Tame Your Monster and Make Better Decisions


When you go into a meeting, lead a project, or have to ask management for something, remember that body language, tone of voice, and facial expression are part of the package. The techniques and words are just the tip of the iceberg; under the water are motivations, fear, and anger. If you're feeling anxious or uncertain, wait until you have good energy to make a decision.

I recently spent months coaching a tester working in a highly political environment. All their problems were classic testing politics problems I had encountered before; I had specific answers for those problems, and they had worked many times in the past.

After about half the sessions had passed, I noticed something rather odd. When I would propose a solution, the tester would say, "Yes, and I've started saying that, but it doesn't work."

How is that possible? This stuff always works. I've never seen it fail.

The tester would say whatever logical, clear thing I told them to, perhaps word for word. But they also said it from a position of fear and powerlessness, as if they had a big "KICK ME" sign in giant letters on their forehead.

Body language, tone of voice, and facial expression are part of the package. The techniques and words are just the tip of the iceberg. Under the water are motivations, fear, anger, etc. If you ask for something feeling certain you won't get it, then you probably won't get it.

What I'm about to write may make some people uncomfortable. Some would call it “froo-froo advice.” You don't need to agree with what I say to understand why it might be valuable. So, for a moment, please suspend your disbelief and allow me to explain the monster.

Meet the Monster

Inside every person I have met is a second identity that is not them. The person is good. The second identity is a monster. The monster is a little voice speaking into your ear, telling you that you will lose everything you hold most dear. He offers you solutions ... but they are guaranteed to make you lose everything most dear.

If you go to the meeting listening to your monster, it doesn't matter what you say—you'll screw it up. Send flowers to that special someone listening to the monster, and it will be at the wrong time and lead to a fight.

So you need to know how your energy is leading before you go to the meeting. One test is to get a feel, or vibe, for your thoughts and emotions. It is likely either CARS or DUPE, two acronyms created by the counseling service Life Discoveries Inc.

CARS describes how you feel when an idea springs from your good intuition. It is essentially: Calm, All is well, Reassured, then you Suddenly know.

DUPE is the opposite: the energy that flows from a suggestion from the monster. The monster leaves you Disturbed, Urgent, Pressed, and Edgy. If you feel you have to tell this person the thing, right now, and will feel uncomfortable until you do, something is wrong.

If you feel DUPE’d about your upcoming meeting, reschedule it and try to get rid of your angsty energy and fear.

Separate the Person from the Monster

Most of us think of the other person as someone else. The idea that they have two natures, vying for control, seems like something out of a Star Trek episode. The idea that the monster is external, not even the person at all, is bizarre, but thinking in that way allows you to separate the person from their bad behavior, as it wasn't them all along. There is nothing to forgive.

It also allows you to take their temperature—to know if the monster is in charge and it is not a good time to engage. For that matter, it allows us to police our own thoughts, sense the monster, and either keep our mouths shut or possibly shut the monster down. (The monster wants to have an enemy. If this person is an enemy, you need to find a way to change that.)

If you hold antagonism in your heart, no matter how hard you hide it, it will come out, likely connecting to the antagonism in other people and leading to conflict, anxiety, and fear. These things feed off each other.

There might not be a monster inside, yet acting as if it were true can lead to better outcomes.

Applying This to Testing 

We run into tough political situations all the time. "Why didn't QA find that bug?" "Can we ship earlier?" and "Why does testing take so long?" are all easy enough questions to answer.

Except when they are not questions at all, but assertions, such as "QA should have found that bug," "Figure out a way to ship earlier," and "Testing takes too long." If that's the case, the other person will be stubbornly hard to convince.

For example, consider the time a manager asked if the testers could recommend a ship decision in four hours (when a good shakedown usually took several days). We quickly came up with a plan to triage the testing, testing only the features that changed, the ones most frequently used, and the ones on the path-to-purchase for this e-commerce app. We also added a few scenarios that were very complex and spanned many features; if those flows worked, the system was probably okay.

The entire time our general feelings were calm and reassured. At the end of four hours, we hadn't found any showstopper bugs, but we could have kept testing for several more days. Instead we did a quick Roman vote, with each person giving thumbs up or down. There are plenty of ways to calculate risk, but our general consensus was CARS versus DUPE. We felt good about the decision.

We you feel pressure to make a decision, check your energy. If you feel DUPE’d, reschedule the meeting.

You'll wish you had anyway.

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