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.

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  • 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 2.us. 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 paper.style 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 the 2008/2009 years. of the problems exposed by 37signals [5] are avoided at smaller teams, to an extreme point when these smallTherefore, the process of assembling a given team in teams become capable of being just as productive asthe context of the Studio project is meant not only to large teams. It is interesting to look at communicationdeliver an end product to the client but also to becomecharacteristics that deteriorate as size increases:a learning experience where a team becomes exposed 5. Less communication between team members A paradigm observed across the MSE program is thatOverhead becomes a necessary evil to shareour project mentors and professors often ask: why?. information; formal meetings and reports will require more time to be produced and digested This is a valid question and always assumes a criticalHigh traffic of email between multiple partsrelevance when it is placed on the context of a public causes the team to lose track of discussionspresentation of the project where we need to justify theNot all members will be aware of the teams decisions that were made. direction and current progress on the project It can be also be found applied to cases where a personConsensus becomes difficult if not impossible presents a course of action and is faced with the need to reach during group meetingsof thinking ahead on the consequences of this choice.Not all opinions are considered, lowering the motivation of team membersSo, whenever a person is faced with such question, an internal process of reasoning is built on measurableBefore composing a software development team, thesefacts and proper reflection, or otherwise the person inconditions should be given focus. It becomes necessary question will risk that his line of thought fails toto take into consideration that efficient results are only convince the audience that is hearing his explanation.achieved when a team manager becomes aware that thecommunication process need to be adjusted to the teamAll of this serves the purpose of explaining that we, assize and work culture. elements inside a team should interiorize this particular question across all development phases of our work,In the case of our studio team project, Id risk stating and be prepared to answer it when necessary.that our team sized in six elements was slightly abovethe ideal dimensions for the project at hand.However, after passing 18 months inside a team in the context of a Studio project, I noticed that why? wasAcross development, at one point was noted that each seldom a time asked aloud during our team meetings.team member should devote 12 hours per week to thestudio project and that not all members would fill thisIn contrast, the more frequent question that we foundtime slot appropriately. ourselves asking was what went wrong?. In turn, this question would trigger our team to quickly point blameUsing the same line of reasoning, one might note thatonto other team members when a result wouldnt matchfilling a given number of hours just for the sake of out as originally expected, instead of leading to aappearing busy is also not an indicator of productivity. productive course of action.But if we have elements with extra time that is not usedfor the studio project then it clearly indicates that ourSo, I observe that from the point in time when our teamresources were used inefficiently and that a smaller no longer felt comfortable asking the question why?team could indeed achieve similar results, lowering theto other members without fear of repercussions, it hascosts on the pocket of our project stakeholders if wealso exposed a very clear symptom that communicationwere placed under a strictly professional context. problems existed in our team and that something ought have been made to address them.Nevertheless, I am also inclined to believe that not allhours were used efficiently due to other factors as well.As reflection on the outcomes from this behavior, it isOne of the most relevant factors causing this conditionfair to say that our team became exposed to unforeseenwas the difficulty in sharing information between team consequences if the why question was not answeredelements.or justified properly with a realistic perspective.Our communication process was not efficient and thus,Ignoring to perform the why process inside our ownthe team productivity became efficient. To understandteam led to decisions being made across our projectthe causes of this problem, it is also becomes necessary that went wrong without being properly dealt andto look on the communication cues between the team discussed when they were first proposed.elements and observe the different types that exist. This type of episode assumed particular relevance on the discussion of approaches for the user interface on our project. A solution involving a technology that no2. What can go wrong 6. team element had previous experience was assumed as often compete for the attention of the studio projectthe only approach and no alternatives were defined, nor tasks and caused studio project messages to be left ona realistic way of measuring results was establishedthe inbox of the recipients amongst all other messagesinternally. from other classes, where they would also compete forattention. Noting that our inbox would receive a largeThis eventually forced us to drop interface support onnumber of messages, we noticed how often studiothe fourth semester when several obstacles on its messages could pass unnoticed or not replied by otherimplementation have depleted all the resourcesteam elements when feedback was necessary.available to this component.Looking in retrospective, I would line up the factorsIn our case, not asking the why question has broughtthat that turned the use of email as a communicationus several episodes of miscommunication and episodesmethod into an inefficient tool:of conflictive communication between team memberswhen we become faced with these problems. These Large number of messages from the Studiowere some of details about our project that went wrongteam were exchanged on daily basis, keepingand that we will discuss over the next chapter. ongoing topics hard to distinguish and track Difficulty in backtracking the discussed topics2. 