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Discretion still matters – don’t hurt your career by sharing too much (smashcompany.com)
172 points by lkrubner on Dec 28, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments



Honestly, this is a long article, but it's worth reading. It's written somewhat in response to another article by a millennial wanting her older colleagues to share more.

Part of that is quoted in this article, including this passage:

> Most of my new colleagues are at least 10 years my senior. Several of them have children, spouses, and mortgages. They are adults. Comparatively, I am a child.

This really hits home, because I'm on the flip side of this now. In my current role I'm a lead on a team and am one of the oldest team members (late 30s). Most of my coworkers are 10 years my junior, so it's weird structuring conversations that don't involve in-depth discussion of kids and spouses and homes and school, etc. Not that it's all I want to talk about, but it is a pretty common place to go to when you're talking over lunch in the cafeteria. Now more of my conversations are back in the beer, sports, and video games realm, which I also enjoy, but it's just different.


I am 31, moved into a new team 1.5 years ago.

I am married 7 years, no kids... and have carried a hefty mortgage for 8 years.

My other team mates are 38-55. Have kids, some even grandkids.

While I can relate to alot of things, I can't stand their constant discussions about their kids and other family stuff... I just can't relate.(edit: not that I can't relate really, I just can't stand their constant distractions with home life... We all have issues, you might need a place to vent but work shouldn't be it. Go talk to a colleague in a discreet area not openly in professional work settings)

It really disrupts me that I either have to super zone out (which I am good at) or leave my desk constantly.

We have a open seating area with low wall shared cubicles... Which makes it worse.

While I have family issues, I don't discuss them openly at work with everyone.

I am friendly, but don't open up... If you talk to me, I will talk back and seem interested, but it's really in one ear and out the other.

When it comes up to recommend or commend a colleague, it's not the work that comes into focus... You remember all these tidbits, and factor in determining that recommendation.

Person works hard but may be unreliable because of X happening. Person is only here to talk about Y, rather than working hard. Person only comes to work, to get away from Z.

I am the guy that goes to work, to work, so he can move on with his day after work as soon as possible.

Others come for an escape from their home lives and share about it all day.

I have colleagues in other departments that feel the same way that are older, but just don't discuss family in detail at work.

In office politics, sharing can help at times being more friendly with management... But I make up for it in hard effort, top numbers.. and when it comes to review time its my work that shines.

One colleague shared alot about his personal life, and only lost out on a job cause the hiring manager felt the guy had too many personal issues. (Manager told me in confidence).

He is a hard worker, but has a stigma of being a weirdo for sharing so much of his family life.


In every single workplace I was, there were people talking about things I could not relate to. Isn't it kind of normal in any group that is not excessively homogenous? Some people you relate to, others don't.


> I am the guy that goes to work, to work, so he can move on with his day after work as soon as possible.

If you were my coworker, I'd buy you a good lunch for this attitude.

More people could stand to share this approach.


34 never married no kids. Probably because the sentiment that someone doesn’t want to talk about family makes little sense to someone who’s life revolves around family. I give people blank stares when they talk football to me. I still try to relate. “Yeah my family chose all loser teams so the game lost me.” It’s not a great sentiment to hear for someone who loves football, but they get why I’m out of the discussion. Plus, as I remember being 31, the reality of adultness hadn’t fully hit me at that point. Life can catch up to you unawares. Sometimes I realize that in relation to other people’s progressions. That can hurt. Hurt comes out as dismissiveness vocally.


Football is pretty much chess with guided missiles. The basic rule is easy enough to remember (4 tries to go 10 yards or the other team gets the ball), and I've never met a football fan who minded filling in the gaps of the current discussion.

It's the same with kids. I have no trouble finding things to talk about with my friend who's raising a kid at a similar age. It often starts with talking about how we were raised. Maybe it's worth rethinking your approach to these kinds of discussions.


I can't talk about football with serious fans because they are obsessed with minutia, personalities, who did what, what games they have to win etc. In a way its revealing of who cares enough because you have to invest (waste) hours to keep up with that sort of stuff. What you're describing sounds like kind of a meta-football discussion about rules etc that I'd enjoy.


It only seems like a waste because it's not your thing. I don't care for it, but I also don't care for 90% of what's in the tech press. Most of it is meaningless (who will remember that random funding round/the player who won't last a season five years from now?), but it's fine entertainment if that's what you want.


Talking about how you were raised definitely helps.


I’m really turned off by football discussions. Thankfully tech isn’t very sports oriented or I would have problems at lunch.


At one point, I was pretty good at talking about soccer without ever seeing full game basically. I just repeated things other people said about same match or situation before. It seemed to be enough for casual discussion.


You're a real life version of this ;)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWJIQm9qH-w


Why is this comment getting downvoted? A person says they don't discuss family matters at work -- is that actually something that should be downvoted?


I appreciate that you've written some good articles recently, and as you may know, we've boosted them onto HN's front page (as described at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11662380 and links back from there). But could you please not post crappy comments like this? You're an experienced enough HN user to know that (a) you're outright breaking the site rules; and (b) such comments usually end up worse than useless because the downvotes they complain about soon get canceled out by upvotes—as happened above. In most cases, silently upvoting the downvoted comment yourself is enough to fix the problem.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I think this is a great article, but the example with Lisa doesn't work via text. You lose all the inflection, and style of how she voiced her fears. It's hard to interpret how unprofessionally she expressed these concerns, and it only slightly delves into how these fears were expressed personally, instead of professionally.

In my opinion this detracts from the point - "Be a professional, especially at/around work", but that point is definitely worth taking to heart.


>Honestly, this is a long article, but it's worth reading.

So sad that we have to be long-form-writing apologists!


I really do think about this a lot, but I disagree with what the author proposes which is basically lying or deceiving others:

> Authenticity is rare, but people performing authenticity is common, and being good at that performance can build a fortune. Not just authenticity, of course. Being able to pretend that you are furious is a trick that all great sales people use. And being able to create the illusion of a sincere vulnerability can trick people into trusting you, which is invaluable

The crux of the issue is as follows: is it possible to exercise discretion, but still be authentic and empathetic? I believe the answer to that is "yes".

I also don't believe this is just about your career - it's about your life. In some circles, amongst _some_ people, in _certain_ circumstances, sharing details is beneficial. But not always. You should not overshare with every person you meet. It's simply not to your benefit.

The difficulty is determining when, where, and to whom you share. Sometimes, you just know. And sometimes, you just have to express yourself. That doesn't always mean you say exactly what's on your mind. Simply a facial expression can communicate what you're feeling in a certain moment, but still with respect and dignity.

Authenticity is extremely powerful. Even with a client, being authentic (without oversharing) will garner you a lot of respect.


Yes, you're describing discretion and reiterating the author. They never suggested lying, merely being mindful of the circumstances when disclosing truth.


Added an excerpt from the post. It seems to be the opposite of what I'm saying.


I read that section as what one is commonly exposed to, not what he's advocating doing.


