The Software Testing Club recently put out an eBook called “99 Things You Can Do to Become a Better Tester“. Some of them are really general and vague. Some of them are remarkably specific.

My goal for the next few weeks is to take the “99 Things” book and see if I can put my own personal spin on each of them, and make a personal workshop out of each of the suggestions.

Suggestion #7: …and have the courage to share your findings with whoever is in charge as well as fight for key changes – Erick Brickarp

This dovetails perfectly in to what I was talking about with the last suggestion. In some ways, I could just say “look at Workshop #6”, but that would be a cop out. The fact is, looking at work differently is one thing. Developing the ability to stand up and fight for change might not be something you feel comfortable doing, or feel you actually can do. Sometimes you have to up the ante, and to up the ante, you may have to expose hypocrisy, greed, ego, politics, or all four. Might sound impossible, but I have found a very interesting method to be able to do exactly that, and it really is remarkably effective.

Workshop #7: Ask One Stupid Question Every Day (At Minimum)

I have told my team and my company that I reserve the right to as “a stupid question every day”, and that stupid question is very often related to things I find when I test. This approach has proven to be effective in two ways. First, it shows that I’m not presenting myself as a know it all or someone who “has to be right”. It also has the added effect that it means those who have issues with what I’ve found or am presenting need to respond in a way that will explain or resolve my “ignorance”.

I am not saying “play dumb”, I am not saying “be coy or play political games”. I am saying be aware enough to know when addressing certain issues may prove to be a political or emotional minefield. By asking the other side to explain why they are doing what they are doing, for whatever reason, very often it diffuses what could be a negative situation. It also allows me to practice what I and others call “active listening”, where I can really make sure I understand, completely, what is being said and explained. It also opens an avenue for me to explain why I think that another course of action would be better. Often, it’s possible to diffuse situations that are uncomfortable or awkward just by doing this.

In a way, this is a Socratic Method approach to dealing with issues and getting to genuine resolutions. Honestly, I find that when I approach situations where I may not understand all of the ramifications or decisions that have gone on before, it leaves openings for others to consider taking alternative actions, where before distrust and frustration may have prevented that from happening. One thing that’s critical if you use this approach. You cannot come from a place of “feeling”. You cannot say “I feel that we are going the wrong direction”. My own experience has shown me that “feelings” don’t persuade. Facts and hard data does. If you have a gut feeling, that a decision is the wrong one, do all you can to have data that can help back up why you feel the way you do.

Bottom Line:

We all have it in us to be courageous, and we all have it in us to stand up for what is the right course of action, but rather than doing so from a position of “I’m right, so you better listen to me”, I’ve found it more effective to say “Help me understand what you are seeing. Fill me in on what may be missing from my understanding. Let me explain back what I am hearing, and tell me if I understand this correctly.”

Several years ago, I would tell you that there’s no way that I’d be able to sway people’s thinking just by actively listening, but today, I not only believe it’s possible, I’ve witnessed it first hand. I’m not going to pretend it always works; there are braggarts, egotists, and bullies everywhere, and those aspects often get in the way of doing what’s best and what’s right. I will say, though, that actively listening and getting to the root issues, when possible, can make for the best path to getting even reluctant or antagonistic people and organizations to do what should be done.