1. Miscommunicationon previous emails Difficulty in remembering emails for plans setMiscommunication inside a team occurs whenever theon a timeline farther than the current weekcommunication paths are not efficient. This event is Other classes generated a significant numberinfluenced by factors such as the behavioral styles ofof daily messages; on average, around 50 neweach person and also by the context and team size asmessages would arrive per day on the inbox atseen on previous sections.some point during the program. As an attempt to give priority to studio, teamOver this chapter we focus on the cases noted on ourmessages were marked as [urgent] on theteam when two or more team elements engaged into asubject line, however, this technique becamediscussion or when some of involved parties would used so often that it also began being ignoredbelieve to be discussing a topic on the same context Emails messages were occasionally not sent towhile each of them held a different idea of what wasall team elements either by human mistake orbeing discussed.ISP spam email filtering. Not all team members acknowledged whenDespite our efforts to prevent miscommunication fromthey had read a given message; causing there-occurring, in reality, this issue would remain visible message to be left without feedback regardingacross all development phases. Upon closer inspection,the approval or denial of a given topic.it was noted more often across: Email messages toke a toll on time required toreach a decision, if a deadline for reply wasEmail messages set, then it would often be forgottenLive meetings Some team members did not felt comfortableRemote meetingsexchanging messages in English language aspreviously agreed; in fact, some werent evencomfortable in email use, preferring to discussEmail messagesmatters strictly in live presence.During the first semester, email messages were withoutAll of these factors demonstrated how our team haddoubt the most relevant way for passing information inserious communication issues. This fact became feltasynchronous manner across team members. However, with relevance on the case of email messages whenwe can also state with due fairness that this means ofthere was the upmost need of relying on this method tocommunication quickly become an ineffective tool. solve a work item and it did not provided a solution.The main reason is the fact that all team members wereAs a consequence, despite the fact that we already hadoften engaged into time consuming tasks such as the a tight schedule to meet our multiple work tasks, weother classes on the program. These classes would still required several live meetings across the week to 7. ensure that some work items, which could otherwise Remote meetingshave been discussed using email, were properly dealtwith.To perform our remote meetings, we would often use Skype (a remote conference software application). ThisThis only confirms what was demonstrated empirically type of use started during the second semester whileon the Rapid Software Development through Teamstudying in Pittsburgh, USA.Collocation paper research [3], stating that offlinecommunication is susceptible of causing breakdowns At the time, Skype appeared as a valuable tool due tothat eventually result in schedule delay and added costs the weather conditions that brought intense snow andto the overall development effort. forced team members to stay at their home, instead of holding our meetings as usual inside a closed room.Live meetings During the first remote meetings, the general feelingOne would naturally expect that holding a meeting in when compared to live presence meetings is that ourlive person could provide us the decisions that were focus to stay on topic in a succinct manner had beennecessary, since some of our team elements preferred greatly improved.to discuss them in live presence rather by email.Unlike initial concerns regarding a remote meeting, ourHowever, a live presence would gave wave to engage team was getting better results when compared to liveinto a type of discussion that would also fail in bringing presence meetings because:an effective set of results for involved parties. Meeting agenda was followed within theMostly across the first semester and to lesser extent onallocated time slotsthe second semester, we would often note thatParticipation was noticeably more balancedwhenever holding a meeting with the duration of one orbetween all members instead of polarizedtwo hours, it would instead require several hours that Writing text on the chat window allowed towould move well into later hours in the night without decide on action items, avoiding ambiguitieshope of reaching a reasonable team consensus.A general sense of consensus on the decisionsthat were made became frequent.There were cases where even after resorting to a teamvoting