I think a more specific word for this is empathy.
It takes a level of emotional intelligence to communicate in a way which gets to the core of the issue while not making the other person feel bad about it. It can also be a respect thing (when you think someone is wrong first tell them how they're right). This leads to people feeling included and creates higher bandwidth conversations about whatever the real issue is, it also makes people feel more comfortable in general and happier as a part of the group.
I think when people behave like Linus (or executives/founders sometimes do) it's a tantrum/status play. You can only behave like that if you're in some position of power, otherwise people will just dismiss you. This is too bad since people in those positions have a disproportionate ability to actively choose to act against their status (things like Zuck sitting with everyone or in a glass office everyone can see into) which then flows downstream culturally.
Cultures that act 'unkind' or without empathy are a shame because they drive away people who can't deal with the abrasiveness (which often makes things worse), they make people afraid to ask questions and ultimately hurt the group.
You can be direct and empathetic at the same time. If you're in a position of power you have a responsibility to not behave like an ass (or at least you should).
> It takes a level of emotional intelligence to communicate in a way which gets to the core of the issue while not making the other person feel bad about it.
I don't know. Sometimes the core of an issue is that someone messed up, bullied someone, didn't listen, or something along those lines. In some cases people should feel bad. We don't have to go out of our way to make them feel bad. They did it to themselves. And, to be clear, they shouldn't feel condemned. They should feel like they have a productive path forward. But glossing over important issues to avoid uncomfortable feelings isn't really kind in the long run.
Empathy is admirable and humanizing, and maybe we are short on it, but I'm not sold that it's always kinder.
I think you can do both - be empathetic without glossing over the issue.
That's basically the idea of 'radical candor' (https://www.radicalcandor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/rad...) and I think the main thing you're getting at.
I think you can be empathetic and direct. I just don't think you can always be productive while sparing feelings.
For example, when a relationship needs to end (a romantic break up, a firing, etc.), there's a limited amount one can do to make someone feel good about themselves. To some degree our challenge in that sort of conversation is to limit our empathy for the purposes of doing the right thing.
In other words, when someone phrases something reasonably kindly and it's not taken well, we can't blame the speaker for the listener's hurt feelings. At some point, even if they're hurt, it's the listener's fault. That judgement can seem cold and maybe counter-intuitive. However, on the contrary, that's just an example of how empathy gets in the way of what is right.
I think you're right that in those instances you won't be able to spare feelings. My comment about "not making the other person feel bad about it" is probably wrong in that sense, since you can be empathetic and it still may result in the other person feeling badly (like in your examples).
Though I think those cases should be the exception to the norm.
As far as empathy getting in the way - I think in the firing example while managers often feel an urge to be empathetic in a misdirected way (i.e. "this decision is hard for me too") true empathy would be recognizing that if you were the one being fired there is no good way to state it and however difficult it is for you to fire them - it doesn't compare.
I guess to reframe it, it's more about thinking about how the other person will be affected and doing the best you can given the circumstance.
"To some degree our challenge in that sort of conversation is to limit our empathy for the purposes of doing the right thing."
No, the empathetic thing in those situations is to end the relationship quickly precisely because you understand dragging it out will just damage the other party more in the long run.
Having a sense of when people "should" feel bad indicates a certain level of empathy, which just means being able to successfully understand what other people are probably feeling.
> I think a more specific word for this is empathy.
No - empathy just means feeling the same emotion as people around you, which is not always helpful. What you want is compassion.
I often see "empathy" tossed around as a cure-all for social problem. When someone gets angry at work and it makes you angry - that's empathy. Ever seen footage of a frenzied mob saluting a fascist dictator? That's empathy as well.
> No - empathy just means feeling the same emotion as people around you, which is not always helpful. What you want is compassion.
That's a particularly narrow definition of empathy, most definitions include something like the following:
"the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." 
The capacity for this is what helps - it makes it easier to understand how the other person is feeling.
As opposed to compassion:
"sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others." 
Empathy is a more general understanding of emotional state - I don't think it's being incorrectly used.
It is being used incorrectly though. Because understanding the other's emotions is not the solution. Thinking you can and should understand the other's emotions at all times is a mistake.
The OP suggested merely leaving open the possibility that your assumptions are wrong. That's really the opposite of understanding, it's expecting that you're not always going to understand, and making space for the other person to explain themselves and make things right.
Hmm, seems more like you just have to assume that people aren't stupid, and there's a reason they believe the things they do. Until you understand that reason, you just have to keep saying you're confused and ask questions to further clarify.
Once the reason(s) is highlighted, sometimes it's well justified, sometimes it isn't, but at least the core issue can now be addressed.
A lot of what makes the particular comment that you cited polite is that Allen is placing the "blame" on himself rather than the other party. He's saying, "I'm confused" rather than, "What you did makes no sense."
