Wednesday, June 7, 2023

How to Work With David

Everyone is different, with their own unique interests and quirks. If you can tailor your interactions for each of your colleagues, you can get more out of them. If you make it easy for your colleagues to understand and adjust to you, they can get more out of you. In both cases, you end up with a more productive and enjoyable environment.

This post is my attempt to make it easier for my colleagues to understand and adjust to me. I wish to provide to anyone who works with me, the tools to get the most out of me. It builds upon (but does not depend upon) my previous post on learnings about myself. Additionally, I hope that this post may provide you with tools to work with anyone who happens to be like me, as well as the inspiration to share your own guide so that I may adjust to you.

Teenage boy standing on a newly constructed, short wooden bridge in the woods. The boy is holding a hammer and wearing work gloves.
My son standing on a wooden bridge on a hiking trail. He built the bridge with my help.

Brief Recap on Self-Reflection

I included an introduction for myself in this post (see “Let Me Introduce Myself”) and share learnings about myself in this post. I’m an introvert, with a strong sense of responsibility who can only focus on a limited number of things at any one time. I live on a schedule, with regular sleep and meals. Achieving goals, learning, creating, and positive feedback all fill me with energy. Conflict, negativity, and lack of control all steal my energy.

Understanding these aspects of who I am, above all others, is the key to getting the most out of me. If you can align your requests with the things that give me energy, I will happily do a lot for you. Figure out how to make your goal my goal, set me up for success, provide me positive feedback, and watch me go!

How to Work With Me

There are several things you can do to set me up for success. Some flow directly from the description above, while others are less obvious, and still others represent interesting edge cases between the positive and the negative.

Direct Applications 

To get the most out of me, avoid the things that drain my energy, and lean into those that give me energy. Help me learn, help me achieve goals, and give me plenty of positive feedback along the way. Don’t put me in heated situations full of conflict. If you want my honest opinion, don’t push back when I share it.

Help me stay out of situations full of negativity, whether directed at me, at others, or just simmering in the background.

Finally, pay heed to the structure (or lack thereof) and demands of the situation you are asking me to enter.. I need the time and space to build structure for myself. For example, do not throw me into an important customer escalation. Do throw me into the contingency planning for future customer escalations. The latter is building structure for future use–I can do that.

Less Obvious Implications

Please don’t interrupt me. Please do help me avoid interruptions. Recall, I can only focus on a few things at a time. When I am interrupted, I have to focus on two things at once: the thought that was in my head and the interruption (maybe your question). They don’t both fit in my head. Both get short shrift, and I get frustrated.

Sometimes requests come as interruptions, but they do not need to. If you have a question or request, sending an email is least disruptive. Receiving an email allows me to schedule my day and give your request my full attention when I get to it. Even if you need something now, please do not interrupt me. Come to me, make your presence known, and let me finish my current thought. Just wait. I will look up and then you will have my full attention.

If you are physically remote from me and need something soon, you can use Slack. I check it regularly and I will answer when I can. If it can wait, please send an email.

Notes on Email Requests

Focused and actionable emails are easier for me to respond to. If you are asking two things of me, consider sending two separate emails. If you send me multiple emails, I may answer an easier one before a harder one. If they were combined in one email, everything would wait, even the easier request.

Edge Cases

Some interactions ride the edge between things I find energizing and things I find de-energizing. It may not be obvious whether a given interaction will drain or energize me. Two main examples are feedback and getting things done.

Constructive vs. Negative Feedback

I love getting better at things. Constructive feedback and advice are great because they speed up my improvement. However, I don’t like negative criticism–it steals my energy. Yet all constructive feedback contains some negativity, in the form of something that isn’t good and can be improved.

I believe the difference between constructive and negative feedback is largely one of degree and my perception. If the feedback is operable (and I can see that it is) or exposes me to a new idea, it’s constructive. Constructive feedback opens up possibilities for me and gets me excited. However, if the feedback only shows me my weaknesses, it’s negative.

It’s the difference between: “David, it looks like you might struggle with X. Does it feel that way to you? Have you thought about doing Y to address X?” and “David, did you realize you have a problem with X? Yeah, that wasn’t good. You should focus on that.” The first one is confirming a challenge and helping me get better, while the second is pointing out I’m not good (at something). For the record, I probably know that X didn’t go well and have thought about it already. You telling me to think about it more is not helpful. However, you telling me a new way to think about it is helpful.

Since the difference between constructive and negative feedback comes down to my perception, you may have to pay attention to my reactions to see which case is happening. Do I seem to be deflating or am I perking up with your feedback? You can also (gently) ask me if your feedback is feeling more constructive or negative, but please don’t push if you want an honest answer.

Doing vs. Being Overwhelmed

I love doing things so that I can accomplish more and make more. At the same time, having too much to do (feeling out of control) drains my energy. Once again, the difference is one of degree. I have some limit to what I can do at a given time. It feels wonderful to operate near, but below that limit. However, when I try (or am pushed) to exceed that limit, I start to degrade. I get less done and my results are of lower quality.

Being overwhelmed feels bad because I am no longer in control. I can no longer meet all of my commitments. I cannot plan out my day. I cannot focus on one thing at a time. All of those hurt and lower my productivity.

So, please help me fill (but not overfill) my day with interesting and challenging work. But also respect my limits. Respect my answer when I say I don’t have enough capacity to do what you want.

Let’s Work Together and Do Something Awesome

Hopefully this post will help you better understand and work with me. I am a human with human foibles and peculiarities. I work best when collaborating and learning with others. Give me some space to focus, a sense of control over my environment, share some positive energy, and let’s build something awesome together! And please share with me, how I can best work with you.

A special thank you to Heather Beasley Doyle for her constructive feedback on this post and her supportive interest in my writing journey. Heather is a gifted writer (on a completely different and higher level than myself) and you should read some of her writing here, here, or here.

1 comment:

  1. Loved that you took the time to make a blog post like this! Not only does allow anyone who might soon it interacting with you a road map to success, but it says a lot about you regardless--in fact, simply that you would take the time to self-reflect on the subject objectively and write that out says something about you: you like to be thorough and cover your bases.

    The only piece I bet isn't 100% accurate was: "If you want my honest opinion, don’t push back when I share it." I know what you meant there in spirit, but in the literal sense, the only way any idealogical or logical progress is ever made is by the clash of ideas on their points, in particular when done impartially. I think you would enjoy some pushback on honest feedback if done in a constructive way, with an end to improving understanding, and not simply ad-hominem as so many discussions and critiques devolve into now-a-days.

    Anyway, just wanted to say bravo for taking the time to put this out there--I just might crib the idea myself, though I would certainly give you credit. ;-)