is in response to something, not unprompted, but in response to something. This is super important. Feedback shouldn't be bottled up. You shouldn't respond internally to something and make this mental note of something that went really poorly and then hold on to that for a month and then suddenly unveil it at say like a performance review or a meaning about something totally unrelated to the original thing that that feedback was intended for. Your feedback loop should be relatively close to the source event. The event that the feedback is actually intended to be responding to effectively. So that's number one, create a consistent culture of honest feedback. For example, if your company practices agile, the consistent feedback part is actually the agile retrospect, for example. If you are not including the question, things that could have gone better, then you probably can benefit from that number one and number two, you may be able to look for signs of this over positivity piece of your culture that could be negatively affecting the work that you do. So number two, two-way streets. This is super important. If you are going to come in, assignment and anyone else, if you're going to come in and be the person who provides critique, you need to explicitly invite critique. Don't make this an unspoken thing. You have to explicitly invite critique. What this means is that as a part of your feedback culture, you don't have certain people who are constantly providing that feedback and certain people who are constantly taking the feedback and those are their only roles. Instead, everyone provides feedback and everyone receives feedback. So create a structure around this. Provide an avenue where others can provide feedback to you as well. You're not the only one who is providing the feedback. And assignment, this directly answers that question of how you can be, how you can come in and provide critique without being the only person that's unsatisfied. Everyone in the working environment has something to get better at and in that way everyone should be somewhat unsatisfied with the last thing they did. Not in a deep unsatisfied and defeated sense, but rather in a constantly challenged sense. The people who listen to this show, that's a value that most of us share. That is that we want to become better. And the reason that you want to provide this feedback is because you want to help others become better and you likely want to become better yourself, which is why you send in these questions asking for advice. So this seems like a normal thing for you and for others, it may be a little bit less natural. So creating that avenue for them to provide you with feedback on things that you can do better is essential. It creates a shared sense that, hey, this is not just you being attacked by me. It's us getting better together. That really leads into number three. That is critique the action, not the person. Critique the action, not the person. Here's the reality. Personal attacks. When I say personal attacks, I mean talking about somebody's intelligence or their character, their taste, talking about somebody's fundamental belief system or their identity. These are all personal attacks. I'm very often it's easy to fall into a trap of attacking somebody personally. You may not even realize that you're doing it because you may not be doing it on purpose. But for example, if you accidentally find yourself saying something like, who in the right mind would do this thing? Or why would you believe that? These are things that question the fundamental reasoning or the fundamental underlying personhood of the person you're speaking to. Personal attacks are going to end in defensiveness, in hurt feelings. It may even end in separation of that work or from the working environment. In other words, they're going to leave. If you receive enough personal attacks, eventually that's going to wear on you. This is not the kind of critique that is sustainable. If I am constantly receiving personal attacks, that's not sustainable. When you provide critiques in the working environment, it's important to recognize that the person who's being critiqued will feel incredibly vulnerable. Even if they see it coming from a mile away, even after it becomes a part of your normal everyday kind of culture, this critique culture that we've discussed already, they're still going to feel vulnerable, they're still going to feel the sense that they are being attacked. You have to work very hard with that person to get to the stage where you recognize that critique is actually not an attack. It's actually honesty because you care about that person. You want them to be better. In order for this to work, in order for a culture of critique to actually work, you must do these critiques. You must perform these critiques with the true intent of helping the person and not tearing them down. Let me say that in a different way. If you're going to provide a critique, you shouldn't feel better walking away if the other person feels bad. You shouldn't feel better walking away because you feel like this is some cathartic event for you that you got something off your chest. The only reason you should feel better walking away is if you believe that the other person is now empowered with the knowledge and the direction to do better work. That's it. There's no reason to provide. This goes back to the original discussion. Why this stuff even is a problem to begin with is because the culture that we're railing against is the idea that this part doesn't matter. The critique can be a personal attack. As long as the person ends up doing better work, that mission is accomplished. If you're going to be empathetic and if you don't want to be the person who is just negative or just harping on the other person's work, you must provide these critiques with the intent of helping the person not tearing them down. If the critique is done with some kind of cathartic intent, then it's probably better for you to find a release away from that person. Go and exercise or some other thing that provides you with your cathartic release. But certainly do not take it out on the person. In other words, don't engage in a critique for your own emotional benefit, but rather for the benefit of the work and the career of the person you're providing the critique too. All of this, remember that to keep an equal balance between praise and critique, you need to provide encouragement more often than you provide critique. This is strongly related to that third thing, the critique, the action of the person. As a part of our psychology, humans tend to hyper focus on the bad things, especially things about ourselves. In order for us to set the scales to a balanced, even state, it is indeed important to provide praise on a regular basis. The last tip I'll leave with you is to provide meaningful praise. Meaningful praise. Don't tell your coworker that they're just crushing their job and leave it at that. That is kind of an ephemeral, very quickly forgotten kind of praise. I feel somewhat meaningless. Explain to them why the work they have done matters and why you believe it was done excellently. What did they do that was above and beyond in your mind? This is a much more meaningful praise and it encourages them to continue producing well. It encourages them to continue doing the thing that was so excellent. Provide meaningful praise that you actually mean. That's the whole goal of encouragement, encouraging someone to continue doing the thing that you thought was worth praise. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea and thank you again to Local for sponsoring today's episode. Local by Flywheel. You can find it at local.getflywheel.com. It is an excellent product. I use it for all of my WordPress sites. Extremely easy to use. It's friendly to designers, friendly to developers. It uses leading tech. It's not a hacky solution. It is certainly worth your time to go and check it out, especially if you're already a WordPress developer. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Until next time, enjoy your tea.