Lying definitely works really well at work, however. I recently had to work with another team that committed to do a portion of the work on a feature, they blew it off for 5 weeks, then at the big meeting about it lied and claimed they never agreed to do any of it. Every person on the team lies and swears that never agreed, even though there are Hipchat logs of them working on it for a couple days with us before they punted it without telling us and went radio silent. Since they chose lying, however, it's impossible to ding them on peer feedback since they'll just claim miscommunication on the part of the reporter. So they insulate themselves from any bad feedback by lying their asses off...


That part of the article bugged me as well. I think there's a significant difference between being "authentic" and oversharing.

If being "authentic" is revealing the full nature of all your feelings to someone, I think that never really happens: language doesn't have the required bandwidth. Instead, I'd define being "authentic" is the opposite of intentionally misleading people.

Being authentic is a strategy that has served me well in my life: I routinely develop relationships based on mutual trust which serve me well. Plus I don't feel like a bad person.


I'm a woman and I tend to be very open about a lot of things. I am generally being genuine/ authentic, but I had a very private life for a lot of years and I had to learn that communicating effectively with people who simply aren't going to be part of your inner circle just works fundamentally differently from communicating with those folks.

Understanding is very much contextual. There isn't enough time in the day for you to have a deep, meaningful, close relationship to every passing acquaintance.

I don't need to feel people are up to no good to decide that certain kinds of information are not appropriate in certain contexts. It is a waste of everyone's time and a poor communication practice to introduce personal elements that aren't pertinent.

Discretion is certainly an element of that. But I think of it more in terms of effective communication.

If someone has just met you and knows almost nothing about you, leading with talking about how scared you are is going to get interpreted very differently from saying that to people who know you well. If the entirety of their knowledge of you is "I'm scared I can't handle this job," well don't be surprised if the conclusion is that you are simply in over your head.


I'm 40, and some of my coworkers are like 25. I'm about two management levels above the basic engineers, but we're a small company and everyone knows everyone.

So I'm having lunch with some of the engineers, and one of them shares out of the blue that she regrets getting a computer science degree at her (good) college, and thinks she should've gone into business instead. And my immediate thought is, "For god's sake, don't SAY that shit around me, I'm someone who has a big say in your career prospects."

I like having a casual, informal work experience. But it's a thin layer. Ultimately, this is still a hierarchy, and ultimately, you have to think about who you're talking to.

(Separately: Don't get an undergraduate degree in business. What a worthless degree.)


>> (Separately: Don't get an undergraduate degree in business. What a worthless degree.)

It's hard for people to learn things like this if they're afraid to talk to people who've gone down that road for fear that an honest expression of concern will be read as a critical lack of confidence.

Just because we're yelled and beaten down for every expression of vulnerability growing up doesn't mean we have to perpetuate it into adulthood. Stop the cycle.


I don't think the point was that she shouldn't have shared that information with peers at all, it's that she needs to be more careful about exactly who she's telling it to. OP may easily be in a position later of promoting her to another position. Even if she is confident in her choices by that point, OP will still have that information tucked in their mind, and will (maybe unconciously) utilize it in their decisions.

Nobody is yelling at her or beating her down about this, but she needs to be more discrete in who she shares what information with. Even if you see someone as a friend, friends aren't all equally deserving of your hopes and fears.

I think a good analogy is group projects in school. If you had a classmate who you were good friends with, and they had been sharing with you how much they were struggling and that they were considering dropping the class...wouldn't you factor that information in when choosing partners for a group project? You might decide that "no, I like them too much", and go with them, but it's going to be a decision you have to make because you already possess the information.


A good group project with people who are mature enough to handle someone's expression of vulnerability without judgement might be what keeps them in the class.

If you reject someone over an expression of doubt, it was never about the doubt.


The reality of group projects is that all too often, one person ends up doing most of the real work.

Group projects don't need to be more infantilising, they need to be more "shape up or ship out!"


It is not infantilizing to accept expression of doubt or some kind of negative feeling. People have opinions and feelings and sometimes express them. Getting scared of that and yelling "shape up or ship out" is as immature as stopping the work altogether because of it.

Also, in my experience, the people who express such feelings are the ones who tend to be willing to do a lot of work and also the boring work needed to finish the thing.

The one person doing all the work in group project imo, is because group projects are quite dumb exercises. It has little to do how real cooperation in just a little competently managed work works and keeps more hardworking people hostage to lazy ones. Regardless of whether it is lazy or hardworking who is more open about his state of mind. It has nothing to do with infantilization - many adults in same situation will slack, because that is how incentives are lined up.


The one grayed down comment. I agree whole heartedly.


It's by a shadowbanned account. You'd need to have showdead on to see it.


The thing is you can never _really_ know, in advance, who is going to be empathetic about expressions of doubt and who is going to silently and permanently pass judgement upon it.

Saying that stuff to peers has little risk especially if the peers know each other. But aetherson has a supervisor role here and he is at least being honest to us that such a remark will condition his future opinion of the blabber-mouth.

That's perhaps one of the things that takes people some time to learn after leaving school-- what you say can hurt you, asking the wrong questions can damage your career, and, your boss is not your friend.


> your boss is not your friend

I wholeheartedly agree. This is why you should be planning from day 1 on ways to make sure that your career is never dependent on a single individual’s or organization’s whims. They will be doing the same for you if they are smart.

This may sound ugly or cynical, but it’s a fact of life. Discretion is not just about what information you choose to reveal, it’s also about figuring out who is and isn’t “on your side” for the long run. I think we all fail at this at various points in our lives in some way or other.


Your boss is not your friend, but your boss can be your mentor. I've had to form a level of trust with my boss because I really needed his advice as a first time tech lead.

I knew the technology I was implementing pretty well but now knowing how to approach higher ups and people in other departments is just as important.


Let's be clear, though: I'm not her boss. She's two levels below me and not in my direct chain of command, currently. I'd actually be less down on it if I were her boss, and she was speaking just to me, seeking advice or something. There's a sort of "Let's have an open discussion about career stuff" venue in which you kind of agree to suspend judgment.

Just randomly dropping that factoid in a group discussion where it's difficult or impossible for me to probe deeper and understand what's behind it is not a great idea. That makes it easier for someone to take a bad impression from it.

But, also, yeah, I agree, your boss is never fully your friend. I like a lot of the people who work for me, and in other circumstances I think I could be friends with most of them, but part of my job is to evaluate them, including negatively. There is an art to expressing vulnerability in a way that creates intimacy without making a person question your abilities. You can't just assume that everything that you say will have only positive consequences.


And adding on, I try to avoid it, but sometimes you have to tell your boss personal stuff. When I was looking for a house, I had all sorts of short notice appointments. If I didn't let him know, the first thought is that I was interviewing.

Also, I have "cold induced asthma". Whenever I catch a cold, my asthma flairs up and I'm heavily medicated. I had to explain why I spent so much time working from home.


I agree with your points. "Your boss is not your friend" just means that you can't talk to your boss just like you talk to a friend. But it can be easy to mistake one's boss as a friend, and that's where there's a risk of saying things that should not be said.


