Stop look and listen before you talk

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A paper detailing the importance of listening and understanding what is happening around you when communication just doesn\'t seem to work.


  • 1. Stop, Look and Listen before you talk Nuno Brito Universidade de Coimbra / Carnegie Mellon University nbrito@andrew.cmu.eduAbstractunder the constraints caused by an intense workloadderived from other classes at each semester.In software development, people focus on reaching a Recognizing and evaluating the consequences of thesesolution to a given problem. In software engineering, hardships matches the intention of the CMU programbefore focusing on a solution, people focus on knowingthat encourages teams to solve hardships afterthe real problems and consider them prior to decide onfollowing a careful reflection of the available resourcesa solution approach.and goals to be reached.In this paper we approach the communication side of Since the inception of a project until its delivery to thesoftware engineering. A characteristic that is difficultclient, we, as a studio project team use the presentto control, evaluate or quantify. Yet, communication is paper to reflect and present a lesson we consider asa fundamental factor in the outcome of a project that isrelevant to raise awareness.often overlooked and becomes a secondary priority.We consider a good communication practice to existIntroductionwhen it becomes a productive tool for the team. This is For the author, one of the most important lessons to beonly possible when we are capable of looking upon our kept for future reference is the care for upholding anown behavior and understand how it affects theefficient process of communication throughout thebehavior of others in the team. project development.Therefore, the goal of this paper is to reflect how ahealthy communication should be encouraged sinceThis aspect of human interaction is nowhere simple today one, starting with yourself to set the example forplace under a microscope for analysis. Albeit aware ofothers. this fact, I will nevertheless try to document on thispaper some of the lessons that we, as a team, haveAcronymslearned through our own journey during the StudioMSE Master of Software Engineeringproject. Some of these lessons have helped us to avoidCMU Carnegie Mellon Universitycommunication issues with potential of escalating ontoUC University of Coimbraa level of personal conflict between our team, and it ismy best hope that this paper can help other teams in thefuture to recognize the importance of communicationearlier in advance.PrefaceIn this paper we use as example the aftermath analysisDespite our attempts of different strategies and adoptedof a Master of Software Engineering Studio Project in processes across each of the semesters in the MSEthe 2009/2010 CMU|Portugal program. The Studioprogram, we observed recurring communication issuesproject is a software development project developed within team elements as time passed. As a result fromwithin an academic environment that lasts 16 months.these observations, I will discuss some of the types ofStudio projects pass through all lifecycle phases of acommunication issues that were noted to occur withtypical software development. The goal of this projectmore frequency within our team, while also proposingis to let students experience in first hand the hardships some hints for future MSE students to keep in mindof a professional environment that can be inspected across their own path on this road.within an academic context. The project is developed

