In the past few years I’ve started to work mostly remotely. It’s been great journey so far and I’ve learned a lot. Mostly about myself. I’m going to share my learnings as separate posts every now and then. This first post is about assuming positive intentions.

Assume positive intention

When you work remote, your communication is mostly text based, chat, mail or issue board. Problem with text is that it does not have expressions. So it’s quite easy to misunderstand someone, especially when compared to talking with someone face-to-face. More often I feel that if I don’t put smiley or emoji on my messages, I’ll be misunderstood. And on some cases when I read my own messages, they “sound” sarcastic with emojis in my mind. And I hate that. I like smileys and emojis, they are great for expressing feelings, but when you feel that you need to put them on most messages, there might be bigger issues.

Of course there’s more variables in this. For example, if you’ve met the people you’re talking with before, you probably understand their intention better. Let’s have an example: you’re new in the company and doing a code review. Then you spot something that you don’t understand. You might comment something like ”Why you did it like this?” without thinking it further. In your mind, you mean to ”say” that in neutral, a bit confused tone. After reading it, you think that’s reasonable question so you leave it there.

Then think about that you’ve written a piece of code that you’re really, really proud of. It’s perhaps the best code you ever wrote. Then you submit a pull request. After few hours someone asks the same question ”Why you did it like this?”. How do you read it? I bet that in most cases reader will go in to defensive mode. I know I took most comments in my first pull requests like that. And it’s okay to feel like that. But before you answer and defend your solution, take a step back and think:

  • You both work on same project and probably want it to succeed
  • It’s really easy to do stupid errors when you work on some problem for a long time ( I do this all the time)
  • Perhaps you’ve actually made complex code that is hard to read, it can be (and in most cases it is) you, that come back to own code after a period and have to spend time to understand it

When you work at the office and you get the comments like that, it’s easy to just go to have chat with the reviewer and ask what did they mean and get it solved. But on remotely, you cannot do that. It took me a while to not get the comments as personal attack and to try to understand the feedback of the comments.

So even if it is hard to think it as a positive comment.