regarding a given matter and the majority of theThe fact is that using Skype for remote meetings wouldteam had voted in one direction, wed note that this not be better than live presence if our live meetings hadvoting would not be respected and discussion would been performed in a truly effective manner in the firstcontinue until one of the sides gave in. place, but in overall it was better that we could indeed be productive even if meeting remotely than not, andFailing to achieve a cooperative mentality from allthis was seen as a benefic approach.involved parts in the meeting or even agreeing to use amediator to enforce the rules for participation, we setThis situation brought further emphasis to the fact thatout the ground conditions to frustrate our efforts ofexisted miscommunication between ourselves. Albeitworking together towards a collective goal and reach a all team elements had experience working as part of awin-win situation rather than a frequent win-lose stateteam, it was also expected that certain types ofas also mentioned by Tjosvold [11].unproductive behaviors should not be found but yet existed even if unsolved. When reflecting upon thisI will not claim that all of our meetings reached an clear contrast of productivity between remote meetingsextreme point of polarized discussions as mentionedand meetings held in live presence, most of the teamabove, however, given the frequency of unproductiveagreed that we were:meetings to reoccur across the first and the secondsemester, we have (accidentally) discovered remote Often losing focus on the action items thatmeetings as a way of circumventing the live presence should be discussed and diverting attention todeadlocks that we had encountered in the past. items not covered in the agenda Ignoring allocated time for each action item, causing the meeting to last far longer than initially prepared 8. Adopting a competitive style of participationSo, these issues led to several conflict occasions during between two or three elements where it our third semester that would have not occurred if we seemed that the objective was winning a fighthad worked on a live presence environment. and prove dominance over the group decisionDespite our best efforts to overcome these issues, theseare without doubt some relevant side effects fromSo, albeit during the second semester it is possible to remote communications that should be recognized andstate that Skype meetings helped all team members toprevented whenever possible.be aware of the problems present while meeting in livepresence, I should also note that we experienced theHad we better discipline on our live presence meetingsnegative factors from using remote conference as ourand perhaps some of this discipline would also appearregular meeting method during the third semester that reflected on the remote talks. At this point I should alsowe will now detail. note that the success of an adopted communication tooldirectly depends on how participants use it.During the third semester of our Studio project, we haddecided to work non-collocated with all team membersAs ultimate result when things go wrong, either due toscattered across a significant geographical distance. miscommunications or ineffective meetings, we canGiven our experience from the second semester, onealso note how the interaction between team elementscould reckon that our expectations for the remote might evolve to a more conflictive type of behavior thatmeetings would remain efficient as seen on previous I will address on the next chapter.semesters.2. 2. Conflictive communicationWhile one can note that this fact was true during theinitial development weeks, we also gradually began to This type of aggressive communication consists on thenote how several negative behaviors and aspects began repeated interruption of another speaker in the groupto occur more frequently: until the continuously interrupted speaker ceases anyattempts of completing his message, or even furtherTeam members would sometimes forget aboutparticipating in the group. Martin Sani describes the scheduled time to be online and wouldnt conflictive communication in good detail at his article be available to participate in group meetingsentitled: La communication conflituelle [2].The Internet connection and location from where the team members would participate onEvents of this type are direct and offensive, displaying the meeting was often not consistent, causinga clear lack of respect for the opinion of the interrupted difficulty to listen or even talk due to the speaker. The conflictive person(s) adopts a posture of background noise aggressive superiority towards the interrupted person.Since we can only hear the voice of the otherThe other person is regarded as an adversary that needs team members and not see them, it wouldto be silenced regardless of displaying validity of the often be noted that some elements were not facts in his line of reasoning. focused on the meetingPer times, team members abandoned a team The aggression on this case can incrementally scale meeting without notice to pursue other tasks;from a level of offensive verbal intervention, to a for example, there were occasions when a louder tone of voice, going up to an extreme situation given team element would either go to theof threatening the physical integrity of the speaker in bathroom or started to cook something whilecase he does not comply with silence. the meeting was running, causing discomfort between other participants Despite seemingly aggressive, this type of situation isIgnoring email or skype messages of otherpossible to encounter in groups where one or more team members; unlike a live presence where elements inside the team will typically assume an we can meet the person in face and request aggressive or passive-aggressive communication style help, over skype it was relatively common to and attempt to rush decisions that are only favorable to ignore requests from other team members. their side, placing pressure on the other elements whenthey do not comply. 