But Do THEY Know That?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 06:27

One of the most challenging problems in web/software development is the disconnect between the front-end user experience and the back-end development complexity. I recall many times spending weeks teasing apart and solving a very difficult problem only to show the result to a client and receive a facial expression that conveyed "is that it?" This can be immensely disappointing for both parties. The client may feel a lack of appreciation of their needs and their budget. The developer may feel a lack of appreciation of the result they delivered and the value they bring to the table. Left uncorrected, this lack of understanding each other can lead to a rocky relationship.

The root problem is our assumptions. In this case, the developer assumes the client understands the severity of the issue, the value of correcting it, and the level of difficulty and effort necessary to resolve it. The client assumes the developer understands the business objectives, the budget, and the most important places to focus his or her effort. It's these assumptions that lead to the disconnect when the solution is delivered and both sides are disappointed, frustrated, and/or angry with the other.

Beyond Client/Vendor Relationships

The example I provided is one that I see play out at work from time to time, but the lesson applies across many aspects of our relationships. Here are a few examples:

  • You love someone, but have you told them lately?
  • That problem was a beast to solve, but do they know that?
  • You went above and beyond to help out a friend, but did they realize what a burden that was?
  • You promised it would take X minutes and it took Y hours but did you properly explain why?
  • You really person X would stop doing Y, but did you even ask them to change their behavior?

This lesson is something that has come up again and again for me over the last year because life has been hectic and I haven't made the time to reflect on these core assumptions before taking action. Thankfully, after going through these (usually negative) experiences over and over again, I've become more aware of when I'm doing this again. And it's through this awareness that I've made it a point to choose to check and re-check assumptions with other people, even if it sounds silly like "Hey, you know I'm doing this because I believe in you and I'm trying to get you more actively involved in initiative X, right?" At least 90-95% of the time we're on the same page and it didn't need to be said, but it's the 5-10% of the time that there is a disconnect that will (and I repeat, WILL) inevitably bite you in the ass.

So the question I've been asking myself and my colleagues is simple: but do they know that? And if the answer is yes, I'll follow-up asking when and where that was conveyed. Our assumptions run deep, and often we simply think we conveyed it because it is so obvious the other person had to know without spelling it out. My friend Morgan had a different take on that. He would constantly remind me that the best lawyers left nothing to the imagination for a jury, making sure to literally connect the dots for them so as to eliminate any chance of misinterpretation. And while life isn't about CYA with those that we love, even the assumption that others know that we love them is a stupid assumption to make. Tell them until they are sick of hearing it, because then you've left no doubt as to your feelings about them.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.