There are plenty of opportunities to do this when giving criticism/feedback. Not only does it make it easier for the other person to hear, but it also helps you save face if your feedback ends up being wrong.
I see you put it in quotes because, I guess, you felt the word is less than optimal, so I'll propose an alternative;
Rather than "blame", I suppose we're to say Allen accepts responsibility for his confusion and makes an effort to enrol others in his attempts to seek clarity. That way the opportunity arises for any involved to say "ah, I see, thank you".
If we hear what people are saying with a sense of goodwill, and read their words charitably, we give less cause for animosity to arise.
> Allen is placing the "blame" on himself rather than the other party.
FWIW I don't see this as placing blame on himself, at all: I see it as Allen just stating a fact. Allen is confused and seeking clarification. Confusion can happen for all sorts of reasons with varying parties or circumstances being the cause.
Allen might similarly say "I'm confused" upon reading the time cube website, but Allen's not to blame for that.
I agree with you though that largely politeness comes from being internally focused ("I don't understand, I don't agree, I didn't know") as opposed to externally focused ("You did something confusing, You did something wrong, You didn't tell me"). One instance where it pays to be selfish, I suppose!
That's why "blame" is in quotes. He's not literally blaming himself. But since you presumably have to start out the communication with a statement of its purpose, he takes that opportunity afforded by the first sentence, to frame the whole message in terms of "help me understand" instead of "you suck."
I might suggest phrasing it as that he's assuming a charitable view of the other party, and acting like it. The word "blame", even scare quoted, makes people defensive.
>I guess I don't see what's so difficult about that particular type of kindness.
It's not about "difficulty" ... as in one takes 5 calories to type out "that's stupid" but the polite sentence takes the same effort or less.
It's about effectiveness and possibly the false cause & effect we attach to one style of communication vs another. E.g. Linux may be successful because Linus is direct and blunt. (It keeps idiots wasting everyone's time away.) Or, Linux is not reaching its full potential because Linus is crude. (It drives talented contributors who are repulsed by crude language away.) We don't know which scenario is superior because we can't replay history in 2 separate universes.
To your particular example, I personally don't like the "I'm confused by this." That is what I call unnecessary "prelude". It's redundant prelude because Allen's next paragraph clearly asks 2 questions so of course he's confused.
Also, Allen writes:
"Can you take a step back and explain your goal here?"
Allen can delete "I'm confused" and "take step back" and get directly to the point:
"Can you explain your goal here?"
"Can you take a step back and" isn't "ceremony", it's an intentional phrasing to produce the desired effect and context change in the reader. It's very easy to get caught up in the minutiae, and phrasing like "Can you take a step back" is a request to switch to higher-level considerations. "Can you explain your goal here?" could produce a result like "Well, I'm trying to do X so I can Y", whereupon you then have to say "No, no, go up a level; why are you trying to Y?". "Can you take a step back and explain your goal here?" encourages someone to provide a considered response, and up-level their reasoning.
That holds especially true when your job is to provide that broader picture for others, and the person you're talking to might not have your perspective.
Having had to give the equivalent of the "No, no, I meant" follow-up response there more than once, I've learned to provide the additional signals to up-level.
>"Can you take a step back and" isn't "ceremony", it's an intentional phrasing
Then it depends on how we perceive word choices. To me, "take a step back" has become so overused that it's a "dead metaphor". It has become the opposite of "intentional phrasing" and its most common use is prelude and lubrication.
I'm not saying you're wrong in interpreting "take a step back" more literally. (Literal interpretation is the premise of what your comment dissecting it is based on). Most of the time, you can ignore it based on the way most people insert "take a step back" into their business-speak.
Also, I doubt that surveying 10 random business people what "take a step back" means would result in 6+ out of 10 defining it as "higher-level concerns". It seems like "take a step back" acts more like a discourse marker.
That's entirely plausible, and it depends on the environment. My point wasn't to focus on that particular phrase (the choice of which may vary by environment), but to more generally suggest that phrases that might seem semantically empty may in fact have a purpose beyond making something come across as less blunt.
The higher-level point: you're trying to produce a certain reaction in the reader/listener, and every word and phrase you use will contribute to that reaction. Even if you don't care about how they feel for its own sake, there's value in producing the reaction you want and avoiding the reaction you don't.
So, in my case, I've had direct experience with specific choices of phrasing producing undesirable results (and in a way being insufficiently direct), so I've adopted other phrasings that produce the results I do want. The specific things that work for you may vary.
> Also, I doubt that surveying 10 random business people what "take a step back" means would result in 6+ out of 10 defining it as "higher-level concerns". It seems like "take a step back" acts more like a discourse marker.
In the specific context of the whole phrase ("Can you take a step back and explain your goal here?"), I'd consider it semantically meaningful. I wouldn't be surprised if it gets used in semantically null ways, as well.
