This has happened to me many times.
I find myself fighting over the importance to get a bug fixed, entrenching in arguments around user behavior and customer value, and launching frontal attacks in an effort to win the battle over who is right and who is wrong.
After a while, the argument that started over a professional point turns into a personal fight between Good and Evil. Tones go up, comprehension goes down, until at one point everything explodes and all parties retrieve to their corners, hot-headed and incoherently angry at one another.
“How can they be so blinded?!” “Don’t they understand what a terrible mistake they want to commit?!” “If we do not do this, the end will surely be catastrophic!!!!”
(and this is the same arguments thought by “the enemy” on the other side too!)
Aren’t we being a little over-dramatic here?
As I said before, I am not making this scenario up – although I wish I was.
What’s more, this is not something that happened to me only once or twice in my professional career… It has happened a number of times, maybe even tens of times over the last 20+ years.
And I have seen it happening around me countless times too.
What makes this even more problematic is that most times, after I cool down and let myself get some distance from the argument, I start to see part of the reasons behind the argument of “the enemy” and I realize that this is not a simple battle between right and wrong (or between good and evil), but more of a weight of arguments that can push the decision one way or the other – where both sides have good points to bring forward.
To put it simply, after a while, I understand that both of us were right and both of us were wrong at the same time.
Humans have flaws, one of them is our personal Egos
Why does this happen? Believe it or not, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, mostly because after I cool down I feel really bad about my behavior and the irrational words I said to people I like and respect…
My conclusion is that our worst enemy is the small Ego each of us has inside, the same one that sometimes manages to sneak into our brains and take charge of the situation.
In this case: Because each of us came to the meeting with points we brought from our side, and given that we feel we are 100% right and that there is no point in arguing about it, once we hear that someone else does not automatically agree with our point we believe that the only reason this can be is if they are not giving us enough credit or taking our argument with the necessary seriousness.
We then translate this into a matter of us not been valued professionally and personally, and from that moment on it becomes a blind battle about honor and dignity.
Sounds stupid – It Is!
Remember to breath and to always have an open mind
Given that we cannot divorce ourselves from our Egos, what can we do about it?
I’m glad you asked!!
The first thing to understand is that as we stated before, it is impossible to bypass our Ego completely. I think that this is because Egos are an evolutionary mechanism that works by itself within our brains, so don’t even try.
What we can do is to be aware of this, and react accordingly.
Each of us will need to do this in their own way and form. For me, I try to refrain from speaking while listening to the other side’s argument – regardless of how stupid it sounds at first. Once I am done listening, I try to put myself in the shoes of the person arguing against me and start by seeing how he appreciates my points while then looking at his point from his perspective.
Sometimes I still fail to see his point, and here I have a couple of options: (1) ask a third person if they can explain the points of both of us in turn, in order to try and listen to them from someone else’s mouth, or (2) if this is not an option, I ask for a recess of 30 to 60 min to cool down.
In either case, my intention is to try to remove the Ego from the discussion, and to give a chance for the other argument to float and for mine to sink (or sometimes for both to merge into something else).
It is very important to encourage the other side to do the same in parallel.
And after this process or recess, an amazing vast majority of the times we are able to reach a shared resolution.
Would the bug still be critical 6 months from now?
This is my major internal argument when I try to understand if I am right or wrong in my stand on an issue to be fixed.
In my years of testing I have released a large number of bugs into production, this is not something I am proud off, but it is a by-product from working on complex projects and in situations that required us to take calculated risks.
Given that the decision to fix or not fix an issue is a matter of risk management (what will happen if the bug goes out, is the fix more risky than the bug itself, will people even care about the issue, etc) we need to be able to appraise the bug based on some sort of risk scale. To make it simple let’s say: Extremely risky, Risky, and Not risky.
Extremely risky is something that, if the bad thing happens, it will have catastrophic results. The company will sink, people will die, you or the people in your organization will be in News…
Risky means that people will notice and we will need to take unpleasant actions. Like releasing an emergency fix and an apology, or losing an important deal that gets noticed in the company, or delaying a project and not meeting the goals.
Not risky is something that has no lasting effect, and after a day or a week, people don’t remember it even happen in the first place.
As I mentioned before, when I get fired up the first thing I do (as soon as I can control myself) is to try to cool down and evaluate the issue at hand based on a scale similar to the Risk scale above.
Trying to understand if the issue we are wasting time and efforts arguing is something we will even remember 1, 3 or 6 months from now.
Then, based on this answer, I look for a cool and collaborative way to bridge the gap between our arguments and move forward in order to continue doing productive work…
Recommended extra reading:
– The simple differences between Product Risks & Project Risks
– 3 easy to use risk-based testing activities
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