All your end advice is true, and I recognize the sentiment of "you can never know". Indeed, a date recently asked me if I could read her mind, as happens often, but this time I said I can read her body so basically yes, I can read her mind. I can do this in interviews as well, which is a curse in a slimy rotten marketplace. It's pretty easy to see the next question to ask somebody and corner them if you want. Lack of mental clarity or lack of social exposure or programming can hinder one.


> Just because we're yelled and beaten down for every expression of vulnerability growing up doesn't mean we have to perpetuate it into adulthood. Stop the cycle.

This is like shaking your fist at gravity.

Everyone's in competition all the time whether they like it or not, that's the universe we live in. Given a choice, you're going to advance the person who's glad they got into computer science, all things being equal.

Even worse than regretting her degree in computer science is the poor judgment she displayed by saying that in front of a manager. The statement is clearly not in her own best interest, it's fairly obvious, and she completely failed to recognize that.

It's not a huge deal by any means, but objectively, it's a negative indication. Why should managers ignore that? Those are relevant data points she just revealed.


Yeah, I've heard the recruiting pitch. I don't buy it. The universe is vast and indifferent to our puny existence. The belief in the necessity of hostile, anti-vulnerability, winner take all, exploitative competition is a human thing, not a universal truth.


I don't know about necessity, necessary or unnecessary. It's just a thing that is.

I'm not saying be hostile. Granting advancement to somebody who exposed weakness over someone who didn't, if all other things are equal, would be even more of an act of hostility. That's not fair to the other person at all.

And I'm not saying don't expose vulnerability. It's just, work isn't for that. We should all talk to friends and family about that (and I'm sure most of us do).

You see this as an imposition on the people exposing their vulnerability, but demanding that managers suspend reason and ignore relevant data in their decision making is an imposition on them, and it's also just a bad way to run a company.


The person you are replying to didn't say exploitative competition. They just said competition.

Indeed, exposing vulnerabilities (of the personal kind, not the security kind) can be imposing in a very inappropriate way.

Your colleague is not obliged to be your free therapist. Don't impose emotional labour on them if their body language or response indicates they don't want to be having this conversation. You don't know what issues they are dealing with, which may be much worse than your own. Talk to a friend or family member, or pay for a therapist.


I admit I am slightly confused, I would take that comment as an indicator that I should give her more opportunities to sit in on how business decisions are made since she may be far more valuable as a computer-savvy business person. I suppose if she was very negative about the actual work of computer programming I'd be biased against trusting her with long-term projects since she might abandon them. So I suppose it could equally well be somewhat tactical disclosure to get out in the air that she'd like to try some more business-focused work.


She obviously is more interested in business, but that's a terrible way to communicate it. That has to be the least business savvy way to express interest in a transfer imaginable.

Thoughts I'd have if I heard that:

1) So when we asked her why she wanted to work here and she told us she would find the work interesting, she was lying?

2) Is her current work any good? It can't be if she's demotivated.

3) If I invite her to a business meeting, is she going to say something similarly thoughtless? Maybe she blurts out that she thinks the customer's request is stupid, or something similar? Seeing as she just said in front of her manager that she regrets her entire career choice, which should have been just an obviously bad idea, can I trust her basic judgement in other areas?

4) Apropos 3, if she shows such a lack of social awareness surely keeping her away from the business side and in front of a computer is for the best.


I spent 9 years at one company- seven years longer than I should have - and by the time I left in 2008, I was way behind where I should have been. I spent from 2009-2016 admitting weaknesses left and right so I could learn from other people.

I think that might have kept me from getting ahead at the 3 companies I worked at during that time, but it was worth it for the skills I picked up.

Even at my current position as a tech lead, I still have to admit weaknesses. My weaknesses now are around a lot of things that I know are best practices but I haven't had a chance to implement fully before and that I've never been responsible for hiring and recruitment. I have had to be up front about both to ask advice.


As a tech lead, it's actually easier for you to admit weaknesses, since your subordinates will be happy if you arrange things such that their job satisfaction is high, regardless of how much or little technical work you do. For a front-line engineer it's more dangerous, particularly if there is a perception (even if unfair) of a discrepancy between how they presented themselves at interview, and how they are presenting themselves now. Front-line engineers also don't necessarily know if their employer is thinking of firing them - they therefore are best advised to play it safe with regards to any little thing that their employer could pick up on as a straw that breaks the camel's back. Better safe than sorry.

But yes, there are times when we all need to ask for help, and even here, there are better and worse ways to do it. Again, for a team lead to express vulnerability can be positive in the right circumstances - because it can allow a junior (or indeed a senior) to puff up their chest with pride as they may then be able to help out their boss, show off their knowledge and look really good - and it can help to bond with the team. In contrast, showing vulnerability as a subordinate, to the wrong manager, can just give them an excuse to fire you. That's happened to me twice - I've learned my lesson.


The only times I've been closed to getting fired weren't because of technical skills. I don't believe I've ever come up against a technical challenge that I couldn't solve by putting enough man hours into it.

But, the one thing that I've gotten a couple of "improvement plans" about were surrounding my lack of emotional intelligence and attitude. Those nine years between 2008-2016 were just as much about improving my emotional intelligence as learning technical skills. I look back in horror about some of things I did during the first 12 years of my career. I can very much see where the article is coming from.


God, this hits home for me. I have suspicions that my oversharing and fraternization with my co-workers has hurt me and continues to hurt me, in the eyes of my superiors. I have recently been given more responsibility over a coworker whom I am consistently seen hanging out with and sharing with. However rather than take that as a indication that things are moving in the right direction, I'm starting to feel like I missed an official promotion because I look like I can't use discretion. At least I'm starting to see this stuff now. I can't be filling in the downtime at work with sharing at work with coworkers if I want to be seen as management 'material'. All this and I am also just passed year 12.

And trying to do a review for a guy you talk to on a regular basis and come up with a way to bring him 'in line' with the level your boss expects you to evaluate him at? Not fun. Not to mention these evals were revealed to me in confidence to be complete horseshit BY MY OWN BOSS. Anyway I digress.


Having a trusted group of advisors is strongly recommended. Confusing everyone in your office as your professional advisor is ill advised.

Find people that have had success in fields that interest you and cultivate relationships with them. And explicitly ask, "Would you be willing to be one of my professional advisors?" You'll want 3-5 of these.

From time-to-time, grab lunch or coffee. And ask the advantages of an MBA or whatever certification. Ask "does job X seem like a good next move for me given my career goals?" Then pick up the tab.

But never, ever confuse lunch at your company's cafeteria as the time or place to raise professional doubts. Absolute confidence at work; and raise your personal insecurities in private with people you can trust and that are expecting that kind of conversation.

Here's my current advisor group:

My mom and dad. I'm mid-30's with three kids of my own. My own parents are a great sounding board for "how is my work/life balance? Am I focused too much on cash at the expense of time with my kids? Will another relocation be too much to ask of my children?" They don't know much about what I do and can't help me build business models, but they raised 5 kids and can effectively call out my B.S.

