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How to adopt an “openness” mindset at work (atomicobject.com)
111 points by philk10 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

While I agree fundamentally, I think the blog post is focusing too narrowly which gives me a bad taste in the mouth, and I read it as an attempt to pass blame to employees.

For example, one suggestion is to point out the problem and discuss it openly.

>schedule a meeting with the project stakeholders and product owners ... talk about the pattern of incomplete requirements and make recommendations ...

This is great, and from my experience happens all the time. People speak up to managers all the time, every day. Rarely have I seen someone with a problem not bring it up to their manager.

It's the lack of action from managers following the feedback that's often the cause for developers adopting the "victim-oriented mindset". The direct result of manager inaction is for the developer to think the issues we have are real and are not being addressed, so my manager is indirectly telling me not to bring issues up next time which causes the "victim-oriented mindset".

Mindsets are situational, a developer's mindset reflects the environment they find themselves in. Poor leadership is the number one cause for burnout (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17849489). Poor leadership causes poor mindsets.

The main advice is to focus on solutions instead of throwing up your hands. That doesn't mean every attempt will be met with success. Sometimes there won't be much you can do but most of the time there is.

Usually, the best solution to a dysfunctional workplace is to find a job somewhere else. If managers do not act on feedback from the people they manage, that is what they are implicitly telling them to do.

I adopted a very similar perspective after years of having a lot of manager churn. I used to get so frustrated that my job was unnecessarily difficult because of them. Now it's become, "this is an opportunity to learn new ways to communicate with a manager who thinks it's 1985." So instead of being frustrated at the statement that my TypeScript and the other team's C needs to use the same headers, I focused on how to communicate, in an economy of words, why this API deviation may be a process problem, not a technical one. And in the years since that, I've slowly gotten better (and regressed at times) focusing on what I can control.

>instead of being frustrated at the statement that my TypeScript and the other team's C needs to use the same headers, I focused on how to communicate, in an economy of words, why this API deviation may be a process problem, not a technical one.

The statement actually makes a lot of sense if you don't take it literally. If you programmatically generate both C and TS part from the same common definition (protobuf?) as a part of the build process, API deviation will become an easy-to-see compile-time error instead of a runtime surprise.

Totally. That's why I got into talking about a common API schema that could be used to generate the required symbols. That got met with discussion of not using TypeScript instead.

This only works with certain type of manager.

If you have a sociopath and manipulative superior with a lot of power, talking won't do much.

You will have to rally others around you and demand either the board or their supervisors for change.

I have worked with two kinds of managers with outdated ideas or skill set:

1. The first kind is humble, respectful, friendly and likes to learn the modern stuff. These managers are nice to work with even if their skills are outdated. When you help managers like this by bringing them up to speed, you feel happy, the manager feels happy and it is a win-win situation. Relationships become stronger.

2. The second kind is egoistic and likes to assert their power. They are not in the game to learn the technology stuff but instead to advance their career further in the management ladder. I have found that interacting with these managers drains my energy and creates unnecessary stress even if I have to say the exact same thing I would have said to the first kind of managers. I don't exactly know why it creates more stress though. I guess the additional stress is due to lack of trust and lack of a good relationship with this kind of managers. It always seems like the manager is not on my side but always exclusively on their own side. And indeed the only way to get out of this situation is to rally others around myself and have the manager replaced with someone of the first kind.

I would say it's because you feel empathy for them and for others for being such hopeless and desperate people and for others for having to deal with it.

Maybe because there’s no reciprocity?

There's only so much you can do yourself, take into your own hands, look at from the other perspective, mingle around a problem until at long last you'll end up where you started again: Forces out of your control.

And it's (or should be) OK to blame them, you've done your homework.

But then someone comes along and says "You've been going at this the wrong way! Think positive! Think like a 'player'!". And as you roll your eyes, people label you passive-aggressive.

People like that are probably a minority, but they most certainly exist, too.

So there's a difference between blame, and discussing failure.

"The project was not delivered on time because requirements gathering took so long. Here's how we think we can help Product define them more efficiently in the future" is different than "It's Product's fault".

