Sunday, March 21, 2010

You never get a second chance to make a first impression .... or do you?

I absolutely have to blog about this. For most people who attended Agile Coach Camp in Durham, NC this weekend, you are likely already somewhat familiar with this story, but I think there is a *really* valuable lesson worth sharing here.

I'm going to tell a story. When I have permission (assuming I get it), I will reveal the identity of the person in the story. I want to, if he'll let me, because I would like to be able to publicize what he's doing in the future.

At a conference last year, I had the opportunity to attend a TDD clinic. We were pairing in this clinic, and I ended up with two partners: someone I had never met or heard of -- let's call him Joe -- and someone I had really been wanting to meet -- let's call her Sarah. I found myself in a triangular-shaped pair, one of three very strong-willed people.

The experience was not a good one, for anyone involved. I'm not a developer anymore in my day job, and I only felt like I had so much authority. Both of my partners were developers, and I quickly found that Sarah and I had very similar ideas of what pairing should be like, but that was *very* different than how Joe paired. Sarah and I felt like our opinions were not being heard, and that Joe was trying very strongly to dictate to us exactly what should be done, down to exactly what words I should type. I can say that at one point, sitting in the middle of the two of them, I literally had Joe say "Type this" and Sarah say "No! Don't type that!"

Hopefully, I have gotten across that this was not a positive experience for any of the 3 of us. During a break, Sarah and I managed to find a friend -- let's call her Kathy -- and she agreed to come into the session and work with Joe, so that Sarah and I could work together in a way that was more comfortable for us. Certainly, this felt like the cowardly way of (not) dealing with the issue, and part of me wanted to address it directly, but I didn't get there.

In all honesty, I have not thought terribly much about this situation since that conference. I told the story to a few people at the conference, but not since. I had simply marked Joe off as someone I had a personality conflict with and would not want to work with.

So, why would I tell you today that Joe is now literally in my top 10 list of my absolutely favorite people? If given the opportunity, I will work with him in a heartbeat.

I believe that this example shows the power of an open mind, and the power of not judging people based on a single experience (obviously, this applies in both directions).

I arrived at Agile Coach Camp Friday night, registered, and made my rounds. Headed over to the bar, and who do I see? Well, there is Joe. At some point, I had seen his name on the roster and thought "this should be interesting, but I should be able to just avoid him". I don't think we were a whole 5 minutes into hanging out when the topic of our experience at the conference last year got brought up- by him. He set the tone flawlessly, by indicating that he knew me through a negative experience that had been traumatic, though largely his fault.

Let me just say, I really don't care to point fingers at or lay blame on anyone, so I do actually tend to struggle with someone who has just pointed a finger at themself.

He then put the ball in my court to describe the situation. I tried, as best I could to describe what had happened in a fairly diplomatic way, saying that we were in a situation where our different styles of pairing conflicted with each other. I did take my description a step farther, however, and described for the table how he had dictated to me exactly what to type.

So, here it was, this elephant was on the table, had been exposed, laid out bare. I was *incredibly* impressed with his humility. It really contradicted the arrogance I had seen in him last year. I appreciated that we both got to laugh about the experience. I learned a side that I had not known as well. I heard about how traumatic it had been for him (which also contradicts the arrogance I had seen), and the circumstances he was in at that time. I heard the stories that others had told him of what I had said. Honestly, I had no considered that it had upset him; he had seemed pretty oblivious to it at the time.

So I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with an open mind. I watched him and interacted with him as if I had met him for the first time this weekend. The more I saw, the more I not only gained respect for him, but wanted to talk to him and share and learn from him.

I saw a person who is clearly fantastically passionate about what he is doing -- coding, refactoring, or teaching. I saw someone who has a wealth of knowledge to share, so much so that at times, you can almost watch it bubbling out of his ears. I saw someone who really *does* know what he is doing, inside, outside, and around. I got a taste of just how much I could learn, and just how parallel my passion and recent path is to many of the things that he has been doing as well. I bounced ideas off him for ways I can contribute to my community, and learned through discussions with him that things I thought I knew, I don't. He is aware of and describes his own weaknesses without hesitation.

In closing circle (this was an Open Space conference), we each talked about our experience at the camp. I sat in my seat, ready to describe the transformational experience to the group (by that point, a few people had heard the story). I was proud of myself for keeping an open mind and not letting the first experience cloud my view of him through the weekend. I was grateful that he did the same with me and was open to addressing the experience directly and had also been open to not judging me. I was grateful that I had not missed out on the opportunity to connect with another person in software who is clearly passionate, smart, and has a lot to offer. As I waited for my turn, he got up to tell the group about his experience this weekend.

Whaddya know, he told this whole story, in much the same way I have now. He said, "They say you never get a chance to make a first impression. Well, maybe sometimes, you do."

Joe, I look forward to working with you in the future and contributing to this community as a team.

2 comments:

Ian Savage said...

Thanks for sharing rthis growth experience with us. As I read it I realized that I have at least two "Joes" in my life. Perhaps I'll give them second 1st chances.

Regards, Ian Savage

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