The dean when I got an MBA. We did a lot of work together while I was at school. He's an incredibly connected individual and is someone I trust to guide me with business ethics. In a failed startup I had some private issues. I met the dean for coffee and he gave me some of the best advice I've ever received: "keep your chin up, your mouth shut, and your integrity intact." Basically "That sucks, move on." He's a "big picture" / "career arc" kind of guy who could help me get a conversation with just about anyone I want. And he's a wonderful person I consider a good friend.

A previous co-worker who is a marketing executive. We hit it off at work. I'm passionate about quantitative marketing. He was more brand oriented. Enough overlap where we had shared interests; different enough we weren't direct competitors at the office. He's been around and knows the pitfalls of business. Sample advice: "ignore all 'Growth hacker' job listings. They're brutal jobs and the first to get axed when numbers are missed. You'll be held accountable for the things you are least likely to be able to control."

None of these conversations happen casually. They are planned discussions with people I have a close relationship. And none of them work in my org (I asked my old coworker to be an advisor _after_ he left).

Be purposeful in what you say to whom.


> I'm someone who has a big say in your career prospects.

No, you have a big say in their progression within one specific organization. Their career prospects overall are up to them. Frankly, I will quit a boss who acts like they own my career.

(Separately: Your undergrad degree is what you make of it. There is no worthless education, only worthless application of that education into your life.)


I've seen plenty of bosses who will try to improve someone even if they know they are leaving in a couple years, telling people to make sure to get on LinkedIn so they can rate them up, etc.. There's much less loyalty to companies nowadays, but people do have loyalty to their superior if the superior is setting them up for success no matter what. So I think a good boss does have some traction on a person's career, not just their advancement in a single organization. Companies and management that push to make their employees better overall and not just for themselves often brag about it too.


True -- but GP's comment didn't sound like a mentoring relationship to me. He was saying he expects people to watch what they say around him, implying that open and transparent communication is not part of their culture. Had he said that he took the person aside later and talked through office communications and culture, THAT would sound like mentoring.


Neither quitting in a fit of pique nor being fired look good in an interview. You can get away with a prima donna vibe - but only if you're really good - and sometimes not even then.


> And my immediate thought is, "For god's sake, don't SAY that shit around me, I'm someone who has a big say in your career prospects."

Did you tell her that? Why or why not? Seems like a really good opportunity for a teachable moment.


I have been very fortunate to have bosses pull me aside and give me advice like this while I was young. It has helped me tremendously throughout my working life. I try to keep that in mind as I work with younger people. It can be hard to bring these sorts of things up diplomatically, but it is really important to do it if we expect folks to change their behavior.


That could backfire. It's low probability but it could carry big consequences.

The current climate of accusations is not good for managers.


My take, is work with what people offer in an official capacity and ignore the informal communication because many people who have similar doubts and inner thoughts simply don't express them.

So basically, you'd be "punishing" someone for being honest and potentially promoting someone who is better at "manoeuvering" through the corp labyrinth.


There's two sides to this.

From the boss's side, yes, punishing someone for honesty and promoting someone else for keeping their mouth shut on the same feelings is... suboptimal at best.

From the worker's side, though, you don't know how smart the boss is. You don't know whether they are a jerk or a compassionate human being. Don't give them ammunition to use against you. (If you know your boss well, and you know they won't use it against you, that's different. I've had bosses that I would absolutely trust with that kind of information. And, I've had bosses that I wasn't sure I could do that. And I've seen one that I absolutely know I couldn't trust with anything negative, but fortunately he was never my boss.)


Don't ever trust your employer. I've learned this the hard way. It's 2017 - employers have no loyalty to us when the shit hits the fan - and we should have no loyalty to them. Stay if you like it, go if you don't - because there's probably something better out there.


I agree with what you said with respect to bosses. Some will certainly hold your doubts and or honesty against you, and that's unfortunate.

So, yes, beware of who your boss is.


> (Separately: Don't get an undergraduate degree in business. What a worthless degree.)

Anecdotally, I have an undergraduate business degree and it has opened many doors for me.


Exactly. That sums it up. When you hear something like:

"Yeah, I know, I’m so scared. When Lawrence offered me this job, I was so worried about whether I could do it. I mean it’s all so complicated, and the connections to be made over the network are so uncertain, and then, everything, the timeouts, the servers, lost messages, everything I have to think about it, it’s just really overwhelming and scary, you know?"

It sounds like a lack of confidence. However, Deborah Tannen has suggested a different interpretation.


> lack of confidence

Hide your doubts, smile and act confident and you'll be OK most of the time...

..but when it fails it can lead to disasters, especially if entire teams are engaging in this behavior.


Not sure if you're being funny, but I disagree that we should hide our doubts or insecurities. I know it sounds contrary to what you want to do in that moment, though.

However, don't exaggerate or emphasize them too much either, but rather get in the mindset of wanting to become better at the skill/subject, and display that mindset.

I'd think much higher of a person who did that than someone who pretends everything is fine when they are struggling. Also, if you display this mindset, people will offer to help you, too!


Read the second part of the sentence.


> when it fails it can lead to disasters

do you have any examples of this?


If you're falling behind and are finding a problem is more complex than originally estimated, it is your job to express that doubt to your manager so that they can either get you more resources or otherwise... manage... the issue.

They have to make a lot of pieces fit together that all converge to a solution at the right time to keep everything overall moving, and can't do that without good information.

It's more important to the company that the project get done than that you did it all by yourself, and if you're afraid to disclose your barriers or doubts then it will fail spectacularly. You will look infinity times worse failing to meet a deadline without advance warning than if you go to your boss a month before and explain that the problem has <x, y, and z> unexpected issues and that you need help.


Are you asking for examples of failure resulting from one or more people overstating their confidence in achieving expectations?


If they don't like computer science why do you think they'd want to advance a career related to computer science? Maybe speaking it out loud is helping them move towards fulfillment of what they'd really like. People are allowed to regret their career choices in front of people if they want to. It may have consequences, but that's their business.


If she wants to get out of engineering, that's something she can do at any point, on her own recognizance. She doesn't need my help to do it.

But, on the other hand, if she does decide she wants to continue as an engineer in our company, she's now added a kind of negative datapoint to my evaluation of her suitability, and for something that's not entirely within her control -- it's partly within mine. It's just a bad idea for her to do this.

It's not the only data point I have, and I tend to think that she'll actually do fine in engineering if she decides to continue down this path. But my job isn't to make her dreams come true, it's to find the people to make the best investments of the company's money in personnel.

Let's give a not-entirely-hypothetical. Let's say that Alice is the name of the engineer who expressed regrets about going into engineering (not her real name, to be clear), and Betty is the name of another, very similar engineer, who has expressed no regrets.

A tech lead spot is opening up in Alice and Betty's field. It's likely to be the only such spot in the near term. Alice and Betty are both seemingly good candidates for the job. But I have to be worried that whichever one I don't pick for the role will feel that they have no career path at our company, and quit.

