Erik's Engineering

something alliterative

That's Easy!

A while back during a standup, I had an interaction about like the following:

Yesterday I spent a bunch of time banging my head against the wall on X.
Person Zed
Oh, that's easy. I can't believe you're having trouble with it. You just have to frobble the Y and then snizzle the Z.
Well thanks for making me feel stupid.

It was about the fifth time I'd felt that way in a similar situation and I was tired of Zed doing that, so I really did snark out loud.

Can you see the problem there? In the guise of being helpful Person Zed just turned it into a one up operation. In practice, Person Zed probably spent some time trying to figure it out themselves. It's only easy because they've already learned the trick.

Lately I've been talking with another coworker who has similar feelings and we've come to the conclusion that this is a bit toxic. It's also a trap. Since noticing it, both of us have done the same thing at some point, though hopefully not so eggregiously.

Much better would be any of the following:

  • Oh! There's a trick to that. Want me to show you after standup?
  • Ouch. I banged my head against that last week. I got past it by…
  • Damn. I meant to document that. Let me add it to the wiki and send out a link.

The key thing here is that you start by acknowledging that the answer is not inherently obvious. Don't say it's easy. As with most things, it's only easy once you know how to do it.

With a little practice, you too can learn not to insult people when you try to offer them some help.

Published on 07/08/2013 at 22h33 under .

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