I wrote this for the work blog, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for there. But, I think it’s not a bad bit of reflection, so I’ll post it here.
My first job in the anti-abuse / email space was working for a company that outsourced abuse desk and security services to large network providers. Previous to that I had been working as a researcher in various molecular biology labs. Academia and research have their own culture and one major part of it is that if you tell someone the facts as you know them you don’t have to pay much attention to tone. The facts, and the science, speaks for itself.
Moving from that environment to the emotionally charged one of abuse and compliance was a bit of a shock. Early on in my career change, a large customer of the network provider had some spam issues. I was part of a group of people, including individuals from a major blacklisting company and representatives of the network provider, that headed down to Mountain View for a discussion with the customer about their mailing practices.
After the meeting, my boss told me that one of the staffers at the customer described me as ‘combative and un-helpful.’ My boss didn’t have a problem with this, it was my job to be the hard line and enforce the network provider’s policies. And part of why I was hired into that position was my rather blunt communication style: explain the facts and let reality speak for itself.
Despite the fact that my boss was totally supportive of me, I thought a lot about that meeting and being called ‘combative and unhelpful.’ I wondered if I couldn’t be more effective by learning to speak in a more open and less confrontational way.
I still believe there are times when being blunt and ‘combative and un-helpful’ is an appropriate reaction to a situation. Sometimes you need to draw a line in the sand and hold that line. But there are also cases where moving a discussion forward takes someone to lighten up a bit, someone to be friendly and helpful, even in the midst of conflict.
Today I got an email from someone telling me my recent participating in a high conflict situation have been “helpful and non-combative.” The word choice so reflected and contradicted that earlier VP’s statements, I had to laugh.
I still hate conflict. But I’m getting a lot better at it.