Short-circuit evaluations of logical expressions can cause problematic behavior, and so can short-circuit expressions in human communications.
In stressful times such as looming deadlines or other project troubles, it’s easy to slip and start taking shortcuts in our communication and overall behavior. The closer we live to survival mode, real or perceived, the less we act like who we strive to be. Ask anyone on their first night of Minecraft. Holes are dug, dirt is flung and friends are blamed when a creeper blows up their obviously inadequate mud hut.
In the real virtual world, Slack messages grow terse and lacking in context as they are typed and sent too quickly. Verbal communication is similar but with the added color of negative tone. Suddenly, fellow engineers are annoyances instead of teammates, frustrations rather than apprentices and arrogant know-it-alls, not mentors.
It can be useful to remind ourselves that few people wake up in the morning with the intention of making everyone else’s work day an utter nightmare. There’s a high likelihood that they care about their teammates, their craft and what they’re building. Even when someone makes a “ridiculous suggestion not worth our time”, they’re probably genuinely just trying to help.
The next time you sense you’re about to press Enter too soon – you probably know it but act against your better judgment because skeletons are coming and they’re shooting arrows and also those red dots are probably the eyes of giant spiders and that’s definitely an enderman – just pause. Your coworker is also feeling alone in the woods with a stone sword, at best.
This is the exact moment you can choose a healthy response and show how to remain a helpful teammate just when the team needs all the mates it can get. Spend the extra ten seconds providing that important bit of context, without which you suspect the person asking won’t succeed. Invest five seconds in giving your team the update you know they could use. Choose to be the opposite of toxic, passive-aggressive and negative in tone – mind your pitch when pitching. Your demeanor under stress will be seen by others and they might adjust for the better, too.
If you need help building up that buffer time between input and reaction, or better yet, growing the ability to respond rather than react, I’ve found various incarnations of mindfulness meditation immensely helpful. I’m in my second decade of practice and it’s been life-changing. Mindfulness meditation is compatible with any belief system and worldview, up to and including the complete lack of either. As an engineer, I’ll admit that it seemed strange and fluffy at first, but looking back, there’s obvious logic to how and why it works.
For those of us with certain types of neurodivergent brains – not exactly uncommon in engineering – I suspect staying mindful of all of the above may be triply important. Especially, understanding that the threshold for what even constitutes a survival environment may be radically lower for hardwired, immutable reasons. The methods by which we go about our growth, and the internal tooling available to facilitate it, of course, are quite different from those of neurotypicals. All of this said, I’m highly optimistic for this group because we’re already accustomed to self-modifying our brain code in various areas to succeed with people and life.
Finally, I surmise the following expression is true: not many teams want a single toxic person and not many people want to be the single toxic person on a team.
This is enough to short-circuit my brain into logical hell but perhaps something to think about for 60,000 milliseconds.