Now, I could pick Alice. But I know that at least at one point in the past, Alice was regretting becoming an engineer. It sure would suck if I pick Alice, Betty quits, and then six months later Alice pursues her dream to go into business. Whereas if I pick Betty, and then Alice quits, well, maybe Alice was going to get out of engineering anyway.

I feel that I have to give some weight to this information I have about Alice. It's not that I dislike her or feel that she's weak for expressing doubts. It's that she's given me a reason to doubt that she'll be here long term, and if I'm going to invest a limited resource in her versus her peers, I want to do so with the most assurance possible that she'll be here long enough to make that investment worthwhile.

Ask yourself if it would be fair to Betty for me to pretend I didn't know this about Alice.


It made sense how you thought of what she said. If she doesn't like computer science, maybe you passing her for a promotion would help motivate her career change. So doing what you are saying may actually be helping her dreams come true in a roundabout way.

Edit: Why should she put on an act for the sake of money/career/boss if she doesn't want to? Maybe the argument is she didn't know better (which may be true).


Thank you for this explanation.

I was an excellent student. I also spent a lot of years as a homemaker. Such thought processes often aren't obvious to me and they often aren't explained well, making it easy for people to feel like "the boss is playing favorites" or whatever, which I really don't like to do personally but I am often not equipped to argue it if other people do it.


The point is, these consequences can include everything up to and including termination, and a resultant difficulty in finding a subsequent job that pays as well. The young woman probably didn't think of that when she blurted that out. Or maybe she has a trust fund to fall back on, but the people around her may not, and she wasn't setting a good example.


I get it. If she doesn't like computer science though, maybe the termination will be part of her process to finding something she enjoys. Edit: my point is she doesn't have to pretend if she chooses not to. Who cares if that's what she chooses to do. I guess maybe the concern is she was oblivious to the impact of what she said.


Why not use that information to see whether there is a better place for her in your company? Ultimately it's in your (the company's) best interest to keep smart people around, and the transversal skills obtained from forming an engineer in business practices can be extremely valuable.

I agree with your statement on informality - there is a very thin line that's right inbetween boring formality and obnoxious casualness and it takes some time to learn how to walk it, but I don't think your engineer's words are that bad. A good manager (even N+2) should have some idea of the career aspirations of their employees, and your employee sounds like she'd rather be moved to a different position with less computer science stuff than be promoted for more of the same thing.


> (Separately: Don't get an undergraduate degree in business. What a worthless degree.)

As one who has a bachelors in business, I wouldn't my degree completely useless, but I can't think of a reason I'd recommend someone might go down that path. I would say 80% of the value I got from my degree could be achieved by taking courses in 2 or 3 classes, maybe accounting, finance, marketing, and management.


I’d wager if such an unimportant comment would have a serious effect on her prospects working for you, her prospects weren’t that good to begin with.


It's not an unimportant comment at all.


I get a lot of value from my undergraduate business degree and resent your characterization of my education and career choices.


* > (Separately: Don't get an undergraduate degree in business. What a worthless degree.)

Depends on the major. Accounting is a pretty legitimate degree with high-ish earning potential. Finance can be semi-legit, but most Wall Street jobs will just as easily take people with math or engineering degrees, often preferring them, and those degrees are way more versatile. Most others will not increase your career options. I made this mistake sadly.


This is a toxic generalization and is unfair to anyone who put in the work to earn and then take advantage of a business degree. Are you honestly arguing that the entire discipline of marketing is worthless? What about project management? Process improvement? Human resources? It's flat wrong to say a business degree is "worthless".

I have an undergraduate business degree and I have done very well with it. Your mistakes are your own, don't blame the program.


Worthless is not a fair adjective, I have rephrased. But I still maintain that (outside of Accounting) I would not personally recommend a young person to get their undergraduate degree in business assuming it will be their sole undergraduate degree. Business is a great add-on to a specialty in something else, though. Thus the popularity of people going from science/engineering undergrad to an MBA later on.

What was your major, and what type of job/position did you take post-undergraduate?


My major is irrelevant to this conversation because I have classmates with successful and fulfilling careers in all the disciplines offered by my business school. Their business degrees (and mine) are their primary degree and are worth more than they cost.

I think you do a disservice to young people by giving them absolute advice like that. Business school does not work for everyone, that does not make it worthless or only good as a supplement.

My degree opened doors to a career that I would not have with any other degree. That doesn't mean everyone should do it but a lot of people can. It certainly means that your absolute statements are incorrect.


you likely wouldn't be eating with them on a regular basis


See - even this woman who studied CS and got a job in the field ended up regretting it. And that's hardly an isolated example. I'm not saying all women who study CS regret it - far from it - but maybe James Damore was onto something?


it's not stated why they felt that way. i'm a guy and have thought that at times myself... for me, mostly because it seems (from this angle) that MBA types can get a great/better salary and have a FAR higher income/status ceiling, all while seemingly having a much easier life than engineers (grass is always greener :P).


I can't relate to that at all. Having to stay awake in even more boring meetings? Not being able to write code any more? Why would any programmer want that - unless they didn't actually enjoy their job?


Some people want to be a business partner more than an employee. Not that that's impossible as a software engineer, but it may be easier from a different starting point.


I'm not a manager, but the people I've worked with best over the years are the ones who have shared a bit of themselves at work.

People who act 'professional' all the time aren't trustworthy to me. It's impossible to have a frank discussion since they're always hiding behind the veneer of professionalism. They overrate their own ability to fool an audience, and it erodes everyone's ability to trust them.

I'm not saying everyone needs to blurt out their feelings 100% of the time. I'm saying honesty isn't only reserved for touchy-feely millenials. If you cultivate a culture of honesty rather than dog-eat-dog deception, you'll get better feedback from your employees, you'll be able to give feedback easier, and teams will be more comfortable speaking up instead of sweeping the garbage under the table.

The problem with the woman in the interview wasn't that she was being honest, it's that she was framing her honesty in an unproductive way.


A good article, which should probably be read alongside the one about "vulnerability" by Leah Fessler [1] that it is responding to. Mining the links, I sniff an insidious confusion about what it means show "vulnerabilty". On its face, it sounds like "exposing your weaknesses". But in pro-vulnerability literature (e.g. [2]), it seems more like "displaying honesty and courage". Those are strengths, not weakensses.

An example is when someone is confident enough to say "Hey, I don't know about [X], can you explain it?". That confidence is good; but for it to work, it must be common knowledge that, since no-one understands everything the question displays keenness to learn (i.e. strength) and not ignorance (i.e. weakness).

[Pro tip: one of the most valuable, and easiest, life skills I learned as a young man was to say "I don't know" in a confident tone of voice.]

It is bad if vulnerability-talk teaches young people to display their weakness, since of course that will lead people to lose confidence in them. What else could it do? But it is good if they learn to turn problems into opportunities to strengthen themselves, and to do it openly so that their colleauges can help.

[1]: https://work.qz.com/1155475/im-a-millennial-and-i-cant-get-m...

[2]: https://www.fastcompany.com/3001319/why-doing-awesome-work-m...


