Gracious Behaviour

The first of the relationship skills Hendricksen mentions in his book 12 Essential Skills for Software Architects is Gracious Behaviour. Easy when you’re dealing with someone pleasant not so easy in other circumstances.

Being gracious can help you build good relations with all levels of people both in and outside of your organisation. It can help you to attract executive sponsors which are essential in order to progress and to build an environment in which your colleagues feel free to contribute and share.

Early impressions count and are often hard to change so you need to think about how you interact with people at all times from the first meeting. If you’ve not been acting with much grace up to now it is still worth doing it’ll just take a bit longer for people to believe in the new improved you and reap the rewards.

In this chapter Hendricksen points out the importance of architects being aware of all the factors that impact on a project not just the technology side of things. Each project has different priorities and architects and indeed developers in general need to be aware of the time, investment and quality constraints which impact on the project. Often we get caught up in delivering beautiful code and forget about the bottom line. Functionality needs to be good enough not gold plated by refining it to perfection.

Hendricksen groups the steps to gracious behaviour under a number of headings which I’ll now discuss.

Choose Relationships over Correctness

Who hasn’t met a technically gifted individual that is unable to let the slightest imperfection go or accept that there might be a valid approach other than the one they would take. It must be amazing to have such complete confidence in yourself. It is however not endearing and it can make people unwilling to approach them for advice or share ideas. Often we perceive imperfections in people because it is not how we’d approach things. We need to embrace the different way people handle and view situations as it can help bring a fresh perspective. In the back of our mind we need to remember relationships are key to getting good work and roles and try to act in a way that builds them. When making a correction Hendricksen points out that you need to weigh up if it is worth doing. Left unsaid would it cost the company or individual? Is it something that will matter in a day or week?

Part of being an architect is leading and engaging others whether it be selling an idea to executives or inspiring those less experienced in the organisation. By being gracious you create an environment in which people feel comfortable and safe and when people feel like this they are more likely to share and be receptive to ideas. The quickest way to stifle sharing is to create an environment where a person feels they are going to be shot down as soon as they speak.

This environment is likely to produce better solutions as ideas are shared, discussed and reformulated rather than simply accepting the first solution thought up by an individual. Appreciate the value that others bring and in the back of your mind remember to constantly strive to build and maintain a strong professional network.

Learning to Delegate

Being an architect involves the ability to hand over responsibility to others and allow them to be involved in the decision making process. All of this leads to a sense of ownership which in turn motivates people to give their best.

Life is Reflexive

In this section Hendricksen makes a number of good points. Firstly be aware that most people have a life outside of work and this can impact on how the behave in their working environment (ideally it should be left at the door but not everyone can do this and sometimes events are too big to be ignored) so when they snap at you or act out of character cut them some slack and don’t take it personally.

Next Hendricksen talks about reviews and handling negative feedback. Who hasn’t felt compelled to jump in and defend themselves when receiving negative feedback. Hendricksen points out the need to take a positive approach to get the maximum out of the experience. Sometimes people are just being nasty but often, especially in a formal review, negative feedback comes from a good place where people want us to succeed. We should listen, graciously accept it and actively welcome it. Even if someone is saying it out of nastiness it is better to be gracious. You’ll be left feeling better and they’ll be frustrated that they haven’t got to you.

Finally Hendricksen talks about the importance of being liked. Basically it doesn’t matter how competent you are if you are disliked or viewed as being difficult people won’t want to work with you. They are more likely to seek your opinion if they like you. It’s all back to the old treat others how you’d like to be treated. Still very sound advice in this day and age.

Acting as though words are Seeds

The words you use to convey a message can dictate whether others buy into your opinion. When trying to get across a point you need to balance delivering information with integrity without being blunt. At the other end of the scale sugar coating a message can also reduce its effectiveness. All in all it is a difficult balance. Hendricksen really hits home about the importance of thinking about how to convey a message rather than just blurting it out and recognising your target audience and their different priorities. Tailoring it to the individual.

He also highlights the importance of speaking at the right time i.e. raising an issue at the meeting rather than later in the canteen while having a moan. Speak up and deal with issues quickly and if others voice concern to you informally make sure these are tackling at the next meeting or raise the need for one if one is not already scheduled.

Providing a Professional Service

This section highlights the importance of providing good service to our customers and colleagues. Hendricksen lists a number of ways we can achieve this:

  • Being approachable
  • Proper posture (body language is another tool in delivering messages)
  • Putting others at ease
  • Focusing on others and trying to understand their view
  • Appreciating what matter to others (their key drivers)
  • Being present in the current moment and focused (not letting outside worries/events detract)
  • Being helpful
  • Being friendly
  • Building trust
  • Listening
  • Saying yes were possible (obviously you can’t say yes to everything but I see this more as entering into a discussion with an open mind and positive view than going no straight away. Make sure the no comes from the right place)
  • Being knowledgeable and sharing information
  • Allowing choice (selectable alternatives)
  • Treating executives as people (honest they’re just more powerful not a different species!)

Forgive Past Offences

This is also about being kind to yourself as well as others. If you never let anything go you’ll be carrying a lot of baggage and this will leave you feeling very weighed down. How important was the remark? Has the person who said it forgotten it already? Were they lashing out after something else which occurred the same day? Are they not able to articulate their view well? Often a remark says more about the person who made it than you so don’t let it get to you and forget about it during future dealings. It will allow you to act more objectively and even if they are still ignorant if you are polite you’ll feel better about yourself.

What am I Taking Out of This?

I am prone to being sensitive about how people treat me and what they say. I’m going to try to keep things in perspective and recognise that it does not always reflect badly on me but may in fact reflect worse on the them. I also want to recognise when criticism comes from a positive place and see it as an opportunity to improve and progress.

I’m definitely going to think more about how I communicate my message to others. All too often I do all this research and prep to determine the message but I don’t spend long enough on the final stage planning how to convey it. Thinking about the different goals of people and how to engage them to see my view is something I intend to put into practice.

I also want to come from a positive, open place when approaching things and stay in the moment. Sometimes I can let my worries over take me and this hinders me as it stops me from being able to think and take in information and respond articulately.