Both are laying blame on Product. One is suggesting a solution and sharing ownership of it; the other is only seeking to point fingers.

I would argue at no place should blame be okay. Because that creates a toxic culture; people begin to be less open and transparent about failure, are less likely to take responsibility, more likely to pre-emptively finger point to try to shift blame, etc, and it becomes political. The fact that you feel you are blameless is irrelevant if they can spin it so that it sounds like you are to blame (and trust me, speaking as a dev, the other departments are going to have way more time and experience in playing politics).

I agree with you on most counts, but you're viewing it from my position of not yet having (attempted) to see it from different angles and tackling issues (i.e. yet to do homework).

One should definitely do what you suggest and attempt to be constructive and productive (i.e. do the homework).

But if management shoots everything down and they expect you to build a house out of match-sticks and that thing falls apart at the slightest gust of wind, are you to blame or management for not giving you better building materials? (i.e. homework done, nothing left to do)

I'm advocating for a realistic view of things: Sometimes, oneself is to blame, sometimes it's something else, and sometimes it's forces out of our control, but there is always something at fault, if something goes wrong, hence there is always something to blame in failure.

But seeing oneself to be blamed at all times leads to burn-out.

EDIT: I'm aware you could also take a bunch of match-sticks, grind them to a pulp, and create some type of wood-like cement from it, and then build a house from that, and that might work. So let's say, they just give you five boxes with 20 matches each and it has to be at least 25 square-meters. Some might now argue, that you could go and start trading this until you end up with a house, there's the story of a guy who started trading a pen for something else on eBay, and ended up with a house. So management now insists this has to be done by the day-after-tomorrow. Etc. The question is: When and where do you stop telling yourself you haven't thought of the right solution and instead insist that management is absurd?

I would argue that that's a different issue. That's not about blame; that's about management refusing to alter their expectations to meet reality, despite you being open, transparent, and respectful about the state of it on the ground. If they are unable to do so, and respond accordingly, it's a good sign you should quit.

That's different than blame though. Yes, when things go wrong they go wrong due to a reason, but I'm simply highlighting the difference between highlighting what went wrong with a "here are some suggestions on how to solve it", and highlighting it just to place blame.

If the culture is focused on placing blame, to where you feel the need to do it, too, just defensively, GTFO ASAP. There is no way to win. I've seen once technical people who gained a majority of their experience in that kind of organization, and they were a liability everywhere they went.

You can not take it on yourself to fix a company especially from a position with no authority. You will end up having negative feelings about yourself and your failures to steer the ship in the right direction. People will hate you for what they see as constant interfering with their decisions. This a recipe for ever increasing stress and eventual burnout.

Please remember this: it is not your company. Not your responsibility. You didn't build it this way. Even if you could fix it - and I assure you that you can't - you would be doing the world a disservice. You would keep sociopaths who only care about short term numbers on spreadsheets in business when they rightfully deserve to fail.

If you find yourself with "negative feelings like unfairness, lack of control, or frustration" especially in the IT sector please remember the job market is booming right now and give a chance to another leadership to make the world a better place.

This seems a lot like the concept of "Locus of Control": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locus_of_control

This is excellent advice.

Since lots of comments had an adverse reaction to this use of the word "player", we replaced it above with "openness", which is the word the article uses to describe a "player".

Hopefully that will help the thread focus on the article now.

Perhaps a better option would be: "How to avoid a 'Victim' Mindset at Work?"

"Openness" totally confused me—I thought the article would be about being open to other people's viewpoints, or something like that.

That's a good suggestion, but I think the word "victim" is still likely to trigger people into reacting to that word rather than the underlying content.

The article title is actually “Refusing to be the Victim”.

I thought the same thing.

Now replace “victim” too

You're either at the table or you're on the menu.

Good lord, here is a CEO micromanaging people's feelings. This is incredibly insulting and creepy. It would be more honest if he told people to just shut up and do their jobs.

When I first read the article, I thought "Wow, this is perfect for a boss to handout to their employees and shift the blame!".

Realizing now, that this was indeed written by a CEO, does add a bit of flavor, but maybe he doesn't have any employees, and it's just a motivational piece he uses for himself. To be honest, I really don't want to know.