Related article by Fessler about creating a "user manual" for her colleagues to understand her better: https://qz.com/1046131/writing-a-user-manual-at-work-makes-t...

Such a cool concept. So much more efficient than the opaque, black-box methods we use to understand and navigate our colleagues in this discretion-oriented, anti-vulnerability-oriented status quo we currently live in. Ironically, I'd say the efficiency of it actually makes it more humanizing.


For emphasis, I would add, if a woman says, "I'm really scared and overwhelmed by this task" then it is possible that she is sharing too much. But managers should recall that she is perhaps simply trying to create a friendship. It isn't automatically an expression of a lack of confidence.


I would add that to be true for anyone. Some people are just more tentative and less likely to be sure about things.

Not everyone believes they have to be uber resolute in their statements.


If you never feel overwhelmed and a bit of nerveous, then you never really challenged yourself and play it too safe. Or just lie about your feelings.

I am not sure why saying something like that is seen as worst then overconfidence and acting sure when you dont know what you are doing. The latter does more harm.


Well, because of organisational biases. There are principal agent problems dotted throughout most businesses larger than a single room, and people care more about looking good than being theoretically optimal, and this is recursive. And however bad you think this problem is - it's probably worse. Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky have both written good stuff on this subject.


"To the extent that he’s been successful, it’s because he’s been strategic about what he reveals, and to the extent that he is heading for disaster, it is because he is often unstrategic about what he reveals."

I like the rest of the article, but this seems almost like the definition of confirmation bias.


What counterexamples would you offer? Bearing in mind that it may have been intended only to apply to consequences that he was responsible for, not things that he had nothing to do with, but I can't think of any examples of the latter right now.


It's also somewhat tautological, if we define being strategic as inherently leading to beneficial outcomes.


Traditionally, for a man among men, expressing confidence has always been safe. If a man expresses confidence in a situation where confidence is foolhardy, other men will interpret it as a performance of masculinity. I'm sure Rick understands this project is going to be a nightmare. I'm glad he's gung-ho about it. If you express fear, on the other hand, your fear will be scrutinized to determine whether it is well-founded and appropriate to the situation. I'm worried about Rick — he seems terrified by this project. I know it's going to be tough, but geez, grow a pair.

Women among women are in the opposite boat. Expressing vulnerability is always safe because it can always be read as a performance of femininity, but expressing confidence invites scrutiny as to whether it is well-founded or arrogant.

Both of those scenarios have a safe fall-back based on gender expectations. When you mix genders, the fall-backs disappear. In tech, this is virtually always a problem faced by a woman in a male-dominated workplace. If she's ever momentarily in doubt, there's no safe direction to err. She can't take the masculine safe route and project bravado, because that behavior only reads correctly from a man. Nor can she afford to fall back on traditional expectations of women, because traditional expectations of women would suggest she isn't competent at a technical job. So she has to hit the correct balance of confidence and vulnerability every time. There's no safe fallback.

And even when she hits the correct, situationally appropriate balance of confidence, the men around her might still be confused about how they're supposed to interpret it coming from a woman. Unless they analyze her confidence in a rational, point-by-point manner — and how often do you do that in a workday? — they're relying on instincts that are conditioned by cultural processes largely outside their control to 1) expect confidence from coworkers and 2) not expect confidence from women.

Anyway, it's pretty disheartening to see an incident that is heavily colored by gender expectations related and acknowledged as such but then interpreted as a story about a one-dimensional spectrum from expressiveness to guardedness. A man in the same situation would have been allowed a generous expression of confidence and self-regard, even if it reflected less technical insight than the woman's fears did. Women and men both routinely filter the emotions they share with other people, sharing some and repressing others. Showing vulnerability isn't about being unguarded or guarded, or about naive "authenticity" versus Machiavellian "performing authenticity." It's about filtering differently for a different set of expectations. Nor is it about women not understanding that personal knowledge can be used against them. Witness teenage girls feeling forced to suicide when other girls use their secrets against them. Women are not (and cannot afford to be) less socially careful than men, or less aware of the dangers of sharing.

Nor is it true that "if you are ambitious, all of the top jobs are reserved for people who are closed and guarded." Successful male leaders are rarely cold fish and are often very personally charismatic. They have to be mindful of the effect their expressions of emotion have on the people around them, and of the necessity of using that power to inspire loyalty and sacrifice. You can't make it to the top without inspiring trust in people. In case that sounds overly touchy-feely, let me add that it's especially important if your ambition requires other people to fail. It's easier to knife someone in the back than take them head-on. The "closed and guarded" person is never going to enjoy someone's loyalty or take a rival by surprise, because everyone is going to treat him like a snake. (That's one path to power, but judging by the people you see in high positions, it isn't a common one. Even Donald Trump projects a lot of interior qualities such as confidence, defiance, and self-regard and inspires loyalty in people who feel that he is gifting those emotions to people who need them.)

On a final note, I suspect the author understands 90% of this but is stranded on the wrong side of the enormous dichotomous wall he has erected between authentic emotional expression and manipulative emotional performance. People always filter and selectively amplify the emotions they express. That filtering is not inherently false, malicious, or untrustworthy. It's an inevitable part of being human, another complication when understanding another human being. A person's filter can be a positive or negative aspect of them, something they use in constructive or destructive ways. That's a better way to evaluate this question of vulnerability in the workplace. What kind of filter do I want my employees or coworkers to have at work? Should we systematically favor bravado over vulnerability? My gut feeling is that we should not.


> What kind of filter do I want my employees or coworkers to have at work? Should we systematically favor bravado over vulnerability? My gut feeling is that we should not.

I think structural/procedural solutions can be very helpful to encourage honest discussion. For example, rather than asking "when do you think you can have this done by?" you can ask "let's try to estimate this story in a timeboxed way, as a group, using planning poker". I know it may sound silly to those who have not done it before, but it works really well. It's difficult to explain the real reason why this helps so much without revealing more than I'd rather reveal in public.

Also, and relatedly, to the extent that you wish people to be more open and take ownership of problems such that they can honestly discuss their work-related problems rather than trying to keep you happy and play office politics, you can try to exhibit servant leadership. But you can't really be a servant leader when it comes to some issues, like hiring and firing - and by consequence, performance review. There you have to be firm but fair.


Very thoughtful comment, I really appreciate your pragmatism and ability to articulate such a divided issue. I absolutely agree that vulnerability should be rewarded (or at least, not avoided as if it's a weakness). I've often thought to myself that in tech, teams could benefit from vulnerability and openness to help confront underlying issues that may otherwise be ignored by overt confidence/bravado. Of course, it would take being aware of these subtleties and a willingness to acknowledge internalized expectations. I don't expect much based on my current experiences, but I am still keeping this idea in the back of my mind if I ever find a role/team where I don't have to balance both sides as you explained.


Anyway, it's pretty disheartening to see an incident that is heavily colored by gender expectations related and acknowledged as such but then interpreted as a story about a one-dimensional spectrum from expressiveness to guardedness.

