#27: Unstuck yourself from the ideas that go nowhere

I often see some engineers stick to one idea. They see the advantages of one side but don’t review their approaches if it solves the problem or not. Many engineers learn to perform a job in one way. They start to think they can approach other tasks in the same way. I made the exact mistake countless times. I learned one architectural pattern in iOS development, which I thought was the best way. At that time, all senior engineers and I were in the same place, and the project we developed was in a great technical shape that allowed us to develop features faster with high code quality. But it didn’t last long.

Another project needed an engineer, and I was the lucky one to move there. The new project was vastly different. Even though we were working with a similar business as my first project, the second one was a technical and organizational challenge. I did what I knew the best and started applying the strategies I learned in the previous and outstanding project. One day, while trying to develop a feature quickly, I insisted on a technical approach and made it a big deal because I knew that was the best way to do it. And I was right.

What I didn’t know were the other business cases, deals between project stakeholders, and the urgency. We had to sacrifice technical excellence and deliver a feature, and it was a conscious decision that I couldn’t see. I failed to let the technical excellency go, and conflicts appeared. In the following weeks, I became frustrated, and the team mood slightly changed. Eventually, I had a chance to move to another project, but I learned a lot. And here is what I learned.

When people insist on doing a job in a certain way, try to understand why. If you’re both pushing different ways, there is a high chance either one or both of you miss some context. Instead of pressing more and more, take a moment and notice that you’re trying to solve the same problem. When you push the idea, the other side will immediately raise their defense walls because they feel threatened. In turn, you also put your shields up, and the situation leads to conflicts. When you notice the differences, declare that both of you are solving the same problem. This strategy is one of the essential strategies for persuading others. It also helps you to reconsider your thoughts.

Then, ask questions to broaden your perspective on the topic. A few straightforward questions are:

  • “What do you see that I miss? I believe we have different knowledge and context about the problem. Help me understand yours.”
  • “Why do we see the situation differently? Help me understand your perspective.”

These phrases set the ground on differences and show humility. They don’t judge the other person or their thoughts. They help you comprehend the motives behind other people’s thoughts and find similarities between your approach and theirs. Once you grasp their perspective, acknowledge the part of their solution you also agree with. This acknowledgment will destroy the defense walls because they recognize that you’re taking a step.

Let’s take a look at another example, in which an engineer recommends something for a long time but can’t convince others. One of the senior engineers suggested that everyone in the team share status updates in written form and announce everyone on a single document. For months, I heard the same request over and over again. It started to feel like we were having the same conversations repeatedly. But, the case is, the engineer never took a step to ask either themselves or to me or others, “What do you see that I can’t so my suggestion seem ineffective?” I’m not blaming anyone, of course. From the manager’s standpoint, we also couldn’t succeed in showing them the broader perspective and why the team and we think their approach won’t work.

When people grow in their careers into senior roles, implicit expectations begin to appear, and this is one of them. To ask questions to figure out why a suggestion doesn’t—or won’t—work is a skill that experienced engineers have to acquire. They have to develop elasticity in their recommendations and be flexible with their approaches.

Getting out of a stuck mindset allows us to learn. It helps us reconsider our approaches and find the best for the situation. Any action we take shows us the trade-offs and guides us to an optimal decision. I know it’s already challenging to notice that we’re going into a conflict. Yet, once we experience a conflict and retrospect the situation later, we realize many signals we missed. That’s is a skill to learn and develop. Much like any skill, it needs time and repetition. You will make many mistakes on this road but think of every mistake as new learning.

Updates from The Last Two Weeks

📝 Speaking, Writing, and High-Quality Ideas

At first glance, people who say “I made a mistake, not others. It’s all on me” look good because it shows that the person owns their work and has a sense of responsibility. Yet, we often don’t notice that they harm the team more than bring an advantage.

📝 A Systematic Approach to Give Feedback to Blame Absorbers

Whoever speaks well will have the advantage of convincing others to follow them. Whoever writes well will create a margin in their thinking.

🤔 A Quote I’m Pondering

"Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe." — Adam Grant
Newsletter Last Updated: Mar 22, 2022