2. We use a Studio project as example of a real situationgathering an informed idea of the possible road(blocks)where communication issues causes impact on teamahead, raising awareness to communication issues as aproductivity since the work and pressure demonstrated factor in team dynamics that should not be neglected.during the project development are real manifestationsof human nature that occur when a person is faced withsituations of conflicting interests and strict deadlines to 1. How people aremeet.While looking back to our team elements personalityAcross this project, one of the most interesting detailsand reflecting in the manner how it has impacted ofwas the fact that regardless of the adopted techniquesdevelopment process then it becomes a valuableto solve some of the problems that were occurring, we exercise to evaluate the conditions that have lead usadmittedly fell into the trap of pursuing a solution foronto disruptive situations of communication issues inthe symptoms of the illness, instead of treating thethe first place. Therefore, we can safely assume toillness itself. some extent that our team conflicts were directlyconditioned by our particular personality styles whileFor example, if our proposed work items started to getinteracting as a team.behind schedule, wed likely worry more aboutworking additional hours to balance the delay thanA persistent and durable factor in a team is personality,actually understanding the reason with the delays werea human characteristic that is built across each personsoccurring in the first place. This is an example, as therelife. The Oregon State University [6] defines it as:was indeed a process to evaluate what went wrong with personal beliefs, expectations, desires, values, andestimation of work after looking at the results frombehaviors that derive from the interaction betweeneffective work. culture and the individual. Personality is the behaviorsand techniques for solving problems that are used byHowever, when we look at possible causes, the lack of an individual. Personality is to the individual asefficient communication is rarely seen as the culprit.culture is to the group. From this sentence alone weYet, as evidences piled up, we came to agree that wecan deduct how different personalities will lead fromalso needed to address this problem before it causedthe start of their interaction to different decisionsfurther damage to our project and to ourselves. during team dynamics across the development of aproject.We will focus on the following themes:We can even risk stating that personality is also built1. How people are using professional and personal experience gathereda. Behavior stylesfrom the past. So, whenever working with a team it isb. Influence of sizeimportant to take into account the inherent personality2. What can go wrongstyle of each team member in order to forecast witha. Miscommunication some level of accuracy the chances that a team will beb. Conflictive communicationcapable of working together and reach the intended3. How can we avoid it? goals as planned.a. Communication cuesb. Cooperative communicationAcross our project, we found particularly interesting tolook upon our behavior style as a factor that influencedThere is no one-size-fits-all type of shoe to cover all the communication flow between ourselves.the possible issues to which a team might be exposedduring interaction between team elements. In extreme cases, some members depicted a seeminglymore aggressive behavior during meetings while otherOften, we can to some extent discuss some of the keys would depict a more passive approach. One of our firstdetails that are relevant to be alert in order to prevent errors noted across the first semester was overlookingissues of relatively small dimension from escalatingsome of the indicators at our reach that predicted withonto harsh personal conflict between team members.some accuracy how behavior styles could clash duringthe intense phases of software development.The intended audience of this paper are future MSEstudents and also development teams interested in 3. 1. 1. Behavior styles Team memberPredominant Secondary ASocializerDirectorSince the beginning of the Studio project, we have B DirectorSocializercategorized the type of individual personality using a CRelater Thinkermethod entitled as the platinum rule [1]. The goal ofDSocializerThinkerthis rule is to help others understand in a conciseESocializerDirectormanner the type of personality to which a given person F Thinker Relateris more inclined. Albeit at the beginning its potentialTable 1 Behavior types of team memberswas not entirely clear, as time moved on weve beganGiven this categorization, we now proceed to a listingunderstanding how these categories would fit with of each team member preferred communication stylerelative accuracy onto the behavior profile of theaccording the types defined by Christopher L. Heffnerpeople in our team. that categorizes communication styles as aggressive,passive and a mix of both as passive-aggressive.Platinum ruleThe results for each element on the team using theThis rule helped our team understand the weight thatsame A, B, C, D, E, F designation can be viewed onpersonality affects the communication paths between table It is helpful when used to categorize each teammember by placing that person inside the context of a Team member Communication stylequadrant and gather a more clear notion of the aspects AAggressiveof human behavior that they will typically value the BAggressivemost.CPassive D Passive-aggressiveThere exist four distinct behavior types in this rule: E Passive-aggressive FPassiveRelaterTable 2 Communication styles of team membersThinkerSocializer Using this data and also the experience gathered acrossDirector all the semesters of the Studio project, I would statethat from a perspective of communication, our teamWe cover with more details each type of behavior at tended to balance on a level of passive-aggressivenessappendix A of the present of interaction.One should also note that different contexts will often This tendency on the style of communication leads tolead to different types of behavior on the same person. avoidance of solving critical matters in a direct fashion,In fact, the same person might even share evidences ofand this tendency caused indeed our team to languisha secondary behavior type at the same context while heacross a series of smaller conflicts, clear symptoms ofalso demonstrates a predominant type across most of the unresolved issues that we didnt wanted to address.his interactions with other team elements throughoutthe development of the team project.Using the platinum rule to position people inside aFor the purpose of this paper we assume exclusively given communication style could have served as a flagthe professional work context for the development ofto avoid possible conflicts of this kind, however, weour studio project to analyze the behavioral style. were still inexperienced on personality categorizationduring the first semesters and trusted our own instinctsand past experience to work and interact as a team.Studio project individual resultsLooking back to the point when we started to work onOur studio project team counted with 6 elements thatthis project and to know each other in the team, I notewe designate as: A, B, C, D, E and F. that an informed team manager could have used thistype of information to raise awareness of the role thatCategorizing their behavioral styles as predominant and each team member would potentially feel inclined insecondary, we see them distributed as noted on table 1. assuming during team interactions, while also serving 4. to pinpoint possible personality clashes between teamto adverse conditions, confronted with the challenge ofelements.solving these situations under an academic context.However, human nature tends to raise communication There is a clear co-relation between the size of the teamconflicts without notice and therefore does not exists a and the quality of how communication will flowfail proof way of preventing clashes from occurring. between elements. This quality is directly driven by theIn either case, having this type of information availablebehavior styles and over the next sections Ill describeat hand remained as an accurate indicator to predict our experience on this regard while also reflecting onhow communication could occur since it also applied to what could have been done to prevent some issues fromour team as we observed across the months to come. occurring.This type of tool becomes particularly more valuablewhen the available sources of information are scarceand the team is assembled together without prior 1. 2. Influence of sizecontact in past projects. If we understand communication as the process ofI have also found it useful for a post mortem reflection sharing information between several elements on thesuch as the case of this paper, where we can look back same network, then we can apply Metcalfes Law [4].and analyze how some of the predicted actions have Metcalfe observed in 1980 that "the value of atriggered positive or negative aspects of interactions communication system grows at approximately theprescribed by the platinum rule. square of the number of users of the system".Given the context of the MSE environment, teams areWhen mapping this concept to the context of a team ofassembled from the pool of available students on eachsoftware developers, we observe that communicationcourse year. In most cases there exists no prior relationwill indeed flow with better quality on smaller teamsbetween team elements, except perhaps for the fact thatrather than large teams.elements deriving from the same company are oftenpositioned inside the same team in case the studio Throughout some of the literature related to softwareproject is also intended for use at their company. practices from authors of 37signals [5] and Brooks [9], it seems common to find reports that wheneverUnder these conditions, teams were gathered in regardincreasing the number of people inside a team to sizesof the company to which students belong, so we can bigger than three, we also begin observing a loweringstate to some extent that avoiding possible personalitycurve in terms of efficiency at the communication pathsconflicts is not a factor taken into consideration on this between them.process of team assembling. Albeit common sense might depict that doubling theA possible cause for this fact is also driven by the number of people doubles communication inefficiency,reason that scarce information exists about students and doubling the number of people raises the inefficiencytheir personality traits prior to the enrollment on theof communication at an exponential rate.MSE program,. Team elements are expected to alsomaintain a civilized behavior when working in theThe common solution at sight is the adoption of formalcontext of a software development project. methods for communication. One such measure is the scheduling of multiple meetings across the week alongAlbeit in most situations the team dynamics will flowwith formal reports. This is a way for managers to keepwith occasional conflicts that are solved with success,track on the team progress and also share informationwe can also note that per times the personality style of across all team members.elements inside the team will fuel a dysfunctional teamonto a series of dramatic conflicts as documented on On this case, Ive found interesting to read how somethe MSE Chronos team [8] during...