help add color and put you in a position to influence the outcome.
6. Practice being open-minded.
Sometimes emotional responses
are driven by solid concerns, but the
delivery or interaction can prevent
getting to those details. By practicing
patience, strong listening skills, and
thoughtful question-asking, you can
help take charged situations and dissect them. Don’t be afraid to ask why—
and accept the possibility that the people on the other side may be right and
you might be wrong.
Go into the interaction assuming
good intent and looking for the opportunity to work together—not to prove
something right or wrong. Having a
curious mind and seeking to understand will lay the groundwork for a
more positive discussion.
Most complex problems have multiple solutions, and you need to be able
to separate your ego from your intellect and decisions.
As you work with more people and
more systems you will inevitably encounter people who are very attached
to their projects. The key to reaching
common ground starts with being
open and thoughtful. Always seek to
understand other positions—and let
people tell their stories. Validate their
experiences, and ask thoughtful questions. And if you reach a roadblock,
look to others to help you.
Being able to collaborate and work
through these issues will make you a
better leader and should lead to better
Nine Things I Didn’t Know I Would
Learn Being an Engineer Manager
The Small Batches Principle
Thomas A. Limoncelli
Death by UML Fever
Alex E. Bell
Kate Matsudaira ( katemats.com) is an experienced
technology leader. She has worked at Microsoft and
Amazon and successful startups before starting her own
company, Popforms, which was acquired by Safari Books.
Copyright held by author/owner.
Publication rights licensed to ACM.
thought through all of the options and
they are certain they are on the path
forward. While unintentional, the result of this thinking may close off any
consideration of alternatives.
By asking people to be open to other
ideas, and by being willing to entertain
other options yourself, you can start a
dialog to consider different approaches. There are seldom right answers.
There can be wrong answers, but most
of the time there are just different options with pros, cons, and risks.
Work together to explore other
options, and for each, lay out the different considerations. This can help
frame the discussion and potentially
uncover issues that may not have been
obvious to everyone involved.
3. Ask for stories, not solutions.
When you focus on the specific details or solutions to a problem, alignment can be more difficult. Just like
someone’s values, these beliefs are so
strongly held, it can be challenging to
change anyone’s mind. If you focus on
the how and why, however, it can be
much easier to find common ground
and solve the problem.
For example, if you start with the
premise that a service must exist to
provide a certain API, it can be difficult to argue. Where can you go from
there? However, if you start with the
story of what the API is used for, it may
be possible to provide that data in a
completely different way elsewhere in
By framing it as a story, using the
big-picture insight you have as the
leader, you can help the other people
involved see the service in a larger
context than they had been thinking
about. It is so easy to get hyper-focused
on one thing when you are too close to
a project or have only the perspective
of working in one department or team.
This is your opportunity to help people
zoom out and see the situation with
Alternatively, you can ask people
to imagine other scenarios where
the service could be used in different
ways from those they are currently
working toward. Maybe they see only
one logical solution right now; by ask-
ing them to look for other functions
the service could have, you can help
them unlock more ways that the prob-
lem could and should be solved. This
allows you to solve problems more
creatively and see more perspectives
on the situation.
As humans, we follow narratives far
more closely and with far greater understanding than we do data or facts.
Instead of just insisting that people
change their opinions, you can guide
them there by helping them reframe
the situation or see it more broadly.
4. Accept their experience,
suggest new interpretations.
Most likely, the positions of emotionally attached people are based on
experience and significant effort. It is
important to recognize and validate
that experience. Being empathetic
helps you understand where they are
coming from and what the reasons behind their emotions are.
Once you have an understanding of
their particular experience, it is much
easier to suggest alternative interpretations or viewpoints based on that
For example, if the system has
been hardened against hundreds of
edge cases, start by acknowledging
that and helping them think through
the “why.” This can lead to different
discussions and stop you from talking in circles.
Ask questions such as: What drove
so many edge cases? How were they
discovered? Are any edge cases no longer relevant/needed? What risks exist
if an edge case is missed in a future implementation? If you had to build the
service again, what would you change
to eliminate many of these edges? This
line of questioning can help them assess risks and open their minds to potential alternatives.
5. Enlist help.
If you are having difficulty influencing people, consider enlisting the help
of someone they trust; this can be their
manager or maybe other teammates.
Sometimes having others on your side
can help you influence and change
someone’s decision. Those people
may also be able to explain another
person’s position to you differently
and in a way that is less emotionally
Either way, getting a second (or
third) opinion on the situation can