Friday, August 16, 2013

Be a Tester in all Areas of your Life: 99 Ways Workshop #59

Some of you are looking at the
picture and thinking "wait, what?!"
This post will make it
clear very soon :).
The Software Testing Club recently put out an eBook called "99 Things You Can Do to Become a Better Tester". Some of them are really general and vague. Some of them are remarkably specific.

My goal for the next few weeks is to take the "99 Things" book and see if I can put my own personal spin on each of them, and make a personal workshop out of each of the suggestions. 

Suggestion #59: Breathe as a tester, Live as a tester, Be a tester. Be a tester in all areas of your life whatever it is at work, private life, relationships, hobbies or others, 24/7, 365/year ( I give you 1 day rest on leap year :) ). - Gabrielle Klein

This is a great sentiment, and yes, I can appreciate the spirit in which this suggestion is given. We should indeed embrace what we do, love what we do, and strive to be the best at our craft that we possibly can. 

However (and yes, I must say that there is a caveat here)… we run the risk of taking such enthusiasm too far. Seeing quality, striving to always improve, leave things better than you found them, look for ways that you can make someone's day or work a little better… those are wonderful ways to embrace this suggestion. The caveat, and the real focus of this workshop?

Workshop #59: Seek always to be helpful. Seek never to inflict help.

Would you like to go back and reread that statement a couple of times? 

It's OK, I can wait…

Let's consider two people, and two interactions. We'll refer to them as Helper A and Helper B.

Helper A quietly offers you a hand, with little fuss. They go about what they do, ask your opinion or interest in what is happening, they aim to steer their efforts towards what you are in need of. When they leave, you smile and say "wow, that was really cool of that person to do that for me." 

Helper B insists on giving you a hand. They do what they think is best, their way, with little or no regard to what you would want to do, or how you would want to do it. They are very present, highly vocal, rather opinionated, seem to be less than courteous and genuinely disdainful if you, for some reason, do not appreciate the suggestions they are making. They look at you with irritation if you have qualms with the manner in which they are assisting you. When they leave, very often your reaction is "whew, thank goodness that's over!"

So... which helper are you?

Oh, believe me, I know what you want to say. It's the same thing I want to say. We're Helper A. We'd never be so awful as to act like Helper B!

I call shenanigans!

The truth is, we are both Helper A and Helper B. The truth is, most people have no idea which one they are being at any given time. Many people feel genuinely put out when you state that they are acting like Helper B. It's because in their mind, they don't see themselves that way. Some do, sure, and let's face it, those who act like Helper B and are fully aware of it, we have more descriptive words for them. No, I will not use them here, but I'm sure your imagination can connect the dots. For most of us, though, we really have a hard time seeing the difference between genuinely offering a beneficial hand, and what my wife Christina loves to call "inflicting help".

Make no mistake, I'm not making excuses for Helper B! Inflicting help really is a dangerous pastime. It can sour relationships. It can create bad feelings. It can make people want to avoid you and not seek your help in the future. So why would we do it?

The answer is subtle. It's because we genuinely believe our way is the right way. Our approach is the best. We have the best interests of the person at heart. We can see the error of their ways. What's more, we can show them how to fix it! In short, we are looking at using our testing skills as though people are objects with bugs that can be fixed. How can I say such a thing so boldly? Because I do it ALL THE TIME! Ask my wife and kids what happens when I decide something needs to be "fixed" around the house, or that there's a "better way" to organize or accomplish something. Christina has, on occasions, said to me when I get in this mode "Michael, you are inflicting help. Stop it!". 

So what can we do if we find Helper B making an appearance?

First, be aware that when you are making a statement that you are going to do something for someone else. That's a good sign that helper B is about to make an appearance. Instead, be alert to situations, be ready, but practice some restraint, and see if you will be asked to help with something. If you are asked, try to listen to what they perceive to be the issue, listen to see if you understand "the call of the question", and what they are really hoping to have as a solution or help. It's entirely possible that the person in question just wants to vent. They want to let you know that something is wrong, they are frustrated, and really, that's all they want. Your listening to them, letting them know that you have received what they want to say, as they want to say it, and having the patience to wait until they ask what they would like for you to do, can have tremendous positive effects. This is when Helper A shines bright. 

Bottom Line: 

Sometimes it can be painfully difficult to stifle our opinions or our desires to do something. It takes a huge amount of patience and humility to step back and coolly asses a situation, and remain dispassionate about what the problem is, especially when we are 100% sure we have the right answer. If we do, then we can wait a bit to make sure that we understand what the other person wants and expects from us. Then we can actually be a help to them, in a way that will not make them cringe.

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