Effective communication in the Fedora Community

Jared K. Smith jsmith at fedoraproject.org
Wed Nov 17 17:34:21 UTC 2010

2010/11/17 Máirín Duffy <duffy at fedoraproject.org>:
> I am starting a new thread as we're veering a bit off-topic here.

> On Wed, 2010-11-17 at 14:11 +0000, Robert 'Bob' Jensen wrote:
>> I disagree, if someone disagrees with an agenda item there should be no
>> requirement that they have an alternative idea. If a discussion is
>> killed by someone playing "Devil's Advocate" perhaps there is another
>> reason it died... like being flat out stupid.
> Perhaps in the situation of thinking an idea "flat out stupid" but
> having no alternative, non-stupid idea to bring to the table, it's best
> to simply not participate and let the idea die on accord of its own
> merits. I'm not sure what benefit putting down ideas without offering
> any hope of forward movement does for anyone involved if a problem needs
> to be solved. Am I missing something?

I think there's probably some middle ground here, so let me share a
few thoughts.  (Also please note that I'm speaking very generally
here, and not specifically at any one person or group. This is
something that has been weighing heavily on my mind for a while --
this conversation just gives me a good excuse to get some things off
my chest.)

1) We're all fairly technical here, and we all find a certain pleasure
in finding the "right" solution and solving the puzzle, for whatever
version of "right" we happen to believe.  It's also human nature to
get caught up in projects so much that when people attack your
project, you feel it's a personal attack against you.

When I first got out of college, I had the opportunity to work for an
electrical engineering firm, and got to sit in on many meetings we
called "Critical Design Reviews".  Imagine a group of ten or fifteen
engineers in a room, concentrating on one aspect of a circuit or
project or piece of software, and trying to make sure that it was the
best it could be.  You can imagine that there were lots of opinions,
lots of ideas, and lots of criticisms as well.  When done well, those
meetings were very productive and helped ensure that the best designs
won out over less viable alternatives.  When done poorly, those
meetings quickly devolved into group therapy sessions and personal
grudge-matches.  I was lucky enough to have a boss who was very adept
at helping keep those meetings on track, and I can only hope that some
of those skills have rubbed off onto me.  One of the skills that I
picked up from those meetings was to be more sensitive to people's
tone as they give feedback.

There's a time and a place for making an alternative proposal, and I
can see certain times where it might be enough simply to say "it's
obvious that this idea isn't well thought-out".  The key, I think, is
in looking at the tone of the opposition.  Is the person opposing the
idea doing it with an eye toward making the end result better, or in
simply tearing down the idea (or person who came up with the proposed
design).  In short, is the disagreement about "what's right", or "who
is right"?  My own goal for Fedora would be that we could keep things
on a civil, mature, and professional level and talk about the
technicalities without slipping into the trap of tearing people down.
Please understand that my goal is *not* to silence honest criticism --
I think honest feedback cycles are vital to our health as a community
and as a distribution.  My goal, however, is to make sure that the
feedback is made in a way that helps Fedora move forward and not tear
down the very people who make our community great.

2) There's a time for talk, and there's a time for action.  I love the
Chinese proverb that says "Talk doesn't cook rice."  We can talk about
an idea or proposal or decision until we're blue in the face, but at
some point, the time for talk has passed and it's time to move
forward.  I'd even be so bold as to proffer that sometimes forward
movement (even if it's not in the exact direction we want to go) is
better than no movement at all.  (Please note that I'm not advocating
blind charges into the great unknown without listening to feedback --
there's obviously a balance that needs to be found here.)

Speaking for myself for a moment, I find that I'm typically much more
eager to go along with an idea when I can see that the person making
the proposal is willing to put in time and effort to make things
better.  I'd much rather have someone say "I disagree with your
proposal, and I'm willing to show you a better way" than "Your idea is
stupid."  One response leads me to move forward, the other only
bruises my ego and makes me less interested in listening.  And I'll be
honest here -- the last several months have taught me that there's
probably too much navel-gazing going on in our community.  If I had a
magic solution for solving that problem, you'd be the first to know.
I do believe, however, that civil dialog is the first step towards
moving forward.

Jared Smith
Fedora Project Leader

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