To be fair, AO is an agency. This is clearly a post intended to provide guidance when working with a client.

It is a bit funny to see in a public blog post from a CEO, though.

When reading I didn’t realize it was from the CEO. For some reason, that does make it seem kind of sleazy (not sure why).

On the other hand, it’s still damn good advice. It’s exactly how I would expect high-performing people to act. Victim mindset is (probably) never the right mindset.

If you're going to invent an arbitrary term for workplace assertiveness, maybe don't make it homonymous with a term for an aggressively flirtatious man.

It's not an invention or arbitrary term. The more traditional usage of the word player for much of the 20th century was to mean someone with agency and control over their own life and surroundings. The usage evolved (narrowed) with the popularity of rap in the 90s.

In my mind they’re the same. A player makes plays and rises in the social and economic hierarchies to the point that multiple women are courting him, thus giving rises to the guy “playing games” complaints, “being a player.” Pick-up artistry mocks what players do around women to get women (poor motivator) and get seen as “players,” kinda like crackers get called hackers. I think rappers still meant it in the histiric sense but mass sales means more simps who don’t even know a player to misuse it more with an emphasis on women and pickup artists. In our world, leadership at top companies are the players (and ads are the drug, kinda joking).

Leadership at top companies is disproportionately sociopathic compared to the population at large, as well. How admirable.

The word 'player' doesn't fit well and has bad connotations [1].

[1] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Player

Reading the article makes it very clear that they are not using the word in that sense.

Even in just the title, I thought of this as "player" as in the context of "team player" rather than that particular slang.

Edit: I've linked this to a few friends and all of them thought of the slang! Go figure. :)

It has more than one meaning. see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Player_(film)

I wouldn't expect anyone to read "player" in the blog title and read it as the meaning in your link!

Seducing your coworkers to your way of thinking is part of the job in my mind.


Responding specifically to your edit -

From my experience it's far harder for women to be assertive than men. I've yet to see an assertive woman not be tagged by some people as "aggressive" (being polite, "bitchy" is the undertone), even when I found them an absolute delight to talk with. I've seen this in interviews, I've seen this in the workplace with coworkers. I've seen plenty of guys I personally found to be complete assholes, who others still listened to.

Now, why do you come across as hostile? When you are being assertive, do you do so showing respect to others? Consideration for their views and where they are? Does everyone walk away feeling comfortable that their voices have been heard and their objectives are going to be met?

I am confident and assertive. But I bend over backwards to make sure that other people's viewpoints get considered and respected, even when I know them to be wrong. I don't tell them "you're wrong", I ask them questions to dig in and surface issues that they don't have answers to, and then I suggest ways we might address those, slowly shifting their perspective to mine, while showing them that I am looking to solve their problems. I am almost always the loudest voice in the room, even if I'm not the most senior person in the room, but other people usually don't mind that because I carve out room for their own voice to be heard, and show that I am listening to them.

>Now, why do you come across as hostile? When you are being assertive, do you do so showing respect to others?

As best I can, yes. Part of it was likely cultural. I was in Europe at the time. But, no attempt on my CTO's part was made to come to some understanding about what was going on (someone claimed I said something offensive, which was definitely not my intent). In general I've never had the authority du jour attempt to be understanding. It's really fucked up my life, and at this point I am angry, have every right to be angry, and have no idea what to do about it.

In this particular case that jackass has wasted/will waste 2-3 years of my life. If I could break his nose or more I gladly would.

Did you have a mentor there? Someone who could help give you feedback about it?

Look for that in your next role. It helped me tremendously.

Obviously, I don't know the specifics, but the way you speak about it sounds like you were unable to empathize with the person in question, and that means there were considerations you were not privy to, that made it so your being assertive had you coming across as obnoxious rather than helpful.

It has to start there, with you empathizing with them. No one makes decisions in a vacuum. Unless you believe them to be legitimately insane, they have a reason. It might be one you disagree with, or is ethically dubious, or cowardly, or similar, but understanding it, and the misunderstanding, fear, etc, that underpins it, is key to being able to show them that you respect their concerns and views.