But even if it were simply a "discourse marker", that shouldn't be automatically discounted and deleted either. To make an analogy to another form of behavior: I've seen a lot of hackers follow a certain counterproductive chain of reasoning regarding fashion. "This makes no sense and shouldn't be a thing that matters. I'm going to treat it as a thing that doesn't matter." (It's a form of the is-ought fallacy.) As opposed to the rather more effective reasoning: "This is a real social signal that turns out to matter, even though I don't think it should. It costs me little to play the game and obtain the results I want."
I'll freely admit to using empathy both because I care about other people and because I've in practice found it incredibly effective.
> But even if it were simply a "discourse marker"
What is a discourse marker? Not that I have a problem with the phrase "take a step back", I agree it depends on the environment, the context, on the person who is saying it, how they're saying it, and who they're saying it to. But if and when it's just filler, what stops it from turning into "can you go right ahead and take a step back and explain your ultimate goal target here?" If it's a "real social signal" (as opposed to a mere social signal?), what does it signal? Do I want to be signaling that?
A discourse marker is a high-level language feature that helps form a coherent (or maybe not-so-coherent) discourse. Things like "then", "so", "um", "...", "Once upon a time" are kind of classic examples. The word "like" has raised the ire of a lot of folk as it has gained a new function as a discourse marker.
There's nothing inherently bad about discourse markers (or dead metaphors) for that matter. They are quite critical to a great deal of communication. I think what the parent was trying to suggest that this meant its use was somehow implicitly deceptive or something, but I don't know why.
Once upon a time is said once, at the beginning of a story. Okay, so it says "the following is a little or longer story". But what does e.g. "um" several times per sentence say? "I should slow down but I don't wanna"? Even there being nothing inherently bad about them, they're by the same token also not inherently good, though I agree that the example in question is a bad one for a bad one.
Ah, but pretending fashion doesn't matter to us sends the signal that we're good enough that we don't have to care :-)
True, and studies of how fashion works do show that exact trend, of people who are prominent enough that they can do that and be perceived in the way they desire. But it's better to do that knowingly, and be confident of which end of the spectrum you're on. If you're trying to climb upwards, it sure can't hurt to make your path smoother. If you feel like you're already on the top, and you can take some risks, then feel free to choose different strategies to cope with your success. :)
Know your audience, and make sure you're sending the signal you think you're sending. If you don't already have all the reputation you need, fashion matters a lot more in establishing a baseline.
Not every question unequivocally indicates confusion though. There are at least two kinds of questions. The policeman isn't confused when he asks you where you were at 9pm on June 12th. That's an interrogation, an inquisition, and contains an implicit accusation. The most common response is resistance, obfuscation and/or defending one's position at all costs (no matter how foolish that position might be).
So starting off with "Can you explain your goal here?" is concise and isn't horrible. But without any other signal or adornment, it risks being read as the above kind of question. Leading off with "I'm confused" is for indicating that the subsequent questions are the other kind - "please help me with my problem" type deal. It's not strictly necessary to the meaning, but likely has a positive effect in how the questions are interpreted and answered. It's like declaring a variable before you use it. The compiler doesn't need to figure out what type it is (and possibly get it wrong).
"Take a step back" is also used productively here, indicating "whoa whoa there sparky, before we talk about what you're doing, we need to answer why you're even doing it." In other words "I want to talk about something further upstream" or in yet other words, "Let's stop and look at the big picture." Actually it's pretty concise when you consider all the meaning that's crammed into it.
It seems as though you just don't like Allen's writing style. You haven't really pointed out anything unnecessarily polite, and his comment would've been just as polite with all of the edits you're suggesting.
I don't think redundancy or prelude are necessarily the mark of politeness. It's usually just a mark of writing style. For example, you said:
> To your particular example, I personally don't like the
But "personally" is redundant - of course it's your personal opinion. You just used it to emphasize that you don't like Allen's writing style, correct?
>I don't think redundancy or prelude is necessarily the mark of politeness. It's usually just a mark of writing style.
But to _your perception_, it's politeness. (You previously wrote: "It's direct ("I'm confused"), but polite.")
On the other hand, I categorized it as prelude.
To attempt a meta observation, it seems people require "social lubrication" in the communication. Otherwise, it sounds harsh. The lubrication is a mark of kindness.
I don't require lubrication and harsh language like Linus' writing style doesn't bother me. The difference is that I would probably use "kinder" language in more situations than he would depending on the recipient.
>But "personally" is redundant - of course it's your personal opinion.
Right... to be meta, it's a restatement of my last sentence. "I personally don't like" is _softer_ than "I don't like" which sounds more like I'm a dictator. If you and I were founder & cofounder where we have "spirited" debate, I'd leave out the redundant "personally". If you were my employee that needs softer language, I put in the redundancies.
