The power of precise wording

Words are very important to me. Obviously, I’m a blogger. I write a plethora of emails, debate constantly about writing a book, write presentations and articles, and have written more papers than I care to think about. I also pay very close attention to word choice in speaking and obsess about implied meaning. You can tell a lot about what a person really thinks by the words they choose.

I attempt to use words accurately and take pain in choosing the correct expression. Grammar and punctuation are a bit lax – though correct spelling is imperative. I suffer massive angst when I use words incorrectly or when auto correct back stabs me. Does everyone take as much care in their word choice as me? Probably not, so, maybe this post is an overreaction. But, then again, I hope that it inspires others to choose their words carefully because literal interpretation can be a bitch.

Though I have many examples of word choice, this one was very near to my core. This story took place at a former job. A previous ally and I were fighting a similar battle to influence the changes we knew were right for the organization and to transform it to be more Agile-embracing. We, however, were fighting it differently.

I was jaded from some previous interactions, and was trying to keep my head down to get through the rest of my contract while still learning and preserving some integrity. I was staying for the sake of my team who I have the utmost respect for as it was clear the organization was not ready to change and I did not want to continue to waste my time trying to change it. He was newer than I was at the organization and was trying to shake things up like I had done previously (that resulted in the above jadedness).

From my management dictated directive to get things delivered (at all costs), I was trying to play nice with release management. It was in a time filled with hot fixes, emergency deploys, and fire-drill critical bugs (many which could have been prevented with some code quality and priority decisions/process measures I had tried earlier </soapbox>). He (my previous ally) decided to sneak in a last minute change that was not approved with the build and I had to call him on it. I told him it was not approved, but we could go talk to release management about it. We just couldn’t check it in with the build without them giving the go-ahead. It was too risky at that point with our fragile non-Agile code base even though I agreed it was a lot of process, bureaucracy, and red tape. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place, but it had to be done that way at the moment.

To that, he looked right through me and defiantly told a developer to check it in. I again said that we needed to follow the process at this point and the code was absolutely frozen unless the change had gone through 2 approval levels. He disagreed, said it was stupid, and that he had the authority to approve it. We went conversed back and forth repeating the above dialogue. We got into a very heated argument, which made us both look unprofessional, and he checked in the code against my instructions. When release management came down to lecture me for checking it in, I made him take the heat and had to back out the change that should not have been checked in initially anyway.

I have never been disrespected like that before (to my face). When I confronted him about it and again explained my reasons why I asked him not to do that, he simply said, “I’m sorry I upset you.” Not sorry that he disrespected me or did something he shouldn’t have, but sorry he “upset” me. This reminds me of RBF and how women are supposed to be happy all the time, but that’s for another post. I do not believe he would have reacted that way to a man or told a man he was sorry that he upset them (and case in point, the release manager that yelled at him was a man and he apologized for his actions then).

Similarly, I discussed this in a podcast when interviewing a ScrumMaster candidate and really listening to the words she chose. This is easier to do in writing because writing is usually more thoughtful than talking, but it is good to be aware of how things can be interpreted. A piece of advice I received from my father, which I didn’t initially take to heart (in my early 20’s) was that everything you say can and likely will come back to you. Nothing is truly “off the record” or behind closed doors so that filter is always important. Venting comes back. Especially in writing (anything in writing can be retrieved).

Another trick I employ is talking slower so I have more time to think and choose my words right – more time to apply a filter if needed. It’s advice I’ve received in preparation for interviews – not all silence needs to be filled; it’s ok to take time to think. Choose your words, sentences, tone, and expressions carefully because some may take them at face value while others may agonize at the deeper meaning you may or may not have meant to unveil. Oh, and don’t just try to use big words to look/sound smarter (when you use them wrong you look silly and if you’re like me you angst about the misuse for much longer than the implied word-knowing perceived intelligence would have awarded you).

P.S. now I’m extremely angsty about the words I used in this post and hope my point is coming across in the way I intended. #heart-palpitations

 

08. December 2015 by Natalie Warnert
3 comments

Comments (3)

  1. Thank you for your transparency. I think more of us are in the same boat as you than your post thinks. 🙂

    Even as I get closer and closer to 40, I still allow myself to be goaded into arguments where my volume raises and my tone changes. It’s human, and I’m okay with it happening as long as I don’t let it stay that way. I make sure I fix things to the best of my ability.

    Can’t imagine what it’s like as a woman to go through that, because there are additional criteria to your expected behavior. However, you sharing your perspective forces me to consider them so I don’t end up like the subject of this piece.

    I feel like this subject would be a great panel discussion, or podcast. 🙂

    • Thanks, Chris. I always appreciate your input. Maybe I will suggest it as an open space topic at the next Agile conference. Or, a podcast would be neat, too. Would you be interested in partnering on something like that?

  2. Pingback: Capacity versus Velocity | Natalie Warnert: Confessions of a ScrumMaster

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