Journal

Listening to people talk about their experiences, challenges, projects, and thoughts is fascinating - I could listen all day long. Irregular Café has been a great way to add some slightly chaotic energy into cultivating these interactions - the variety of individuals, backgrounds, stories, and information has been a morning dose of curiosity and excitement that has led me to completely restructure my pre-work routine to accommodate getting on the calls. Being a listener often works out great, but sometimes a topic concludes and there’s a huge gap in the conversation. Helping to better drive conversation and engage with others within these gaps is definitely a skill that I would like to practice with these calls.

Separately, I feel like I’m potentially coming across as more negative/cynical than I truly am in small statements that don’t come together as intended. Admittedly, there is a lot to be concerned and frustrated with over how the world has seemingly unraveled over the past few months, and I am certain this has situationally soured my disposition to some extent, but the truest “me” that I strive to be is cheerful, engaged, open-minded, and hopefully a bit fun! Trying to slow down and take a little more time with my responses, I can catch myself before adding extra unnecessary details to what I say, especially in the context of stressful environments. Part of it is most likely awkwardness from getting refamiliarized with general socializing, and will hopefully subside with time in addition to being mindful.

Working on this blog, while admittedly not a “conversation,” has been great practice in trying to structure a narrative. Reviewing the content, restructuring the flow, intentionally adding and removing details, and trying to think through the experience of reading the content has, as least from my perspective, influenced my writing style over the past month. I’ve become so much more comfortable writing that I would, and hopefully more of who I am is coming through now than in earlier posts.

Seeking out resources to better conduct myself during conversations, I encountered a TED talk called 10 ways to have a better conversation, by Celeste Headlee. My personal notes from the video are below:

  1. Don’t (mentally) multitask
    • Be engaged and present in the conversation
  2. Don’t pontificate
    • Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn
  3. Use open-ended questions
    • Ask who, what, when, where, why, and how
    • Let them describe their experiences in their own words
  4. Go with the flow
    • Let ideas and questions freely come into and out of your mind during conversation
    • If the time passes to ask a question, just let it go - don’t derail conversation for an unrelated idea
  5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know
    • Err on the side of caution
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs
    • All experiences are individual, and it’s not about you
  7. Try not to repeat yourself
    • It’s boring and insulting to the listener
  8. Stay out of the weeds
    • People don’t care about insignificant details that don’t contribute to the story
  9. Listen
    • This is the most important skill!
    • “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply”
    • Keep your mind open
  10. Be brief
    • We want the other conversationalists to feel engaged, not trapped

Strive to always be interested in other people: Keep your mouth closed, your mind open, and be prepared to be amazed

This was great, and the closing statement really resonated with me. With regards to my earlier points in this post, items #3 and #4 will be focus points with future Irregular Café calls to try and roll with the gaps more gracefully, as well as #1 to do a better job of not juggling thoughts and trying to plan for responses.

I am a long-time Trello user, and the Trello newsletter is probably some of the best content I’ve ever received in email form. Especially since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, they have been doing a tremendous job pushing out high-quality content on remote work, team management, organization, and visibility. Today, there was an article about professional visibility for remote teams. Since we got our first remote employee on the Engineering team at work, I implemented tools for asynchronous communication (team Trello boards and Slack) and have been advocating for increased engagement and transparency as a means to increase communication across the whole team, instead of being split into silos. While trying to push for team engagement is a different subject, observing how perceptions internally versus externally differed and changed first-hand made me realize that this visibility is critical.

From the article, and summarized, here are the Three Pillars of Intentional Workplace Visibility:

  1. Social Visibility
    • Encouraging genuine social connections among coworkers
  2. Strategic Visibility:
    • Creating a culture of encouraging collaborative problem solving at all levels
  3. Supportive Visibility
    • “Catching people when they’re good” by celebrating and rewarding wins and contributions

Communication sets the tone for company culture, and that’s from all levels within an organization. Many of the tips in the Trello letter are typically directed more towards management, but the points above are helpful to keep in mind no matter what level you are within your company. When it comes to conducting yourself online and connecting with peers and coworkers, aim to be a positive force in the daily lives of the people around you and help lift up the culture of your organization.

To cap things off, I had been meaning to read about Problem Solving from Michiel Sioen’s blog. Here are the fine points:

  1. Define the problem
    • Establish what you’re trying to solve
    • Confirm/removing all assumptions
    • Understand the full context
    • Be critical of the full picture
  2. Voice it out
    • Externalize your process
    • Get input from peers
  3. Take a break
    • Let your brain switch into diffused mode
  4. Simplify
    • Break complex problems into smaller parts
    • Remove everything non-essential and focus on the core problem
  5. Share
    • Document solutions and details along the way
    • Share with peers to spread information

This is such a great process, and hits on many different good general practices. Many of these things, I am already trying to be mindful of, but it is easy to get wrapped up in trying to wrestle a problem and lose the perspective. The reminder to take a step back, define, simplify, and come back to the problem refreshed can sometimes feel counterintuitive, but is a great approach to just about any issue.

While I didn’t end up working on anything technically measurable today, it was really enjoyable getting to reflect on experiences and work on myself as a person.

Additionally, a representative from Disqus reached out to me, saying that they switched me over to a non-commercial plan! As such, I’ve turned on comments for this post and hidden the ad notice tag, and we’ll just see where things go. If you like having comments with these posts, or if you feel they’re too invasive, or if you’re disappointed that there aren’t better reaction emojis, anything - please feel free to let me know in the comments section! Anonymous comments are allowed for now, so please play nice. 👍

Tasklist

  • => Review and begin updates of AGWSU architecture documents