> To attempt a meta observation, it seems people require "social lubrication" in the communication. Otherwise, it sounds harsh. The lubrication is a mark of kindness.
Yes, it is to some degree a "social lubricant". We're running a massive intricate machine at full-tilt with a million moving parts that sometimes just barely mesh. And while some parts of it are capable of continuing to work without that social lubricant, it certainly makes things run hotter, and decreases the MTBF. All the more reason to leave some safety margin, and help everything run more smoothly.
I disagree with the view that "softer language" is something you use with weaker people or people who you see as "below" you. I'd also disagree with the characterization as "softer". Empathy isn't "soft", it's incredibly powerful.
I would say more often than not, it is used towards those viewed as weaker or those who are not capable of rational thought when presented with non-soft language.
This seems very susceptible to confirmation bias and itself a potential self-fulfilling prophecy...
> But to _your perception_, it's politeness
That's not at all why Allen's comment is polite, and this is very much what I mean by "kindness requires no effort."
It's polite because it isn't actively negative towards the other person. That's all it takes. Redundancy is irrelevant.
Allen could've easily written:
> What you wrote makes no fucking sense and it's dumb as hell.
Which is both redundant and impolite.
> If you were my employee that needs softer language, I put in the redundancies.
Just to be redundant myself, redundancy is only loosely correlated with politeness. There are plenty of examples of terse, polite speech (and the inverse as well). You don't need to do this, and I would argue it's a hallmark of your particular writing style more than anything else.
>It's polite because it isn't actively negative towards the other person. That's all it takes. Redundancy is irrelevant.
If you believe redundancy is irrelevant, we have different opinions on how people perceive communication.
You: not writing an insult is all it takes to be "polite".
Me: People will perceive the omission of prelude and mea culpa "I'm confused" as "active negativity towards the other person". It doesn't require the literal words "you're an idiot".
So I disagree that simply not insulting is "all it takes". It often takes more than that to not make people act defensive. Lubrication, social grooming, etc.
> If you believe redundancy is irrelevant, we have different opinions on how people perceive communication.
I'm starting to gather as such, and so continuing down this road is probably unproductive.
I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree.
>It's not about "difficulty" ... as in one takes 5 calories to type out "that's stupid" but the polite sentence takes the same effort or less.
The difficulty is in suppressing knee-jerk reactions and hardwired negative emotions, not on the energy level required.
>, not on the energy level required.
It was about energy in this case because I was responding to BenchRouter's specific context for "difficulty" when he wrote: "expend the extra effort to type out "this is stupid"". (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14782723)
I think Linus and Gordon Ramsey are probably cut from similar cloth. The average person remembers them both for the times when they're shouting and trying to quickly end something while maintaining social dominance in a particular situation.
The kindness and softer approaches are forgotten; all of those times when things aren't in need of a strong shove back to positive territory.
I quit working at shoprite and now I make $35h - $80h...how? I'm working online! My work didn't exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn't be happier.
I totally am on the side of empathy and making an effort to be as kind as possible.
HOWEVER, that preface "I'm confused...[followed by pointed criticism disguised as a question]" often comes off as condescending, rude, and disingenuous. It is often infuriating to the target and those who are witnessing it.
There's always a polite way to say things without masking what you really mean. It may be difficult to come up with the words and sometimes it just isn't feasible, but that's OK, if folks are willing to give each other "a pass" every once in a while and tolerate an occasional outburst.
It really depends on the phrasing of it. "I'm confused, why on earth did you write that web app in perl in 2017?" does certainly come across as condescending. "I'm confused, we don't usually use perl. What's the benefit here?" opens it up for a discussion.
The secret, I've found, is to assume that everyone is doing their best with what they've got. Everyone has a different set of information, background, experience, etc. Maybe you'll have an opportunity to teach them something; maybe they'll have an opportunity to teach you something.
If you're lying, and you're not actually confused then yes, that's horrible communication.
You should only say you're confused if you are legitimately puzzling over what seems to be a contradiction.
On the other hand, if the other party sees a request for clarification and interpretation it as a passive aggressive criticism, then that's pathological on their end.
Someone does X, which you think is potentially wrong because you don't understand it, but you're not completely sure yourself that it is wrong (because not everything that is correct is always immediately understandable). Saying "I'm confused" seems like an exact honest description of the situation, no prevarication involved.
> In many contexts, being kind just means being a professional.
Which, taken to its logical conclusion, means that some important figures in our industry (e.g. Linus Torvalds) act quite unprofessionally. Sadly, this seems to be true.
> Which, taken to its logical conclusion, means that some important figures in our industry (e.g. Linus Torvalds) act quite unprofessionally.
