This is a long journey, and like many others it’s taken me a while to realise that I need to walk it. I’m currently facing a fork in the road – do I change, or do I try and force people to see it my way. Everything inside of my head is screaming but this is who you are, just let it go and let people accept you the way you are. I know this is an option, the easier one in fact, but I know it’s not the right one to take.
It all started a few years ago when I did a talk on ‘How to deal with Conflict as a Developer’. At the time, I realised that conflict is a good thing; I had been listening to crucial conversations, looked at the CDE Matrix (Containers, Differences and Exchanges) and many other sources and the most impactful statement was: “Strong opinions weakly held”.
“Strong opinions weakly held” simply explained means have you should have strong opinions, but let go of them the moment you realise your opinion is flawed; and a new opinion will rise out of the ashes like a phoenix. For this to work, everyone needs to have strong opinions, and should be willing to argue the case for their opinions while at the same time be willing to listen objectively to others’ opinions with a clear and open mind.
I started becoming good at having strong opinions, and being proud of the fact that I had. I even thought I was good at letting go of those opinions and, in truth, even though this comes harder for me, I was and am still gradually getting better at this. There was just one underlying problem that I didn’t focus on enough. Strong opinions weakly held, does not need to be stated strongly.
I now realise that having strong opinions is good but if you speak it with a tone and manner that brooks no arguments, you can be as open and willing to listen and understand others’ opinions but others will not feel comfortable enough to share them.
Simultaneous to me having this realisation, I had been listening to Ray Dalio’s book, called Principles: Life and Work and in there he echoes so many things that I’ve come to love dearly, and he calls it an “Idea Meritocracy” [https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/key-bridgewaters-success-real-idea-meritocracy-ray-dalio/]. A place where the best idea, based on merit, wins. And for this to work, people need to have strong opinions, and be willing to stand for and argue their opinions based on merit. He talks about radical truthfulness and radical transparency. He also mentions that not everyone is willing to own the former and therefore they don’t survive.
In the book, he covers how to approach having these radical truthful and open discussions, and it was pretty eye-opening for me. He talks about taking all the emotion out, speaking slowly and steadily and when you don’t understand, rather question to understand the other perspective than outright disagreeing. Yes, there will come a time when this won’t work anymore, especially depending on the people you are working with and other factors such as deadlines, but that should be left as a last resort and then there should be mediating techniques in place.
A while ago I did the 16personalities test and my personality type is “The Architect” (INTJ-A) and my strategy is: Confident Individualism. The first paragraph starts with: “It’s lonely at the top”, now take out the top part as I’ve in no way accomplished anything that can be classified as the top, but that summarises a lot of what I experience. Now don’t get me wrong, I am used to it and in some ways I prefer it because apart from my family there aren’t a lot of things that give me greater pleasure than striving for my goals. It’s always bothered me that for some reason, I just don’t get social, polite conversations and I just could not understand why I was so different to most other people who enjoyed talking about random stuff that will most likely not help me advance in life and achieve my goals. This personality test just points to that like a focused ray of sunlight, and that is okay.
I was at an impasse on this journey until two days ago when after a conversation with my wife (a loving but frank conversation about how when I say something I leave no room for discussion even though I think I am being the most open person) and a consultation with a colleague echoing similar sentiments. I was prompted by one of my less subtle conversations that as usual, tend to be delivered in a way that achieves the opposite of what it is meant to achieve. I then decided that it is time for a radical change.
I am still working through the specific action points that I need to take but below is a rough draft:
- Speak without emotion, and in a demeanour that shows that I am open to new ideas.
- Listen more (and remind yourself that you are not listening to respond but to understand).
- Understand the personalities you are dealing with and change your delivery to make it easier for them to listen to and objectively agree or disagree.
- Be more willing to let go of ideas or small nuances that don’t matter as much (let’s just say this is going to be particularly tricky).
I am excited for the next part in my personal growth and, even though I am quite scared that it will fundamentally change who I am, I think I’ve finally realised that it will not change me in such a way that I will stop pursuing my goals but rather, help me to achieve them. After all, one can only do so much alone. I’ve now realised that this has been a point that God has been impressing on for me quite some time, I was just ignoring it.