Lying. Generally, it’s best not to do this.
Granted, in some circumstances, lies are necessary (i.e., “Herr Theobald, are you concealing any Jews in your attic?”, “Why no, not at all, why do you ask?”). But I’m not talking about that kind of extreme circumstance here. I’m discussing in everyday business.
I’m going to point to a hypothetical situation, and hope it draws some real-world connections for you, dear reader.
- Executive/Sales/whatever staffer is confronted with what could be considered a legitimately urgent requirement for a deployment package of the latest version of the company’s software.
- Staffer feels that under the circumstance, the urgent requirement may not express the level of urgency truly desired. Whether this is out of sheer hubris (“I want to see these people jump when I want them to,”), anxiety (“I really need to close this deal, badly,”), or mistaken assumptions (“Unless I really blow the horn hard, they aren’t going to take me seriously,”), doesn’t matter. Staffer decides to exaggerate or outright lie regarding the urgency required.
- Development team goes into drop-everything mode and smokes the pavement trying to get the package together.
This is an entirely predictable situation. In fact, it has happened in real life. I suspect to others besides just me. Actually, thinking about it, I am quite certain it has – and so often, really, that it has its very own parable.
The boy who cried wolf. For those of you unfamiliar with the parable described, go check it on Google. It’s all right. I’ll wait right here.
If you happen to find yourself in the situation of the Staffer mentioned above, allow me to elaborate on why you should resist the temptation to invent or exaggerate your sense of urgency. I hope the consequences will become clear as I do.
First off, your exaggeration will very likely be discovered. The team in question is generally comprised of several people, and for each person involved you amplify the odds of someone finding out. Once one of them does, they all shortly will know. Once they all do, you will suffer the following effects:
- The team will lose a measure of respect for you – which, if it is low already, can be disastrous for your career. As well, this sort of treatment leads to resentment – not a conducive emotion for cordial working relationships.
- The team will view your future requests/demands for attention to be just that: demands for attention, and not urgent business concerns. So when you have a genuinely urgent need, your ability to convince others to jump in to help you will be impaired.
- If the subject of your exaggeration was successful, it will be viewed by the team as illegitimate, not gained in a worthy fashion. For particularly sleazy individuals, this will pose no great concern. For engineers and people who make a living actually building things, it is crucial.
- If the subject of your exaggeration was a failure, the team will have little or no sympathy for you, and will expend very little effort in assisting you in digging your hindquarters out of whatever hole you’ve managed to land yourself in.
These are only the topics that are most obvious outcomes of such an event. There are other, subtler and probably more far-reaching ones, but for the purposes of this discussion, they’ll suffice. I hope reading through them that the general idea is getting through: the consequences of exaggeration are negative ones.
Now, consider the alternative: being honest. This might not come naturally to some, but it is my hope that most of you reading this will consider this a more natural direction to take.
Let’s address the causes I mentioned above for the sense of need around the dishonest approach, and turn them around to the choice of being honest:
- “I want to see these people jump when I want them to.” : If that was really your intent, then you really need to seek mental assistance. If you have to follow this path, then my advice is twofold – don’t do this often, and when you do, at least couch it in respectful terms. Something like “I’d like to see how fast we are able to accomplish goal XYZ, so let’s try this, this coming Thursday. I’ll have a requirement that morning, and let’s see how fast we can get it done.” This way, you can stroke your own ego, while actually serving a reasonable purpose.
- “I really need to close this deal, badly.” Okay, so tell us. Trust us. If you come to a gang of engineers whom you have treated respectfully in the past, and you tell them that you have a real issue and need their assistance, nine times out of ten we will help you.
- “Unless I really blow the horn hard, they aren’t going to take me seriously.” Yes we will. Unless you have been treating us with disdain or contempt, or doing generally disrespectful things to us, we will take you seriously. We’ll also probably try hard to help you as best we can.
There’s an undercurrent to these things that should be notable by now: respect. Have it. Exercise it. Engineers and developers have lives, just like you do. That they might spend their spare time doing things they consider fun and you don’t should not enter the equation. Many of them have families, friends, they might want to watch hockey, or they might have a date planned. If you screw them, they won’t forget it. If you screw them and don’t mitigate the situation, they not only won’t forget it, but they’ll probably tell every new hire about you, and your reputation will probably accompany you to whatever firm you move to down the road.
Generally, you’re better off cultivating a respectful working relationship with developers and engineers. They’re in positions where they can be of great assistance to you, and engendering goodwill is the only way you’ll ever get them to cooperate willingly.
And you can start by not BSing them.