No, it doesn't. It means that the people Linus has to say harsh things do are being unprofessional--because, as Linus himself said in the quote given in the article, when he tries to say things kindly--"Please don't do that"--people don't listen. If those people were being professional, they would realize that when Linus says "Please don't do that", they need to listen.
The article even acknowledges this:
"If you really have trust and conviction that your peers are not wasting your time, you pay attention when they say something - a “please don’t do that”, to quote Linus’ example, ends up being one of the more strongly worded pieces of guidance you can get."
So the problem isn't Linus, it's all the people who don't take the time to realize that it's not a waste of time to pay attention to what he says--so he has to shout to make himself heard.
That's a self-fulfilling problem, though: if you have a community of people built around flames and attacks, then anything short of that may have a harder time getting noticed and acknowledged. It raises the noise floor, and drowns out other signals.
Build a community that doesn't have that problem, and people will respect disagreement and "don't do that" without the accompanying toxicity.
> if you have a community of people built around flames and attacks
The Linux community is not built around flames and attacks. Linus' flames are what get public attention, but that doesn't mean they are the majority, or even a significant minority, of all his communications. He has explained many times exactly what the conditions are under which he will flame--basically, that a kernel developer does something that he has already explained many, many times should never be done, like breaking userspace. Do something that meets those conditions, you get flamed. Don't do something like that, and you don't.
The Linux kernel community, by and large, has far more vitriol than average. It's far more than just Linus; many other developers do the same.
Do you have data backing this up, or is it just an opinion?
Personal experience working in that community and other communities for a prolonged period of time, as well as the first-hand experience of many other developers I've worked with, and the second-hand reports of an even larger set of developers.
I'm also aware of projects to do more formal analysis of various FOSS communities, such as FOSS Heartbeat.
But in the meantime, the plural of "anecdote" is absolutely "data" for sufficiently large values of "plural".
> the plural of "anecdote" is absolutely "data" for sufficiently large values of "plural".
I disagree, but I doubt we're going to resolve that here. To me, "the plural of anecdote is data" means "I can't be bothered to figure out whether the information I have is actually representative of the population".
Make an effort to actually read his comments. He is very kind and patient but he expects to be treated kindly too.
It's a big world. There's room for a Linus or 2.
I hate the word professional, because it comes with a lot of stupid baggage (in particular, it doesn't, or shouldn't, matter if I am in a suit or a hoaddy), but I can agree with that small part of it.
basketball analogy time... =)
as a (volunteer) coach, one of the things i often have to correct is making lob passes (slow, often misplaced and disrupting of the flow of action). some kids mistakenly believe they are being nice by giving their teammate a soft pass, but i tell them the kind thing to do is making the direct pass. it gets the ball there faster, it's more likely to be in stride, and makes it harder for the defense to recover or steal. that means it's more likely to lead to a basket and less likely to lead to a turnover for the receiving teammate.
(tl;dr: direct is better and more appreciated than roundabout)
We're not disagreeing. Allen's feedback is direct, to me. What's indirect about it?
yes, we're not disagreeing, i was just providing a parallel anecdote supporting the point that kindness is not necessarily mushy.
Ah, my apologies!
I've made $76,000 so far this year working online and I'm a full time student.I'm using an online business opportunity I heard about and I've made such great money.It's really user friendly and I'm just so happy that I found out about it.
Given his comment without context that is hard to express.
The "I'm confused" response requires the signal getting past the amygdala. The other type of response that you mentioned doesn't require that.
It moves the responsibility to a level where not all of us are.
It's like asking everybody to not smell or to not look ugly.
Some people are considered rude for a lot of reasons, mainly cultural, but what they have to say has value regardless
Instead of asking people to be kind (which often means comply to my system of values) we should ask people not to be judgemental and be open minded, which is something that can be learned by everybody
> Instead of asking people to be kind (which often means comply to my system of values) we should ask people not to be judgemental and be open minded, which is something that can be learned by everybody
You're arguing semantics here; in almost all cases that is what kindness means in these contexts.
Being Italian I sincerely cannot talk about semantics in English, my English is not good enough to argue about it.
I appreciate the fact that in English I can be more direct without being told that I'm rude though; it happens a lot more when I'm having a conversation in Italian.
I think language shapes the way people think, Italian has so many different and polite ways to be assholes that kindness to me it's more in the intentions people have than in the way they express them.
I've made $64,000 so far this year working online and I'm a full time student. Im using an online business opportunity I heard about and I've made such great money. It's really user friendly and I'm just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I do,
Because by today's standards that's not kindness. Being thoughtful, articulate, but well stated and polite is not considered kind, but "mean".
Any attempt to understand, evaluate or otherwise politely disagree is met by a mob of twitter accounts ready to call you a critical asshole and troll at every turn. I'm not sure why the industry has shifted this way. My only guess is it's generational.
