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Over the years I had the fortune and misfortune to share apartments with other people. One of the most difficult parts of living together is sharing a space. Everyone has their own needs, standards and wishes. Believe it or not, some people like myself fancy doing the dishes. Others would rather starve if that was price to pay.
Still, I cannot stand a sink full of stuff. So I had to have the conversation.
At first I failed. I was getting to the table with a fixed idea unwilling to accept any compromise: I would shout "clean after yourself". This ended up in a middle ground where I would do both my dishes and half of theirs.
Then I failed even more. The previous negotiation saw me doing additional work. Thus, this time my initial position was more extreme: I would scream "you do all the dishes, including mine". I hoped the compromise would become a fifty-fifty split. Instead, I got f-bombed.
Turns out positional negotiation does not work so well. It always ends up in a lose-lose situation where both parties either compromise or find no agreements at all.
Finally, I had a realization. All along I thought my fellow tenant was the problem. Actually, the problem was living together. In other words, it was about us not me.
Maybe they don't like doing the dishes because they spend already a ton of time cooking. Maybe they spend a ton of time cooking because they are a great chef. Maybe I could do all the dishes and ask them if they would be willing to prepare meals for me too.
That was it! I ate some great food, they got to cook more plus some feedback and we ended up sharing meals so that we could solve more problems together. Wow, this integrative negotiation stuff worked.
On top of that, the more I did the dishes, the more my roomie could cook. As individuals we would have never been so disciplined. This made it way more difficult to start collecting plate after plate in the sink or eat junk food day after day.
But what if washing dishes was easier with dirty stuff piled differently? Now that we were in a collaborative mood, I could let them know. Unsurprisingly, they helped me help them. However, at times the right choice was to let go. Maybe one dirty spoon in the sink was something I could live with.
Different teams solve problems in different ways. There is no right or wrong. Fighting it is an exercise in failure and despair. Instead, embrace the friction, be curious and support uniqueness.
A great leader is a great follower:
When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.
Sarah Mei's Livable Code has been a huge inspiration to me as a fellow tenant in software teams. Thank you Sarah! 🙏
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