9. Across the MSE studio experience, it was possible tocompetition between the team, raising conflicts thatexperience episodes of this style of communication(not surprisingly) are later seen as bad decisions ratheracross each semester. Ive first observed this type ofthan not.conflictive communication during long meetings thatwould per times last up to four hours discussing inside Of course that on the case of my team, we truly desireda room with members growing exhausted until no otherto reach success on the project and attempted to opt byperson would contest the most active and loud voice inall the good decisions even if our way to reach themthe group.was not good at all.Albeit successful in reaching a decision, seldom timesBut I also favor the opinion that sometimes peopleit was reached with consensus or involvement of all need to clash and err, so that they could laterteam members. acknowledge their own mistakes openly and perhapslearn a valuable lesson for the future.It should also be relevant to add that this style ofdecision removed the advantage of using a group ofThe opposite of a conflictive style of communication aspeople with different opinions and perspectives todiscussed on the previous chapter is when peopleconsider multiple angles and possible flaws of a givenengage into a cooperation style of interaction.approach. Any diverging opinion is discarded duringthis style of communication where one or two personsWorking in true cooperation is easier said than done. Itare striving to win their arguments over all the others.requires trust, time and mutual respect between all teammembers. But nevertheless, this is indeed the honorableOn our case, we fell as victims to this communication goal to keep in mind since it helps to achieve resultsstyle during the architectural design discussions. When that are benefic to all the parts involved in the project,evaluating whether to use technologies such as JBoss, helping to avoid unproductive situations of win-loseSEAM and MySQL over simpler and lightweight competition inside the team.alternatives that required less overhead and technologyalready familiar with, such as POJO, Swing and INI3. 1. Communication cuesfiles.Instead, the discussion became a battlefield polarizedCommunication cues are the forms used for one orbetween two java experts in our team where side more individuals to express a given message. It isopinions from other elements were often not taken intoclosely related to their own communication style asaccount under the assumption that they lacked the mentioned on previous sections. These cues are splitrequired java experience to make informed decisions.across three major groups:With java experience or no java experience, in goodtruth I should note that reasonable good sense oughtVerbal Talk or characteristic noises such ashave driven these decisions instead of turning our hmm.. and so forthmeetings into a competition, since we all desired a Vocal The tone and expression of voice thatgood outcome but our aggressive communication skills is used while talking to othersclearly played to our disadvantage.Visual Body language expressed by the speakerAs outcome, our graphical user interface soon grew toocomplex to complete, leaving our project without aExplaining with more detail each of these groups, weuser interface after more than 450 hours invested in thecan state that verbal communications represent the usedevelopment of this component alone.of words as a mean of communicating to other people.This outcome brings us to the final chapter, where wediscuss how these type of events can be prevented fromThey are the ideal form of expressing more complexoccurring in the first place.lines of reasoning. They are also an expressive form ofacknowledging our own opinion about a given subjectresorting to expressions such as hmm.. and uh oh..3. How can we avoid it? amongst many others that we are familiar with.On the previous chapter, I provided an example of howa poor communication process combined with a more Vocal cues represent another relevant characteristic,aggressive style of behavior, can give rise to a sense of allowing emotions to be perceived through different 10. tones of voice that is used to carry over a verbal styleExternal factors: family involvement, context,of communication financial situation, religious beliefs and so on.Visual cues encompass the body expressions. CrossingOne of the foremost common mistakes is when a teamthe arms, laying back on the arm of a chair or pointing manager or team element assumes that everyone on hisfingers across a meeting represent a myriad of many team is synchronized with his own perspective. Thissmall indications that reveal emotions and state of mindassumption is prune to create a discomfort feeling thatfor those involved in the communication process.might later turn into a conflict.Most of these characteristics depend on the skills of the We cannot be certain atall times that all elements onobserver to recognize the nuances of body languagethe team are following our lineof thoughts and anthat might in turn also cause a wrong analysis to the effort should be madeto open the communicationobserver due to factors not evident on the surface. For channels in a mannerthat isclear for everyoneexample, a person with a weak handshake might