I learned a lesson a long time ago and something that happened the other day made me think of it.
I have always been fortunate enough to be one of those people who can pick up a new skill and become proficient in it very quickly. Because of this skill I learned a lot about a whole lot of different things. I never considered myself an expert in but a couple things but felt that I knew a lot about a large array of subjects.
When things came up that I “knew” were wrong I would voice my opinion on how it needed to be done. This, in itself, wasn’t a problem. What was a problem was how I went about stating my opinions. I stated them as if they were fact and as if they were the only right way to do things. At times I was right – there was only one correct way. Many other times I just gave one of many possible solutions. Either way I felt, but never confirmed, that I had formed a reputation for being the office know-it-all. I don’t remember what it was but someone said something to me one day that caused me to rethink my attitude. So I decided to step back and analyze myself and figure out what I was doing wrong.
The conclusion I came to was simple for many people but was a virtual epiphany for me: my being right about something doesn’t negate the possibility of someone else being right in a totally different way.
I started trying to make it a point to handle my disagreements differently and have found that, over the years, it has made a world of difference in my personal and work relationships. Before, if I disagreed I would simply state why it wasn’t right and give the “correct” way. Now, even if I feel that the solution is totally wrong I try to ask questions. I still slip up – after all I’m human – but try to avoid resorting to old haunts.
Asking questions does two things at once: it helps me to understand the mindset of the person I am talking to and it helps to illustrate an alternate route. Many times I will find that the questioning leads to an understanding of the original design, solution, or idea that causes it to make much more sense to me. Other times it will solidify the idea that the concept is wrong.
At times I still find myself being a bit abrasive. However, I try to always think back to my hard learned lesson and approach things in a more diplomatic way. In fields like software, where there are countless solutions to any problem, not boxing your self – or others – into a single solution will generally prove to be a blessing.