> Being thoughtful, articulate, but well stated and polite is not considered kind, but "mean".
According to who? Certainly not the article: It puts forward Allen's comment as an example of being kind.
> Any attempt to understand, evaluate or otherwise politely disagree is met by a mob of twitter accounts ready to call you a critical asshole and troll at every turn
You could easily change your statement to "any attempt to do anything is met by a mob of twitter accounts ready to call you an asshole" and it would be just as true.
I don't think twitter outrage is a good metric for anything, because it's extremely contradictory, arbitrary, and capricious.
People often conflate "kindness" with "kid gloves" (for lack of a better term). Being kind doesn't have to mean giving "compliment sandwiches" all the time, or avoiding direct feedback. In many contexts, being kind just means being a professional.
See Allen's comment in the linked post, for example. It's direct ("I'm confused"), but polite. It's asking a question of the submitter in a respectful way that's likely to engender a productive conversation as opposed to putting people on the defensive. Allen's leaving the possibility open that his assumptions are wrong (and often our assumptions are).
It quite literally requires less effort - Allen didn't have to expend the extra effort to type out "this is stupid".
I guess I don't see what's so difficult about that particular type of kindness.
I think people like to dissect this too much. Your instincts, after millions of years of evolution, tell you all you need to know about a person. There is nothing "kind" about Linus, Bezos, Jobs, or even Gates for that matter.
Grandmas tend to be kind, but these people are definitely not anywhere near that realm.
Bezos, Jobs and Gates may be not, but Linus might very well be kind.
He doesn't take decisions that can screw thousands of people to his profit. Whether he would if he had that power, he didn't strive to get that power, and he doesn't have it, so while we can't rule it out, we also can tell that he isn't kind with any certainty.
And surely he's not "unkind" just because he's famous or has a full mouth. That's not what kindness is about -- I know people 10 times as foul mouthed, that were real sweethearts and could give you a liver if you needed one.
Agreed, he has given away his best work, to the world for free, which is an act of extreme kindness where I'm from.
This is work that improves many lives.
Exactly, deeds are louder than words. Can you imagine what the world would be like without linux? He and Stallman deserve statues. They have given us our freedom.
If we had to rely on microsoft and had no alternative could we get to sites that host anti-establishment views? We can never know, and need not go there thanks to these men.
Er. Linux is neat tech and all, but we had alternatives well before Linux existed. The rewriting of history is not necessary.
> If we had to rely on microsoft and had no alternative could we get to sites that host anti-establishment views?
This is a bit of an odd non-sequitur. Are you implying that the World Wide Web (1989) would not exist if not for Linux (1991)? Or that it would somehow be censored of all Microsoft criticism?
Yup, we also shouldn't forget Git, incredible software.
I think Stallman is also a kind guy and the world is a better place for having him around.
People say he is this and that, but I think some of his eccentric behaviour is just a survival mechanism.
That's laying it on a bit thick. Linus is reportedly worth $40m+ — he's not living as a Stallman-like ascetic, refusing all compensation for his labors.
Would he still be actively working on Linux 26 years later if it had never become popular enough for him to significantly monetize?
I can't read his mind of course, but most open-source founders below the "companies pay you big bucks to work/consult on it" level do end up burning out and abandoning/leaving the project or taking a reduced role after a while. And of course even if he wanted to he couldn't have worked on it full-time, for obvious reasons.
That's of course not to say he hasn't done an amazing job on Linux, or that he doesn't deserve particular praise for the first few years when he really was giving away his best work to the world for free.
>That's laying it on a bit thick. Linus is reportedly worth $40m+ — he's not living as a Stallman-like ascetic, refusing all compensation for his labors.
So? Who said he was ascetic (or should be)? What we said is that he gave the world his work for free.
And while he might be worth "$40m+" the Linux industry he helped create and spearheaded is worth tens of billions (if not hundreds). Heck, Git products alone should be close to a billion.
He could have easily gone for a slice of that pie early on, create branded proprietary lines of his software, etc, and it would have been a different landscape.
I'm partial to thinking about this with Max Weber's idea of "charismatic authority". The charismatic leader gives things away, is popular -- being in favour is what charisma is all about -- but in an extreme instance of that climate, criticising the leader becomes dangerous. Luckily, in the case of Linux, the verdict of the user base (does it work?) provides a kind of guidance to Linus. But he knows ("git") that his personality is somehow more involved with this than it should be.
>relying on a security firm with alleged neo-Nazi connections that
Wow. That sent my BS sensors straight up to saturation. Someone has an agenda here, and it's not to inform you.
You have a point in that security firms and right-wing hooligans go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it's a bit like saying someone drinks soda which contains H2O, which Hitler also consumed daily. Even if true it says nothing.
If the security industry in your country really is rife with right-wing hooligans, you need better regulation.
Regulation of what?
