Developer relations – 8 reasons why work relationships are important and how to overcome differences

Building together.
Living together.
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The human side of software development.

Applying development practices against every-day life, and applying life lessons to development

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8 reasons infographicNew here? Check out part 1 of this series: So, You’re A Developer hey?

Fair or not, developers often get a bad rap for having a lack of personality and being awkward to interact with.  Obviously this doesn’t apply to every one, but the developer world seems to draw out a higher percentage of people that live closer to the fringe of society.

This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, diversity is what makes life interesting.  However, are you missing out on some easy benefits in your work life by being on the outside looking in?

Last time we talked about why Relationships are hard.

I got some feedback about that article saying there wasn’t enough info about a few things:

  1. Why are relationships important? / Why even bother with them?
  2. How to get beyond dramatic differences in personalities and/or lack of common interests?

So, let’s dig in shall we?

Why are relationships important?

I briefly touched on why they are important in the Relationships are hard post, so let’s dive into those in a little more detail:

1 – Positive relationships give you a head start in every interaction with another person.

You’ve already laid the groundwork, and now it’s going to work for you.  The people that know you, know what to expect from you.

Think of what goes through your mind when you get a phone call and you see the name on the call display.

If it’s a close friend, you’re probably excited to answer it and see what’s going on.

If it’s an acquaintance that only calls when they need a favour, you’re going to be dreading to talk to them, that is even if you pick up the call.

Every interaction between people has an element of these pre-conceptions going in both directions, so keeping a good relationship with your co-workers will grease the wheels on each IM, email, and meeting.

2 – Positive relationships open up opportunities.

The world we live in is becoming more connected with every passing day.  Who you know, not what you know has never been more accurate.

Positive relationships allow you to use this to your advantage.  Having other people willing to put your name forward to a new client, or recommend for a promotion, requires a strong trust in more than your technical abilities.  It also requires  having confidence that you won’t screw it up with a cavalier attitude or brash customer service skills.

3 – Positive relationships help you build your skill set

The frantic pace of development tools being released these days is absolutely insane.  It’s impossible to keep up with it all, even in language specific environments.

If you can tap a friend on the shoulder to get some advice, you can shorten your learning curve exponentially.  Having someone who knows you and is willing to take the time to guide you is worth more than what Stack Overflow or even Google can offer.

In a corporate environment, we often don’t have the latitude to decide who manages secondary services on a development project.  Working with someone you have no relationship with can be awkward and cumbersome at the best of times, but if you’ve established a good working relationship, or are in the process of building one, things become much more palatable.

4 – Teamwork doesn’t exist without positive relationships

This one is painfully obvious.

Working on a dysfunctional team is worse than no team at all.  It is de-motivating, frustrating, and an invitation to cutting corners to avoid dealing with the team.

On the flip side, a team full of people willing and able to help each other is far more productive, and has actually shown to increase your own abilities as well.

How to get beyond dramatic differences in personalities and/or lack of common interests?

Some people just don’t mix well, like water and oil.  However, lots of us have to work with someone like this.

Before we get into how to get someone to warm up to you, let’s look at why they’re difficult to work with in the first place.

5 – Figure out where the friction is coming from

One very common scenario is that you and this impossible to work with person are actually very much alike.

I know, just settle down now and think about that a bit.

Do they share the same fierce pride in their work?  Are you both afraid to make a mistake in front of the team?  Maybe you both could use a little more confidence?  Or can’t trust other people to do a job right?

If you can find a common thread, even if it is a negative one, this is your avenue to breaking down some walls.  Put yourself in their situation and imagine how you would feel, chances are they have some of the same fears, frustrations, and concerns as you do.

What would you want to hear to put your fears / concerns to rest?  What could the other person do to make it all go away?

Once you’ve thought that through, be the one to say or do those things.  It might be a little uncomfortable the first few times, but you’ll get better at it, and you will start to see results very quickly.  Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results right away, some people need to process a change in behaviour that they didn’t see coming before they respond to it.

Other times, people need to feel like it was there idea to take a step in your relationship, so they’ll play it up like it was there idea.  If that’s the case, let them have the glory of moving forward, the only prize is a better relationship, and that is a prize that has to be shared.

Don’t be afraid to throw out a compliment about their work, or encourage them to complete a task and let them know you think they will do it well.  We are all humans, and positive reinforcement is something we all crave whether we realize it or not.  Take advantage of it and swallow your pride and tell someone they’re doing a good job.

One caveat though – it must be a genuine comment.  People can see through fakes, so don’t do it.

Handing out compliments and praise is something I thought was one of my strong points as a manager.  Boy, was I surprised after an engagement survey listed that as one of my lower points.  After keeping tabs on myself, I realized I would often think that people had done a great job, but I failed to actually tell them.  Lesson learned.

6 – But we have nothing in common!!


You have something to talk about, but you’re probably focused on the technical things you both know which have little to no cross-over.  But like I said above, we’re all humans, and we have the same basic needs and motivations to fit in, be respected, contribute, and to be part of a community.  None of these things need you to know how to write SQL or patch a Windows server (does anybody actually know how to patch a Windows server?).

If you have a little time with someone like this waiting for a machine to reboot, tests to compile, or a deploy to finish, keep a few questions handy that are non-invasive, but still let you learn something else about the person.

7 – Break the ice

Ice breakers can be corny, but they work when you actually care what the response is.  So don’t fake this part either.

There is a good starter list of work-related ice-breakers here, and it’s not hard to come up with similar ones yourself:

What other projects are you currently working on?

Do you deal with these types of situations often?

What’s it like working for your department / manager?

And there are also some ways to learn more about someone’s personality without it being an uncomfortable discussion:

Have you worked in any other positions in the company?  Why did you change?

How did you end up in this role?

And my personal favourite is:

What’s your current favourite song?

You wouldn’t believe how many relationships I’ve started with that one silly question, and the amount of commonalities I’ve discovered about people from that question is just bizarre.  But it works, and I always use it.  I love music, so it’s a genuine question.

Many of my co-workers can vouch for this question.

8 – The goal is not BFF’s

Remember, the goal here is to improve your work relationships, not becoming best friends.  You aren’t going to be going for manicures or to a monster truck rally this weekend, so just chill.

Enjoy the human condition, and take pride in your relationships.

A famous quote from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Short version

  1. Positive relationships are a short cut to more effective interactions
  2. Positive relationships open up opportunities
  3. Positive relationships build your skill set
  4. Teamwork requires positive relationships
  5. Figure out where the friction is coming from
  6. Find something you have in common
  7. Break the ice
  8. The goal isn’t BFF’s

In general, put yourself out there.   This world is filled with more good people than bad, and it’s a lot of fun getting to know new people.

Even if you find it terribly uncomfortable, over the course of your lifetime, you will gain far more positives by being vulnerable and putting yourself out there than any negatives that may bring.

Full disclosure:

My current favourite song is Love Runs Out by OneRepublic.

We’re friends now right?!?!?  See, it works. =)

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