Can't We Just Be Nice?

[article]
Summary:
Lisa Crispin explains how being nice goes a lot further than just displaying good manners; it can be the difference between a happy, productive team, and one that's completely dysfunctional and prone to failure. Learn how she's discovered this on past projects and how you can avoid the same pitfall.

It's really important to me to be a nice person. I like to be nice to people. I help out, I smile, I answer questions without making people feel stupid, and I bring treats to work. I thank teammates when they're nice to me.

I've been lucky to be on software development teams where people do nice things for each other. Today, I was struggling to get a Watir test script running. Three times in about 20 minutes, I asked a coworker to come look at something I couldn't figure out. Each time, as soon as he was standing there, I realized what my problem was. He was nice about it. He didn't make me feel stupid or as if I had wasted his time.

As I've had more opportunities to get out into the world and meet people on other teams and in other companies, I've learned that on some teams, people aren't so nice. Good people may feel pushed to the sidelines or disrespected or deliberately hurt by their teammates. They're afraid to make (or admit) a mistake, because it's seen as a failure rather than a learning experience. They can't raise any issues, because it is perceived as criticism, or they're labeled as complainers. Of course, that means they never innovate or experiment, and the team can't improve.

Testers are often the target of disrespect. Some mean-spirited developers think testers are failed programmers, rather than valuable software development team members. Conversely, testers are often mean to programmers, gloating or finger-wagging when they find bugs.

We know in our hearts and heads that if your project doesn't have good people who are allowed to do their best work, it's going to fail. The various agile development approaches understand this, but they don't all prescribe exactly the same solution. Respect for people is a pillar of Lean development (see www.poppendieck.com for more). The principles behind the Agile Manifesto mention trust, working together, support, and motivated individuals. The XP values outlined in Kent Beck's Extreme Programming Explained are simplicity, courage, feedback and communication. Extremeprogramming.org adds respect to this list. Industrialxp.org includes learning and enjoyment in its list of XP values. The Scrum community's values include commitment, openness, and focus in addition to courage and respect.

Wouldn't we naturally embrace most of these values if we just focused on being nice to each other? Being nice certainly includes trusting teammates and treating them with respect. And, if you know others respect and trust you in an atmosphere of openness, courage comes more easily. All of this helps us work together and communicate better. I know from personal experience that it's more motivating to work with nice people than with people who might hurt my feelings or tell me I've failed. If I'm not afraid to make mistakes, I'm free to experiment, starting with the simplest approach, and keep learning every day. I can fearlessly ask for help when I need it.

I was thinking about this subject yesterday when I read "A Community of Thinkers" by Liz Keogh, Eric Willeke, and Jean Tabaka. Being nice extends beyond our homes and our jobs and into our professional communities. I wouldn't be where I am today without a bunch of nice people in the agile and testing communities. I try to pay that forward every day. I've been hurt by well-known practitioners who have told me things like "You don't know anything about testing." What benefit do statements like that have? We can have a civilized discussion-even a heated one-without being rude and disrespectful.

Some of you reading this may be thinking thoughts

User Comments

24 comments
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I am one of those practitioners who told you that I don't think you know about testing.<br><br>I said that because that is my duty. It's not fun, sometimes, begin honest with people, instead of lying to them. Most people choose to be "nice" and to hold back their opinions. But, as I've said many times: this craft is not a tea party. <br><br>Instead of complaining about how hurt you are, why don't you address the concerns that I have tried to discuss with you several times? I suspect that you don't do that because you don't believe I'm serious. Well, that's not very nice, is it?

December 13, 2009 - 12:20am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I welcome specific advice or critique: "You don't know anything about the XYZ aspect of testing." I'm always learning new things, and am happy to know a direction to go in. When someone tells me I don't know anything about testing, well, I beg to differ, and we can't really go forward with that conversation. I think it is much nicer in this particular case to agree to disagree.

December 13, 2009 - 5:48am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Lovely and enlightened article, Lisa. Your words capture a profound truth - collaboration and teamwork lead to success when we can trust and support one another.<br><br>People who disagree - those anti-socials who habitually show disrespect - will not ultimately contribute to their full potential. <br><br>One of our greatest challenges as we strive to move our industry to a true science is how we emphasize accenuate the positive and minimize/ignore the negative. The future is ours to mold. We need to take care of it and one another.

December 13, 2009 - 8:33am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I just read Lisa's sensible post about improving the civility of teams. Being nice has huge benefits: improving software quality and the quality of life of people working together. The piece was based on Lisa's experience at multiple companies, the goals of manifestos, and let's face it, common sense.<br><br>What did you read, James? Was Lisa "complaining about how hurt" she was by any individual, let alone you? <br><br>Instead of tearing Lisa down in public by rehashing some arguably libelous attack that has nothing to do with Lisa's post, maybe you could tell us what you've observed in various companies. Wouldn't that be a good way to bear your heroic "duty"?<br><br>If you can't do that, listen to some Carly Simon first. She has a catchy hit from the 70s called "You're So Vain."<br><br>Then apologize to Lisa. In private.