As if some country has solved this? In every country I know the security industries are filled with extreme right wingers and/or hooligans.
The security industry. A proper regulatory regime requires mandatory licensing for anyone working in the security industry, with a history of violent crime or extremism being automatic grounds for refusal of a license. You won't catch everyone, but it isn't at all difficult to weed out the obvious thugs and prevent a security industry from being "rife" or "filled" with neo-nazis.
Even the police is rife with racists, far right wingers, and even nazi sympathizers, and they'd somehow clear the security industry?
So, Bezos is choosing to be an asshole. Nice to know.
Steve Yegge didn't call him the "Dread Pirate Bezos" for no reason, you know.
If you're poor they will tell you you're batshit crazy
If you're rich or their salary depend on you, you are eclectic
There was once a CEO, and he was a fan of Apple, especially he liked Steve Jobs. So much so he wanted to imitate Steve Jobs. Out of all the excentric qualities Steve Jobs had, this CEO picked only that of being asshole. I imagine it was frustrating thinking here they are immigrating the great Steve Jobs and yet the company didn't grow, employees were quitting, customers were leaving because they never got features they were promised and so on.
I think you mean "eccentric".
Yeah, eccentric works best in english, I just translated "eclettico" from Italian, that actually means eclectic, but it is used with a slightly different meaning.
"It's one of those irregular verbs [...] I have an independent mind, You are eccentric, He is round the twist." (from Yes, Minister)
> Bezos talks about a lesson imparted by his grandfather on one of the cross-country road trips they would take every summer: “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”
Sure, that's nice rhetoric. And yet the "kind" Bezos has presided over some of the worst working conditions in the developed world  while the "blunt" Torvalds has kept together the very scattered Linux team for decades without controlling their income or work conditions. Apparently the more money you have, the more you can get away with a "do as I say, not as I do" standard.
> Personally, I don't like the style of indirect communication the author uses in examples to Daniel, David, and Allen but I fully understand it's necessary in the real world for certain people.
I don't actually think the first two quoted comments are the best examples, precisely because they show a degree of indirectness. You can be direct, clear, and professional while still having empathy for the person you're speaking to.
I do have enough personal experience with people of both types to have a strong impression that there's a correlation between empathy and success. By "empathy" here, I'm talking about the ability to accurately model other people and predict how they'll react to certain things. That doesn't automatically imply kindness, it's just a common side effect (since with empathy, you'd be knowingly hurtful otherwise). If you can't model other people at all, you're going to have a hard time in a people-oriented, communication-oriented role, which includes almost any leadership role. You might succeed in spite of lacking that skill, but you won't succeed because of it.
But you can't teach empathy.
The counter example is mobsters, they are highly successful, have built empires that are competing against the major corporations but are not showing any sign of empathy or mercy,l and I would say most of them cannot even be considered humans.
And for sure they do not understand people, they force them to do what they need them to do, as if they were tools.
> But you can't teach empathy.
I very strongly disagree. You can learn empathy, and teach it. There are whole books about learning to model other people.
"How to win friends and influence people" is, in many ways, all about empathy, for instance.
(Let me distinguish for a moment that there are people out there who have psychological conditions that make it incredibly hard for them to model other people. I don't know how to address that, offhand.)
I don't think we have evidence that mobsters don't have empathy, at least by the operational definition of empathy we're using. In fact I'd argue that successful mobsters likely have very effective models of people and their reactions.
Yes you can. Social skills can be learned.
Out of curiosity, how would you reword those comments in a more empathetic way?
For clarity, I think all three of the quoted comments already show empathy; I just think the first two can retain that empathy while also feeling more direct. (The third, with "Can you take a step back and explain your goal here?", is already fine on that front, and that specific tactic is one I'd highly recommend.)
In the absence of context for the comments in question, I'll have to be somewhat broad in template. For the first, I'd avoid the passive voice like "It would be nice to...", and instead write something like:
"X and Y look good, thanks. For Z, I'd suggest putting this in a data-bind, so that we can more easily switch the view between AB tests in development."
For the second comment:
"I think this will work in many cases, but it might break some limit in the size of $in clauses, which may lead to problem X in the future. I think we can defer that until it becomes a problem, but please keep it in mind if you see a clean way to address it."
For my part, I find that adding rationale also adds more empathy, because it gives the other person the information to reach the same conclusion you did, and it shows trust that you can make non-opaque decisions and still have them hold up. Also helps with mentorship. And taking the time to talk about the things that are good helps when you then need to talk about the things that aren't; I prefer that over the "no news is good news" approach to reviewing.
Adding rationale (mentorship) is a much more improved approach as it can be the gift that keeps on giving.
I'm barging in here from side, but IMHO the empathetic way would require those comments to be different depending on the particular individual they're addressed to; you'd have to know and understand how they'd react to different options and (unconsciously?) tailor your comment accordingly.
