Conversationally Communing

Maria writes:

This is my first time as a tester...let me tell you I'm happy with this, but is really difficult to deal with the feelings of the developers who takes the bugs as personal (well, they are responsible for it, but is not a hurt feeling thing, is it?).

If you have ever interacted with someone else, I imagine you have found yourself in a similar predicament. I know I have! I make some trivial comment, or ask some trivial question, and the person with whom I am talking blows up at me.

My comment or question evidently wasn't so trivial!

Virginia Satir's Interaction Model is one way to decode this ill-ended conversation. Start with what you saw and heard - or, in this case, what you said and did. How did your voice sound? What did your face do? What did the rest of your body do?

Next move on to the meaning the other person might have ascribed to what you said and did. Come up with as many different possible meanings as you can, then come up with three more.

Now consider what feelings your conversational counterpart might have had about each of these meanings you devised, and the feelings they might have had about those feelings.

Finally, match all of this up with the response you observed.

Ideally you would walk through this with the other person. If they are not talking to you, however, or you don't feel comfortable doing this with them, then you must work through it on your own. Even when you and your parley partner do go through it together, be aware that they may not - likely do not - know what they saw and heard from you, let alone the meaning and significance they attributed to it. Understanding a gone-awry interaction can be difficult at the best of times; if both you and the other party are new at examining communications, analyzing even a single utterance will likely take a while.

Once (you believe) you understand where the conversation went off the rails, move on to identifying changes you can make which seem likely to help future exchanges stay on track. Again, doing this with your colleague tends to be most useful; if that is not possible, however, you can still formulate hypotheses which you can then test in future meet-ups.

Eventually you'll be in that magical place where you know exactly how to talk with...this one person...about this one topic...when they are in this one mood....

The Satir Interaction Model is not a magic bullet that will make all of your conversations go exactly the way you want them to go all of the time. Over time, however, it can help many of your conversations go more the way you want them to go more of the time.

While none of this is easy, I find it to be worth the effort. Give it a go and see whether you find the same!

*** Want a fun job on a great team? I need a tester! Interested? Let's talk: Michael dot J dot Hunter at microsoft dot com. Great testing and coding skills required.

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