December 14, 2009 - 5:39am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Thanks for this post Lisa. In my previous job, I worked with a team which was not very nice to me starting from the manager deep down. It was hurtful at times that the attacks were very personal rather than professional. In fact, at times, it felt very humiliating. <br><br>I took a chance with a few people (so called grumps), called them to a meeting room (individually) and asked for feedback and advice as to where they thought I was lacking. They not only provided feedback, but they were glad that I asked them for feedback. The same people who thought I was stupid started respecting me and guiding me in my work more than ever. I had a point to prove to them that I was good at what they thought I was bad at and took their help as well to prove my point. I became friends with these people though there were a lot of things that we did not agree upon at most times.<br><br>I worked with an architect in my last job who was really headstrong about the way he worked and treated testers like they were insects. By working with him very closely, I figured out that the reason for his outburst was that he was not happy with the testers doing their jobs. I thought 'if he had better ideas to make testing better, why not work with him?'. We had a common goal and we were in the same team. It helped to share and learn from him. Some people are temperamental by nature. It takes time for them to understand others. Is it not nice? It depends on each person how he/she wants to take it. <br><br>I would say 'Just because someone is not nice to you does not mean we should ignore the good things about that person'. Take the good ones, leave the bad ones. As long as it does not hurt your self respect or dignity, its fine to learn to handle people who are not nice.<br><br>Regards,<br>Parimala Shankaraiah

December 14, 2009 - 10:29am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

This is the good article...must follow

December 14, 2009 - 3:29pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Parimala, I love your attitude and your proactive approach! Thank you for sharing your stories. We can all learn from your examples! You're right, we're all complex individual with good points and bad, it's worth being patient and finding a way to work better together.

December 14, 2009 - 6:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Left a job because people weren't nice. I saw a lot of walls going up and even people who gave me hope we could turn things around and get back to the environment I originally joined, gave up. I went back a year later to visit friends and a bright, energetic individual who made my last year there bearable looked tired, broken and cynical.<br><br>Every company I've worked for since has a 'just be nice' environment. I think I'm a better person for it.<br>

December 16, 2009 - 7:30pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

This is a "nice" article Lisa. I always walk around with a smile, it is cheap and effective and also contagious. It has helped me a lot in my life and career.<br><br>I have worked in a few places where people aren't so nice, you can try taking Parimala approach, however, if it doesn't work, then know when to walk away. As working in a negative can be damaging to your mental health.

December 17, 2009 - 5:19am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous

Thanks for this post Lisa. Dealing with difficult people is certainly something that many of us deal with. I've tried to view each of these situations as a learning experience. In one particularly negative situation, what I extracted was how not to treat other people. It's still learning and I feel it refreshes my approach to others. I am a lead of a test team and actually had one manager tell me, "Your problem is that you are too nice to your team." I responded, "It's a two way street and I never want to forget that. I respect and appreciate what they do and the value they add. If they are successful, I am successful, and you are successful. In addition, if I ask them to come in at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, they'll do it because they know I genuinely appreciate it - and I'll be here supporting them." I never ask my team to do anything I'm not willing to do. We're all learning and growing from this - or we should be. This manager was dumbfounded - as if it had never occurred to them that this was simply a good way of working with people. <br><br>I'm not a psychologist, but it seems having a nicer approach to people, be they team members, peers, or those I report to, simply makes it a more professional atmosphere. This doesn't mean people don't make mistakes and it certainly doesn't mean we're always going to agree. However, there are better ways to discuss this and I think your post reinforces that. General or categorical statements don't really help. The first reply to this post is a great example. The sheer hubris of someone saying it is their duty without realizing that they're not helping you or themselves is, unfortunately, not surprising. It's about as helpful as telling someoen they are an idiot. Subsequent dialogue after that diminishes in value or ceases altogether. <br><br>So, respect people, appreciate their efforts (we all want the same basic thing), and be nice to them. You're paid back by a more positive interaction and experience. What's not to like about that?

December 17, 2009 - 10:42pm

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About the author

Lisa Crispin's picture Lisa Crispin

Lisa Crispin is the co-author, with Janet Gregory, of Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams (Addison-Wesley, 2009), co-author with Tip House of Extreme Testing (Addison-Wesley, 2002) and a contributor to Beautiful Testing (O’Reilly, 2009) and Experiences of Test Automation by Dorothy Graham and Mark Fewster (Addison-Wesley, 2011). She has worked as a tester on agile teamssince 2000, and enjoys sharing her experiences via writing, presenting, teaching and participating in agile testing communities around the world. Lisa was named one of the 13 Women of Influence in testing by Software Test & Performance magazine in 2009. For more about Lisa’s work, visit www.lisacrispin.com.

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