by Jeff Langr

October 13, 2008

Should we ever “give up” on someone? Agile or not, development or normal life, people are always the biggest challenge. Difficult people are obvious targets, since by definition they do things that most people don’t want to deal with on a day-to-day basis. But can we help them become less difficult?

Just what is a difficult person? I actually welcome a healthy level of skepticism. If you’re not skeptical about things, you’re probably not pushing boundaries as often as you should. I can help a skeptical but open-minded person by answering their questions and guiding them through necessary self-discovery and acceptance of a new idea. With some people, however, skepticism instead grows into a potentially unhealthy attitude, whereby they resist differing ideas at all costs. Stated from their point of view, “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Sure, if you’re absolutely right in your reasons to avoid something, it’s an appropriate response. But that’s almost never the case, particularly when we’re talking about something like TDD or automated testing. People have achieved good levels of success with diametrically opposed ideas, strategies, and tactics. What that means is that someone who wants to argue every last point against their presumed opposition is being close-minded. Sometimes they cross over the boundary into pure contrarian–even if you agree with them on a point, they still find a way to argue against it!

I felt regret most of this weekend about a post I made to one of the agile lists last week. After an exchange of a few nit-picky posts, I stated that I wasn’t going to waste my time any more. It was soon apparent that the other poster was going to shred virtually every line I wrote, never mind trying to find any common ground. Now I don’t feel bad at all–blowing hard at brick walls is a huge waste of time.


roman October 13, 2008 11:19am

What do you do in order to deal with this people? Do you have any advices?

Jeff Langr October 14, 2008 08:17am

Once you’ve (really, really) established that they will not budge, then the best thing is to find somewhere else for them to be. I think at that point you just have to be direct. If they’re in the midst of your team, ask them: “Do you plan on trying to work like the rest of this team has chosen or would you prefer to work differently?” Sometimes they can educate you on valuable changes you can make to improve the transition. But most of the time, they just need to find a more compatible team.

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Jeff Langr

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Jeff Langr has been building software for 40 years and writing about it heavily for 20. You can find out more about Jeff, learn from the many helpful articles and books he's written, or read one of his 1000+ combined blog (including Agile in a Flash) and public posts.