Friday, October 21, 2016

Safety in being heard

Today, I've been thinking about asking. Let me tell you a few stories that are serving as my inspiration.

You don't know to ask for things you've never experienced

I'm speaking in a conference and as my speaker fee, I negotiated a free ticket - something I've been doing in Finland for quite a while. It means that not only I get to go, but I get to take someone with me. In past years, this has opened the expensive commercial course for people in my community, and people in the same company I work at. Last time I passed a ticket to a colleague, he did not use it. I wanted to make sure this time my work would go for good purpose, so I kept checking with the tester at work I had in mind to take.

In the process of discussing all this, I learned that this was the tester's first ever conference (something I really did not expect) and things like "food is included" was a surprise. In the discussion, I realized that as a regular conference speaker and goer, I take a lot of things for granted. I don't understand anymore that they might not be clear for others.

So I felt grateful for having enough interaction to realize that the unspoken questions in the puzzled looks were things I could pick up. The tester might not have known enough to ask the questions. Then again, here not knowing would have clearly been ok, and learned later.

You get answers when you know to ask

When you have a question, people rarely say no to answering your question. I'm new to my job, so I have a lot of questions, and as long as I come up with the questions, things are moving on nicely.

Yesterday, I was feeling back pain. Sitting in my office chair, I suddenly realized that I had been sitting long days in a non-ergonomic unadjustable chair. I never paid attention, until my body made it obvious I should have, basically crippling me for the day. As soon as I asked for a proper chair, I got it. But I had to ask. Learning to ask was still not too late.

People tend to reject info they don't ask for

I've been experiencing a recurring pattern over last weeks where I point out unfinished work (usually of surprising kind) and the developer I talk to brushes it off. It's often "some other team's responsibility" or "agreed before I joined" or "will be done later". Having been hired to test (provide feedback), rejecting my work categorically feels bad. And it feels worse when I follow up on the claim, and come back with info of what the other party says and then the unfinished work gets acknowledged.

This has lead me to think about the fact that whoever asked me to provide the information as a tester is different from the developer who gets to react to my feedback. And as a new person on the job, I would love a little consideration for my efforts. They are not noise, I pay a lot of attention to that.

Why all this?

All of this makes me again think of psychological safety. Being safe means being heard. Being safe means being heard without fighting for your voice. Being safe means being heard even if you had no words to describe your questions.

As a tester, I've learned to never give up even when I feel unsafe. And simultaneously, I look around and wonder what makes some of the other testers so passive, accepting of what is being told. And yet, they work hard in the tester jobs.

It makes me think that while I'm comfortable with confrontation, it still eats up my energy. Everyone should be allowed to feel safe.

And to get there, we need to learn to listen.