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Fascinated by this “WTF Notebook” post because 1) it’s a really good listening/note-taking idea for new team members 2) applied for weirdly Machiavellian ends, e.g. wanting ppl to think they’re helpful rather than wanting to be helpful.

Discussion  11 comments

Taylor S

So cool when two of my worlds collide! Nat (they/them), the author of that article, worked at Pivotal, where I also worked and saw their influence via the company slack. A lot of ex-pivots follow their newsletter, partly for the occasional nostalgic hit of reading "what it was like working at Pivotal". Example article of that writing here:

Jason KottkeMOD

Thanks for letting me know their pronouns. Changed!

Richard Heppner Jr.

Oh shoot! Now I want to edit my comment, but my 10 minutes are up.

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Richard Heppner Jr.

I could imagine wanting to be seen as helpful as a step toward being more helpful. But it’s weird that thIs isn’t actually stated as his goal.

Also, I get that it’s an article for a particular audience, but I wish the examples were more general. I don’t know what most of then problems described are, or what things like “retro” mean in this context. Makes it hard to tell what kinda of problems he’s identifying or describing, which makes it hard to figure out how to implement this idea (which does seem like a genuinely good one! maybe?).

Andrew Morton

Yeah it assumes you know about doing some flavor agile development in software. Retro in this case would mean retrospective, the meeting each sprint where you discuss what went well, what didn’t and what you want to change next time.

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I felt like this was a good quote about *why* this process:

"I'll ask why things on the list are that way, and how they got to be that way. I'm trying to establish credibility as someone who's genuinely curious and empathetic, who's patient, and who respects the expertise of my coworkers. That's the reputation that's going to let me make changes later." [emphasis added]

As a long-time developer and manager of developers, this all rings very true to me as a great way to onboard to a new team and influence change without causing undue friction.

Andrew Morton

I read this earlier in the week and thought it was great. I didn’t interpret it as a Machiavellian end at all, but even if it was… is it really a bad thing? If your behaviors are using your past experience to help the team fix things, why does it matter what the intention behind it is?

Jason Baek

I definitely read the tone of the article as Machiavellian, but yeah I agree that if you're actually able to follow this advice, then the intent doesn't matter so much. But when it comes to dealing with the thornier issues, they are tricky for a reason. Nat does "reflective listening" which, in my experience, hasn't been a skill well developed by engineers. But I'm gonna give it a go next time!

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Rachel Anderson Edited

The line that grabbed me was It's one of my most powerful techniques for making changes on a team, and managing myself while I do it.

Not sure how they meant "manage myself" --literal managing my work or managing my self and my reactivity to other people. I've been slowly studying Bowen Family Systems Theory over the last several years and one of my biggest take aways is that my job (parent, partner, colleague, human) is to manage (observe, strategize) my own reactivity to people and experiences (ha! so easy to type that, so hard to do.) This book seems like a useful idea in numerous situations -- a way to capture the reactive WTF and allow time to observe, learn and experiment.

Jason Baek

Initially I read "managing myself" as the latter having been at times that kind of person. But I guess it's both. Nat's describing ways of work that manage reactive tendencies.

But I hadn't heard of Bowen Family Systems Theory before. Are there good introductory articles or books on the topic?

Rachel Anderson

Hi Jason -- For more about Bowen Family Systems Theory, I'd recommend to online resources -- the Bowen Center itself & Kathleen Smith. The first for foundational information about the theory and the second for very tangible, real-life applications.


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