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Do You Talk At People?

Mary is a new manager. She was hired in externally to help the company grow the QA department. Not only is she expected to add additional people to the team but she is expected to improve the performance of the team dramatically. The company has seen little success in the Software Quality Assurance Team and is actively considering shipping the team off overseas. If the team is not being effective at least the team can be cheap. Mary’s responsibility is to save not only her new job but the job of the 10 people already on her team.

This isn’t going to be easy; the Development team’s despise the Quality Assurance Department. Looking into the issue she noticed something interesting. When the developers were finished with their work they would move the work status to “Ready for QA” and immediately move on to the next work assignment. Her own team, Quality Assurance, often would not notice the no work items for several days. When a Quality Assurance Team Member would find a new work item to resolve the team member would stop at the first bug or quality issue and reject the work item. Her team rejected the item by moving the status of the work-item to back in Progress. They cycle would repeat.

Mary pondered this and realized the teams and people were not communicating with each other. Instead they are communicating AT each other. To improve her team Mary worked with the manager of the development team and moved the Quality Assurance people side-by-side with developers. Now instead of moving “Status” of work-items developers and QA members constantly work together using “words” on working through Status. No longer is there a race to move an item’s status. In fact, after a few weeks Mary and the Development manager worked to remove the QA status as the two teams now worked in harmony understanding the Quality Assurance is part of “in-progress” and not separate.

In your line of work you likely see many instances of people Talking At People

  • Sending an email with an order
  • Commanding Status Meetings
  • Updating Statuses in Work Management Systems with notes containing instructions
  • Sending a Slack Message and not following-up
  • Your Example Here

In each of these the initiator of the message needs collaboration from a peer but rather than speaking with and communicating with the peer a message is sent with an order. While the intent is good (remember we always assume positive intent) the reality is that most people feel hurt when talked at. Worse, look at Mary’s example, talking at people often introduces large time delays as people do not immediately discover they are being “told what to do”.

Take for example the all-too-common example of the Long Email Chain that keeps getting CC’d and forwarded. How often have you received an email for the tenth time and just ignored it only to discover a week later that there were instructions embedded deep within the email chain meant just for you!

We have all had our turn talking at people. Now it is time that we starting talking with people!


Ennis Lynch

Ennis Lynch

Ennis Lynch is a Professional Coach Based in South Florida. His primary area of coaching focuses on coaching Software Engineering Leadership. On occasion he does Agile Transformation work as well but prefers coaching at the Team and Individual level vs. the organizational level.


If you have ever wondered: is professional coaching right for me and you are a Software Engineering Manager, Director of Engineering, Director of Software Engineering, VP of Engineering, or CTO reach out for a free initial coaching session. See if coaching is right for you. Initial coaching sessions are the real deal, no hard-sells, no "here is what you would get if you paid". Individuals that receive a free coaching session will get a normal private professional coaching session of 90 minutes (30 minute onboarding + 60 minute coaching) and it will be up to you to follow-up if you want to continue with help on your journey.


Ennis is always gathering research through a team building exercise called the Ball Point Game. If you are interested in a team-level exercise and want to participate in a research project to further the field reach out. The exercise is free in South Florida (and really fun)


Ennis Lynch

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