Being a good software engineer is primarily about knowing the fundamentals of computer science, being able to model your problem domain and represent it in a succinct computational format. It is also about being able to control growing complexity of the software systems you maintain by following good architectural patterns and breaking down your representational models into well define modules with well defined responsibilities. But, it isn’t any less about communication, about clearly conveying your thoughts, and all-together being able to play good with other people. This latter goal is usually ignored though, and not much focus is given to it during early phases of one’s career or during your academics. But sooner or later, you will realise that to be an effective software developer, it is essential to be able to communicate well, and play well with other people, be it your colleagues, customers, subordinates, managers, or even your friends and family.
Communication isn’t an exact science though. It involves paying careful attention to context and human emotions. As such, there is no guaranteed way of how to effectively communicate in all situations, however, with practice, and with right mindset, you can get very good at it and achieve better results each time. One such helpful resource on getting good with handling people is Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
The book is divided into four parts, each focusing on an important part of effective communication.
Part 1: Fundamental Techniques in Handling people
This part talks about three fundamental principles to follow when engaging with people.
- Do not criticise, condemn or complain: If you have to bring someone’s attention to their shortcomings, do it in an indirect way, by telling them how they can bring about much improvement in something by changing just a little.
- Give honest and sincere appreciation: If you find someone doing a good job, don’t hold back on an honest appreciation. People like to feel important and appreciation goes a long way in feeding that well-deserved emotion. Used effectively, this makes people wanting do do even better.
- Arouse in other person an eager want: If you want someone to do something for you, show them how it can benefit them as well. Once they have their own want involved, they would be much more willing to give you what you desire.
Part 2: Six ways to make people like you
- Become genuinely interested in other people: Find something about others that you find intriguing, and let them tell you about it, while you listen with genuine interest.
- Smile: Being around happy people makes you happy. By smiling more, you give others the same feeling. They would want to be around you more if you give away happy smiles than scary frowns.
- Use a person’s name: Each person’s name is the most sweet sound to them. By using a person’s name well, you can give them a feeling of importance, and get their focused attention.
- Be a good listener: Communicating isn’t only about talking. In fact, it is less about that. It is more about being an effective listener.
- Talk in term’s of other person’s interests: It is ok what you want, but others’ won’t be interested in giving you what you want unless you also mention what they want. Asking for what you want, by talking about others’ interests, works more effectively.
- Make the other person feel important: The lesson is re-itereated. Your main goal of effective communication is to make the opponent feel important. If you make them feel important, they will be much more willing to cooperate than otherwise.
Part 3: Win people to your way of thinking
- Avoid arguments: If you win an argument, you lose the other person’s interest and possibly respect. So there is no real win in an argument. Best route is to avoid it.
- Show respect: Don’t discard others’ opinion even if you think they are wrong.
- If you are wrong, admit it: There is no pride in being wrong and being stubborn about it.
- Begin in a friendly way: Even if you are genuinely angry at someone, beginning to converse in a friendly way will take you to your desired affect much faster.
- Get the other person saying ‘yes yes’ to you quickly: Begin your conversation with questions that the other person won’t disagree with. Starting with agreement will be more helpful in achieving an agreement on the conclusion.
- Let the other person do more of the talking: You don’t have to sell your point beyond an agreement. Your goal should be to reach an agreement, not to win in count of words.
- Let the other person feel the ideas are his/hers: Instead of pitching the ideas as if they are coming from you and they have to agree with it, pitch it as if the ideas are theirs and you are agreeing to it.
- Honestly try to see others’ perspective: Changing the lens can help wonders happen at times.
- Be sympathetic: Don’t crush others’ ideas and opinions.
- Appeal to nobler motives: Everyone wants to do good. Try appealing to the good in others.
- Dramatise your ideas: Underplaying your ideas doesn’t give it any strength. Pitching your ideas in a dramatic way could help harness more attention.
- Throw down a challenge: If all else fails, appealing to the taking up a challenge inducing notion of human mind can help.
Part 4: Be an effective leader
- Begin with praise and appreciation: Never forget that everyone wants to be important, and feel important.
- Call attention to mistakes indirectly: Do not criticise in harsh ways.
- Talk about your own mistakes first: Be a human to others, tell them you too have made mistakes. This helps you be more relatable, and helps others see themselves as open for and willing to improve more.
- Ask questions instead of giving direct orders: No one likes taking orders, even if they are willing to put up with them. Pitching what you want as questions could make others not only give you what you want, but also make them feel happy about it.
- Let the other person save face: Do not shame someone publicly for their mistakes. Give them a chance to save their face.
- Praise improvements lavishly: It will induce the want in people to improve even further.
- Give others a fine reputation to live up to: If you give them a good reputation, they will try their best to live up to it.
- Make the fault seem easy to correct: Because if you make it seem difficult to correct, why would they try?
- Make others feel happy about doing what you suggest: Everyone wants importance, happiness, and doing good. Give them that, and they will give you what you want.
The book doesn’t give you a silver bullet to be an effective communicator. But it helps you develop the right framework and mindset to help you see yourself becoming better at handling people. Having the right mindset can go a great deal towards becoming an expert conversationalist and people manager.