Maybe you have said it already in the above but to ask directly: do you think the author or their colleague would have treated Lisa’s remarks differently if she were a man?


FWIW:

Male characters in movies who show you their scars are seen correctly as bragging about what badasses they are. I am a woman inclined to do that and I have had to learn to stop it. It is consistently interpreted as "Oh, you poor, pathetic thing, so victimized by life! Clearly, you need to be rescued! (by which I mean treated like a doormat and taken advantage of)"

Outright bragging goes worse places. So the GP is correct that women have no good options for owning their competence or admitting that you build your chops by biting off more than you can chew and this project is an opportunity to grow, because it won't come easy.

We really don't have good paradigms for women to do that sort of thing. There are no standard ways to do it. Having to try to make up such paradigms as you go on top of handling a challenging job is a serious handicap.


That is different from what is described in the original article, though, where “Lisa” really does speak in a way that communicates fear and a sense of trepidation.


Is it? If it is, why am I so frequently interpreted as playing the victim card when I am displaying my badass scars? Or even simply telling it like it is about my actual life experiences?


Maybe it's the way you tell them. With engineers, a little explicitness goes a long way, and will generally be accepted - unless you're being patronising and telling them something they already know. So try saying "I'm not saying this to gain any sympathy or anything like that, but I had a similar experience, which was... and what it taught me / how it made me stronger was..." I mean that's kind of a stilted template, but you get the general idea.

Now, this might lead to a bunfight about whether those situations were similar, in your colleagues' opinions - but then at least you'd have brought out into the open where your colleagues weren't thinking along the same lines as you - which might not always be what you expected!


Well, to be fair, I never really stopped doing it. But I do handle things differently.

I still don't think that makes it fair to assume the woman in the article wasn't doing something similar. We don't have her side of the story. We have someone else's version of events.

Also: A man telling a woman that her observations about her own experiences aren't valid and she just must be doing it wrong has a not nice name because it is not nice behavior. Which may be apropos of nothing if you happen to be female and just failed to say that.

Either way, I wasn't asking for advice, I was giving testimony, so your comment is guilty of treating me like a victim when I wasn't playing the victim card at all, just testifying from firsthand experience.


Is it?

If we accept for the moment, that Lisa was just describing her sense of uneasiness -- her sense of trepidation -- that's different from "displaying my badass scars" or "telling it like it is about my actual life experiences".

That does seem like a reasonable reading of the original article.

I did start out by asking what dkarl thought about whether or not the original author would have thought differently, if a young man had said those things; or if his argument was that having trouble with saying those things was a problem. I'm not sure where you're going but it seems like you're saying, that I should accept your thoughts about your experiences as a conclusive answer to my question to dkarl. That seems strange.


Both of those scenarios have a safe fall-back based on gender expectations. When you mix genders, the fall-backs disappear. In tech, this is virtually always a problem faced by a woman in a male-dominated workplace. If she's ever momentarily in doubt, there's no safe direction to err.

This description indicates that women have no real choice but to handle it differently from a man, which kind of makes your question moot.

One of the things I frequently talk about is having been molested and raped as a child. It certainly can happen to boys, but seems much more common for girls. This often gets me comments to the effect of "I am so sorry for what you suffered" as if I am in need of a shoulder to cry on.

Given that I do it often in public on an overwhelmingly male forum, I have difficulty trying to fathom why that isn't interpreted as extremely thick skinned, ballsy bitch instead. But I don't get a whole lot of "Holy cow, woman. You really hold your own!"

And I think I will stop there because I don't really know how to interact with your conclusions, so I am not sure good communication can happen here.


This description indicates that women have no real choice but to handle it differently from a man, which kind of makes your question moot.

This is a kind of assuming the conclusion. Maybe what dkarl is saying is right, maybe it isn’t; but my question is about investigating those ideas.

Given that I do it often in public on an overwhelmingly male forum, I have difficulty trying to fathom why that isn’t interpreted as extremely thick skinned, ballsy bitch instead.

Please know that I already think of you as someone who holds her own and is up to facing any challenger in this forum.


I am not assuming any conclusions. I was only trying to add firsthand experience to the mix as food for thought.

I have long gotten a lot of pushback for apparently being pretty oblivious to cultural expectations for my gender. My reaction to that has been to wonder WTH? and then try to find a non confrontational path around it rather than simply cave to such social pressure.

The fact that I have to do that at all suggests that, no, we wouldn't be having this discussion if the candidate had been male. It would have simply gone differently. Period.

It's a little like saying "But what if a guy got his clitoris caught in the machinery?" And the answer is that a guy doesn't have a clitoris to get caught in the machinery (and the pro trans activists can kindly spare me the derail about how that comment is somehow transphobic, thanks).

Women get enormous amounts of social pressure from the get go to straight up behave differently than men. I often fail to behave differently from men in certain metrics. The result is very often a whole lot of drama from people outraged that I am not toeing the line. And that outrage only makes sense if you accept that the rules are different for girls.

I had to research why on earth I was getting so much pushback on HN when I first got here. I was a big fat nobody with an entry level job and no hope of promotion and some pathetic amount of karma. The level of blowback was insanely high for some big fat nobody who just wanted a place to run their damn mouth. It didn't add up until I discovered that I had a lot of karma for a woman, never mind that the amount of karma was not notable at all for the guys. Yet it was making waves.

So, I don't know how to engage your comment effectively because I am not assuming a conclusion. I am trying to sum up 52 years of "if I do the same thing a guy does, wow, does that not go at all like it does for the guys and I can only conclude sexism has to be a factor in there somewhere."

And you can do with that testimony as you see fit in terms of trying to understand what is going on in the world.


Reality check here: I think if she were a man - and not a boy fresh out of school, mind - she wouldn't have been hired in the first place. And yet here we are, seriously arguing about whether her naivety and immaturity should have been enabled and encouraged. There's no question: it shouldn't. That is not how you talk in an interview.

Not even if your interviewer is a woman.


Hearing "I'm so scared" from inexperienced programmers about Flash projects doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

We should accept it for what it is instead of imagining fanciful scenarios about the communication patterns of the two(?) sexes.


> We worked with Lisa for 2 years and we produced our biggest successes with her.

So, being honest paid off for her?

Most successful CEOs are very open about everything, and don't keep secrets. Secrets and opacity are what destroy companies and relationships, not the reverse.


> So, being honest paid off for her?

The article describes how her openness almost cost her the job offer. In the author's opinion, she made a mistake by being open about her insecurities in a job interview.

I've worked with people who are probably too open about their insecurities. I think you can be open about what you don't know without saying things like "I don't know if I can do this job." Frankly, I don't really know how to respond to that kind of statement in a professional setting beyond resorting to platitudes.

I think there are better ways to talk about your insecurities, like saying "I have experience with X, but I haven't worked with Y, and I know I'll need to figure Y out for this role." That seems okay to me. Knowing what you don't know is really important.

> Most successful CEOs are very open about everything, and don't keep secrets. Secrets and opacity are what destroy companies and relationships, not the reverse.

Everyone has a private interior life. Everyone feels things and thinks things that they don't voice publicly.


