Yesterday, a colleague sent out an email to the group, asking for help on a certain topic. Over IM, I asked if he was doing this for a particular scenario, which he was. So I suggested he use a feature of the tool we are using. He said he wasn’t aware of that feature, so I said “RTFM” (read the frickin’ manual).
This didn’t go over very well with him. His first reaction was to lecture me, never to do something like this again. I didn’t need a lecture, but I apologized, trying to quell an escalating situation. Later, after he calmed down, he explained that this triggered memories of bad relationships with past colleagues, and that he didn’t want our rapport to get out of hand. Fine, I can accept that. But this situation got me to thinking about two things: why I said RTFM to begin with, and how I could have said the same thing in a more gentle manner.
As a consultant, I know alot is expected of me by the client. There is a reason they are paying more for my services than they pay their employees, and I have an obligation to keep up my end of the deal. I expect the same of the other consultants on the project. In this case, I expected my colleague to know the tools that we are working with, and to have at least gone through the manuals and have been familiar with the concepts. Staff employees often expect to be sent to training. As consultants, we need to go out of our way to quickly learn as much as we can about the tools and technologies we are using. We also need to be able to pass that knowledge on to our teammates, whether they are consultants or employees. It’s by this transfer of knowledge that the entire team gets better, and the entire project can go smoother.
Which brings me to my next thought: how could I have been more effective in that communication. After thinking about it, I should have said something along these lines:
You can use this feature. You should be able to find information about this in the manual. Take a look, and let me know if you have any questions.
It would have gotten the point across much better. It also would have been in line with the kind of response my colleague expected. Even though I don’t have any particular title, I am often perceived as a leader on our team. To fulfill my part of being a leader, I should have used the gentler statement to get my point across.
The work we do executing projects and developing software is difficult enough. We don’t need to make it any more difficult by creating problems among our colleagues. As a team leader, whether by title or by perception, we need to excel at increasing the knowledge of our entire team (and organization), and working towards project success.