beinvolved.interpreted as a sign for lack of self-confidence withoutknowing if that person is not suffering from sclerosisAs described on the previous chapter regarding howthat prevents her from applying more pressure on theconflictive communication flares, it is often notedhandshake.that a conflict will start from little details that bother aperson about someone else and incrementally erode theIn either case, whenever we neglect the analysis of partwillingness of working in a cooperative manner as aof these communication cues, we are also ignoring a team.relevant part of communication and feedback regardingthe way a given message is expressed by others. During our studio project, weve fallen onto this errorright from the start of the MSE program. Perhaps theAs the topic of this paper entails, these are the ideal problem was carrying into our mind one single word inmoments when one should stop for a moment, look mind as processes and that in our own way, this termaround the room and listen carefully to these signals.represented bureaucracy and a method for working in aprofessional manner that would need to be embracedOnly we can prevent a unidirectional communicationregardless of inconvenience or hassles it could cause tovoid that is nowhere desirable to see at group meetings team morale and well-being.as covered by Stellman [10]. Failing to do so will leadto problems.We languished over never-ending meetings, adoptedhefty templates for reports that would take longer toI focus on some of the problems experienced after not prepare than the content itself and even organized ourobserving these communication cues and how they internal documents in a manner that was cryptic andhave impacted our project development across the next not intuitive for daily use.chapter of this paper.Per times, it would even seem that managing our3. 2. Cooperative communication paperwork and documentation resembled the one youdexpect from a medium-large sized project with dozensA cooperative communication style starts with an open of workers at our disposal.mind about other colleagues in the team. One needs toadopt a learning perspective where differences occurAnd all of the sudden the term process took a twist inand should be understood rather than criticized:destiny and bitten our feet when nobody seemed happywith the outcome of having our team working for theDifferent work culturesprocess instead of having the other way around.Diametrically opposed personality types, for example: Thinker vs Socializer and DirectorA process that is fit to the available team resources is vs Relater far better than a process that only sees deliverables as aAge difference (generation clash)collateral result and this was one of the most importantDifferent styles of communication: guarded,lessons that I have learned across the MSE program. open Process became a way of organizing our individual 11. set of skills towards a common goal and working in aIn some occasions, it would have helped to keep a doorcooperative manner to reach it. sign saying: keep your ego at the door step in themeeting room. I am speaking against myself in regardOnce the meaning of process was better understood, it to this advice, as my behavior across semesters washas indeed helped us to keep focus on several key certainly not exemplar, albeit serving as knowledgeaspects of development such as communication, the base to write this paper.analysis of decisions and also the backtracking ofchoices that allowed to evaluate with more accuracy ifReflecting in our progress as a team, I believe we haveour progress was going on the right track or not. learned how to handle a substantial part of our internalcommunication issues. Even thought communicationIn due fairness I can state that only at the last semesters has certainly improved, that fact alone is still notof the Studio project weve finally come to see a moreenough to regain the trust once lost while engaging intobalanced distribution of participation amongst all team disruptive discussions within our own team, and this ismembers.one of the aspects that still saddens me the most.After the fights to gain territory inside the team andalso after understanding that this style of disruptiveReferencesbehavior did not helped our team move forward, weveseen some of these conflictive elements to adopt a more 1. Alessandra, T. and OConnor, M.J., The Platinumcooperative style of participation. Rule: Discover the Four Basic Business Personalitiesand How They Can Lead You to Success, WarnerBased on this experience, Id like to list a simple Business Books, 1998.guideline that could help to set the pace for a morecooperative behavior right from the inception of your 2. Martina Sani, La communication conflictuelle,project:Universit degli Studi di Milano Facolt di Lettere eFilosofia, Dipartimento di Scienze del Linguaggio,Keep the adopted processes simple2010.Define high level goals right from the start and decompose them onto lower level goals3. Stephanie D. Teasley, Lisa A. Covi, M.S. Krishnan, that are feasible to track at each weekMember, and Judith S. Olson, Rapid SoftwareDevelopment through Team Collocation, IEEEAlways, always, always include a plan B;Transactions on software engineering, Volume. 28, No. especially when opposing voices exist since7, July 2002. there might exist some reason behind themMake sure that everyone in the team has4. Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian (1999). Information quality time to speak; round-robin is useful ifRules. Harvard Business Press. ISBN 087584863X. coercive discipline needs to be enforced on conflictive team members5. Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson, MatthewBefore starting a meeting, define the actionLinderman.Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier items to be discussed, assign a time slot forway to build a successful web application. 37Signals them to prevent over-time and follow itWeb development.Ensure that everyone respects the rules of the meeting. Someone will inevitably try to6 . Definition of personality, monopolize the meeting, diverting any chance http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/anth370/gloss.html as of productivity unless it is kept under control. retrieved on the 24th of October 2010.Final thoughts7. Platinum Rule website.These are some of the most important lessons that Illhttp://www.platinumrule.com/index.html as retrievedcarry from the MSE Studio project. A meeting is a on the 24th of October 2010.form of art that needs to be planned carefully to ensure8. Joo Viegas, People issues in an MSE Studiothat we (as a team) can reach a productive and efficientgroup of individuals. CMU/UC MSE Chronos Studioresult for our team to make real progress.project reflection paper, 2009.9. Brooks, F., The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on 12. Software Engineering, Addison-Wesley, 1975.optimists, their hope is that things will turn out well, allowing them to break deadlock situations where a10. Stellman, A. and Greene, J., Beautiful Teams:decision needs to be made.Inspiring and Cautionary Tales from Veteran TeamLeaders, OReilly, 2009. As side-effect, socializers are also known as risk-takers with a short attention span and aversion to be left alone11. Tjosvold, D., The Conflict-Positive Organization,in the group.Addison-Wesley, 1990. A. 3. ThinkersAppendix A Platinum rule Thinkers are the style of people that fits those who are more inclined to methodical practices and detailThe platinum rule is a concise method that categorizes oriented problem solving.behavioral preferences onto four distinct styles:They value facts over intuition to an extreme; this is a characteristic that comes with the advantage ofRelater evaluating situations without emotional inflation butThinker also comes at the cost of not understanding emotionalSocializernuances that would be evident to others.Director Thinkers are perfectionists, they have the cunning willThis rule, as documented by Dr. Tony Alessandra, to perfect a given process or work on their ownallows others to identify individual qualities and helpimpulse, but they will also fail to participate in groupunderstand the reasons why some behaviors occur in a meetings if they are not based on facts to support theirgiven manner. Albeit not a magic and infallible rule, it opinions.does help to know better a person and avoid behaviorconflicts to some extent.A term often associated with people depicting this style of behavior is paralysis by over analysis. In theWe will now focus on a brief summary description ofprocess of trying to process more data about a giveneach style.decision where the facts are not clear, they will sometimes fall into a situation of not deciding at all toA. 1. Director prevent making a decision that they cannot assure as correct.Directors are the style of person that demonstratesbeing driven by two goals: to control and to achieve.They often get irritated by surprises that force them toThey can be portrayed as goal-oriented that arechange the original plans and feel uncomfortablenotoriously comfortable when placed in front of a team amongst very outgoing people such as socializers thator a given situation. Directors are not afraid of bendingare diametrically opposed to their own behavior style.the rules to meet their purpose. For them, it is easier tobeg forgiveness than to ask permission. One can also A. 4. Relatersdepict them as dominant, often characterized asstubborn, impatient and insensitive to the feeling ofRelaters are team players by excellence, they tend to beothers.risk aversive and enjoy building connective networks with others in a warm and reliable manner. They areA. 2. Socializersalso seen as devoted friends and persistent workers that are loyal to their companies.Socializers are friendly and enthusiastic. They can befound wherever there is action. They thrive on the Relaters are also known for their willingness to sharefeeling of admiration, where recognition for their responsibilities. One key aspect to note is the fact thatefforts plays the upmost importance. since relaters are often risk adverse, when faced with changes in the original plan theyll rather modify theirThey are known for their enthusiasm and are superb own plans to incorporate the external changes ratherspeakers that are capable of moving people to follow than forcing their way into a conflict that prevents thesetheir vision. Socializers are also considered as eternalchanges from occurring. They are also known as people 13. that often succeed in keeping a balance between eachaspect of the professional and personal life, keeping animage of stability and composure.Relaters rarely oppose to other opinions even whenthey do not agree. They desire avoiding conflicts at allcosts that might place a personal relation at risk. In thedecision making process, they enjoy including otheropinions into consideration rather than deciding alone.A. 5. ConclusionThe platinum rule is a tool that provides guidance inregard to the way how a person matching one of thesecategory types will likely prefer to be treated. As withall tools that deal with human nature, we also need touse this tool with care to avoid wrong assumptions.This appendix is a very concise description and a morecomplete description can be found at the platinum ruledocumentation and website on the Internet [1][7].