I don’t know. It might be just me, but when hiring, I fall for honesty. Corporate talk fools no one.


Funny, I got where I am today by speaking in the manner I was being spoken to in interviews. They seem corporate - I speak corporate. They seem informal - I speak real. It works for me.


Maybe it was her focus on her fears that was an issue? If she'd simply said, "This project is really ambitious" then maybe everyone would have agreed? It is possible to be honest about the risks of a given strategy, without turning the conversation into a discussion of your personal fears and discomforts, yes?


I don't think I agree. Being fearful about specifics - she was talking about making sure servers don't lag, loads, etc. - is actually a green flag when hiring.

It applies to CEOs too. I remember reading - can't find it back sorry - a ML study that shows a reverse correlation about how optimistic a CEO appears in the video of quarterly meeting and stock performance.


You don't generally hire your CEO - and if, contrary to all precedent, you were hiring the CEO, you'd probably want someone who could speak convincingly and confidently to the media and investors, while speaking authoritatively, firmly and confidently to employees. That could make the difference between a startup running out of money or succeeding.


There is a backlash to this ancient mode of thinking. It's called Conscious Leadership and it's predicated on the idea that vulnerability brings better results and that you need a safe environment for the dynamic to flourish. Some of it sounds very new-agey but from what I've read and experienced it has really good fundamentals.


That's very naive though. Eventually there will be someone around who is politically motivated or otherwise adversarial, and then your safe space is gone and everyone who exposed themselves remains exposed. No matter how much we want the new-agey stuff to work, it just doesn't because it requires everyone to play by its rules, which doesn't happen in reality.


To add to this, I made the huge mistake a few years ago of admitting to an amount of social anxiety at a certain workplace. Within a few weeks that admission of vulnerability was used against me as a reason I wasn't a good fit for a project that I know I would have been great at. I left over it. Never again.


The things that are exposed should still be work-related. Be honest about why deadlines were missed, what failures were in designs, etc, and basically work against just everybody putting on a "Yes everything is great!" facade.

That facade breeds distrust and low morale. Even if things aren't going great, being honest about it keeps motivation up better than the alternative.


Do retrospectives at regular intervals and encourage everyone in the team to bring up (almost) any issues, large or small, in those meetings, and discuss them, with a solution-focused outlook - what can we actually try in order to address this problem?

An essential feature of retrospectives is that upper management, and internal/external customers, are not invited - and do not get to see the raw whiteboard, but only - if they see anything from it - a sanitised summary that's relevant - and diplomatic - for them. This all helps to encourage openness.


Prisoner's dilemma: if everyone shares it's great all around. If everyone shares and you don't, still safe but less benefit for you. If nobody shares and you do, you're hosed. Strategy: always defect.


It seems like this parallels the need for encryption. I don't over-share in meatspace for the same reason that I don't deliberately make myself vulnerable in cyber-space.


I agree, but, I also wonder if some of this 'it is okay to share' is because of social media's influence on what is acceptable to disclose.


No, it's just immature thinking from people who aren't familiar with the workplace and its norms. If it wasn't social media it would be some IRL friends.


Extract all value, then discard.


Special-purpose accounts aren't allowed here. HN is for thoughtful conversation, which takes place between individuals, not abstractions.


One piece of advice, never ever ever bring work from your previous or current employer to a job interview. I’ve had to reject very good candidates because of this.


You don't want to see a portfolio?


The exception may be a artist, but I don’t want to see a portfolio of proprietary software or documents from a previous employer.


Made it about halfway through this article but couldn’t go on. There’s a big, big difference between appropriate discretion and faking authenticity.


If you make yourself vulnerable, a competitor can exploit it.


Your competitors will find things to exploit anyway. Opening yourself up will attract people who'll help when things get tough.


Surely a balance between sharing and not sharing is optimal. How x and y are weighted depends on the work environment.


It must be an awful workplace if it's led by people who run for the hills at a conversation over doubts. Vulnerability is not a terminal illness. A lot of people never learn how to deal with it, so their rejection of others for it is largely a reflection of their own insecurities.


beautiful. strategic.

> Leah Fessler doesn’t seem to get that she is being forced to do this to serve the interests of capital. She is not doing this with a group of friends. A late night session in a dorm room rewards this kind of openness, but an exploitive economic system seeks this information to gain power over the workers.


Or don't work with shallow, narrow-minded people?


Sure, if you can ensure that you'll do that for your entire career and that you'll never be in a position where vulnerability has made you (perceptually or otherwise) a weaker candidate than your rival for a particular job, contract, or promotion.

The calculus is simple: do you gain more in your career by openly sharing everything, or by holding in reserve that which doesn't need to be shared?

It is always - always - to your benefit to be the advantaged party in any relationship with an information asymmetry. By over-sharing or not exercising discretion, you are voluntarily putting yourself in the disadvantaged position and should reasonably expect that position to be exploited by others around you at some point.

If you can avoid ever needing to transact with anyone that would exploit that asymmetry, more power to you. I'd wager that exceptionally few people have that luxury.


In what sense shallow and narrow-minded?


I've read a couple of your Smash Company articles now. I broke down in relative detail the indescribably huge problems there are with the one extolling the virtues of using one-on-one instead of group meetings. I'm not going to do that here...

I'll just say a couple things... First editorial stuff... The structure and flow of this article does not work. Much of it is unnecessary, there are entire groups of paragraphs that, more or less, repeat themselves, and there are anecdotes that are basically nonsensical. Also, "discretion" is too poorly defined, it is used far too loosely (an unfortunate tweet or a youthful blunder is pretty much incomparable to being vulnerable with your coworkers - it's honestly laughable to put them in the same category).

Second... The culture/gender thing... It's pretty much summed up in your final full paragraph. Just keep doing stuff the way we (i.e. I) have been until you inevitably shouldn't anymore because the culture expectations have changed? That's terrible advice, in absolutely any context, but especially this one. I'd be fairly confident in saying that any piece of advice that ends in that kind of qualifier should be thrown out immediately.

Third... The point... Honestly, I don't need to know anything else about your "2 years" with Lisa to know that you were better off for her willingness to be vulnerable (a huge plus when looking at a new hire, by the way). Would you have preferred her to be dishonestly confident (that would have been easy), or at least noncommittally vague (easy, but comes off as unsurprisingly insincere)? No. You don't want that in an employee. Knowing the limitations and concerns (actual concerns) is always better. Sorry, it is. The rest of your anecdotes aren't strong enough to make me even consider questioning that she did anything wrong. She did something that was hard, yes. She did something that could have cost her that job, yes. But she did something that improved her (and your) ability to do the job, and you were better off for it.

To be perfectly honest, it probably is a generational thing. And, to be perfectly honest again, I welcome the cultural changes (they are already getting here) that will come as the working generations shift. We, and our businesses, will be (i.e. are) better off for them.

P.S. You should take some time for a hard think about what "professionalism" means. Too often it is used as a crutch to support some archaic, and frankly harmful (across all possible meanings of the word), business practices.




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