Here's a personal example; I worked for a place where the VP in charge of our department was given the choice of "here's 8 million dollars to engage this ludicrously expensive consulting company, that has execs playing golf with our own execs, or, you can instead try and build a team from scratch, which you've not done, and have them build the product instead". As you might expect, he chose the former. Though, he also had a mandate to start building a team for other reasons anyway, and I was part of that, and we started by looking at what the consulting company was building, as we would inherit it. And it was crap. Complete crap.

Now, we didn't know he had this terrible choice at the beginning. We didn't know any of the pressures or expectations he was under. All we saw was that the super pricy consultants were delivering crap. And we expressed that.

What did he do? He was in a no win situation, and so chose to bury his head in the sand, ignore what we were saying, but get angry at how aggressively we were saying it.

Now, admittedly, that's a cowardly response. But in hindsight I can see how easy it would be to feel powerless in that situation, despite being a VP. I dropped the ball in handling that; had I understood his considerations better, and pitched myself as trying to solve his problems, rather than my own (my problems being we were inheriting this bucket of crap, his problems being that he felt he HAD to deliver, and this was the only way that was even remotely possible), I likely could have made better headway (by offering solutions with tradeoffs, yes, we can't have this in the defined timeline, but we can instead do ~this~, and that will minimize the visibility of the problems while giving us time to fix things, etc).

I got better at handling that kind of situation because I was lucky to have a couple of friends, one of whom was above me, and one who was a peer, also dealing with the same situation (and plenty more to follow over the next few years); we could discuss the situations and better figure out our mistakes.

To saying something offensive; when you found that out, did you immediately go to the CTO and apologize? I've had that happen too, multiple times, where someone (not even in my hierarchy) took offense at something I said. As soon as I found out I immediately went to them and apologized (arguably a non-apology even; a "Hey, I heard something I said bothered you. I'm sorry about that; I'm not sure what I said, but my intention was never to offend you. Please, in future, let me know ASAP so I can better learn to recognize it when it happens and hopefully keep it from happening again"); in both cases it turned that person into an ally for me, as they recognized that even if I was aggressive or (inadvertently) offensive, I still valued them.

People are downvoting because the statement "I was fired for being assertive" brings nothing to the discussion. Expand on it with an anecdote or some more details about your experience, it's always interesting to hear about things like that.

Maybe you could share more about what happened. Almost everyone would say assertive is a positive workplace trait in both men and women, but your anecdote could contribute a useful qualification to that with some more detail.

If you got fired for being assertive then that company did you a favour. You don't want to work at that place.

This seems like the victim from the article (it’s not my fault, it’s factors beyond my control).

The advice is not so much about being assertive as it is about being solution oriented. If your assertiveness is seen as hostility, you should not be a victim and blame society and your mother, you should instead think about what actions you can take to change the situation.

I wasn't blaming my mother, but I was blaming society. How, or rather why, should I think about what actions I can take to change the situation if there was not some problem with society?

I've been searching inwards for years now, and at some point there is nothing left I can do. I've routinely been fucked over by authority. In this case it cost me 2-3 years of my life and setbacks in school.

Maybe do some research in ADD/ASD?

I did, and took medication for ADHD for a while. It did not go well with school but I will probably need to go back on it.

At this point my scholastic "record" (accidentally submitted failing grades to a school) at all of the good state schools precludes me from admission despite good performance in HS, and despite submitting my psychiatric record.

So... it's bullshit. I see a lot of people talking about not being a victim, but everything I do is thwarted. There is no choice but for me to be the victim, and society doesn't care.

That's right, in large, society doesn't care and never will. Learn from your mistakes and move on. From reading all your posts I can tell you being assertive didn't get you fired, but probably your cynical attitude.

2-3 years wasted - please, even working a job out of your field for that amount of time will teach you new things. You are hooked on this school situation as being the roadblock that's seemingly impossible to overcome. Figure it out.

The choice is yours to be a victim of circumstance. Time to get your ducks in order and have a little humility and compassion for yourself instead of throwing your hands up and calling bullshit. This is life.

What part of this article was about assertiveness?

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