Saying "It would be nice to put this in a data-bind" (as in one of the examples in original article) is okay if you think that doing so is optional, insignificant, and the recipient would understand it the same way.
Saying "It would be nice to put this in a data-bind" is okay if you think that the recipient should definitely implement that change unless there are strong contrary arguments, and the recipient would understand it the same way.
If you say the same thing expecting that they'll understand one of the above interpretations, but they understand the other one - that was not empathetic, and you caused a miscommunication. Empathy by definition is personal and contextual, not universal.
That's exactly the reason why I'm suggesting more directness and less ambiguity, while retaining empathy. You can be direct and unambiguous, and distinguish between the two situations you mentioned.
I would use very different phrasings for something optional for the reader to consider versus something critical that they should either do or provide clear justification for not doing.
> Empathy by definition is personal and contextual, not universal.
Somewhat true, and you can get better results if you know the person you're talking to better (which is one reason why it helps to meet the people you work with in person, at least from time to time). But you can also have a mental model of a collection of potential people, and choose responses most likely to produce positive results. You can still have certain priors for your expectations of the people reading your words, even with minimal information.
> Therefore, they require indirect language and those VPs have to dynamically adjust the communication to that personality.
This was one of the biggest things I had to learn in my first management/executive position. Just because all of the senior management enjoyed aggressive debating and sussing out of ideas didn't mean we could use the same language and approach when talking to other employees.
I'm definitely ashamed by some of the emotional harm I caused our lower-level employees.
Also it's important to note that you also need to be aware of who is listening. If you call a fellow VP's idea stupid, that can provoke negativity from more indirect listeners (even though he has no problem with it). Even if they aren't personally the target of direct criticism, many people are uncomfortable even hearing it about others.
> Just because all of the senior management enjoyed aggressive debating and sussing out of ideas didn't mean we could use the same language and approach when talking to other employees.
I'm guessing a big part of this is how secure each person feels. Someone in senior management already has a highly successful career, they could probably get another decent job pretty easily, and their income is high enough to where they probably have a fair amount of money saved up in case of a rainy day.
For lower-level employees, this is frequently not true. Savings are more often minimal, many would not be able to easily get another good job. So naturally they will feel more threatened by blunt or 'harsh' language.
As a lower-level employee, aggressive debating is also something that is simply not accepted from lower-level employees. It seems to be working as a signal of status. While officially welcomed, blunt criticism has been followed by behaviours that I can only understand as retaliatory.
That could definitely be true, but at least in my experience there are clear personality differences as well. Certain personality traits are necessary to get into senior management, and a lot of those traits tend to lead to valuing direct feedback.
> they could probably get another decent job pretty easily
This is actually pretty false. Management jobs take a lot more time and effort to find than lower level ones. In tech especially, IC job hunts are way easier than any sort of management roles.
It's frustrating how this thread keeps conflating directness/indirectness with rudeness/kindness. They're different dimensions.
Direct/rude: "Wow, X is a stupid way to do Y. X will break case Z, but I guess you're not smart enough to notice things like that. Start over and try not to waste my time again in your next pull request."
Direct/kind: "I see you're doing X, but there might be a better way to accomplish Y. For example, X will break case Z. Could you try a different implementation with that in mind?"
Indirect/rude: "You must be an idiot to try X. Users who Z will hate you if this change makes it through. Out of all the ways to do Y I don't know why you'd choose this one."
Indirect/kind: "I appreciate your effort, but I'm not sure about X. You may not have realized that Z is an important use case and there might be other ways to do Y. It would be nice to think about this some more."
Indeed - I can recall a time when I poked fun at a peer, and the peer got the joke and laughed, but his sycophants were outraged on his behalf.
Wasn't there a recent study don't by google that determined that their most successful teams were based on social sensitivity and ability to know when one has gone too far? I would consider that kindness.
Not really, the study found that psychological safety mattered. You don't feel psychologically safe when you notice that people say that you did good no matter how much you screwed up, instead you stop trusting all praise you get (impostor syndrome).
They even highlighted an example where they say that bluntness can be positive in the article about the study:
> When Rozovsky and her Google colleagues encountered the concept of psychological safety in academic papers, it was as if everything suddenly fell into place. One engineer, for instance, had told researchers that his team leader was ‘‘direct and straightforward, which creates a safe space for you to take risks.’’ That team, researchers estimated, was among Google’s accomplished groups.
> Not really, the study found that psychological safety mattered. You don't feel psychologically safe when you notice that people say that you did good no matter how much you screwed up, instead you stop trusting all praise you get (impostor syndrome).
You absolutely should not praise people for screwing up. That's not in any way kind.
But you don't have to berate them, either.
Yes, but when people who lacks social skills try to be nicer they often start praising screw-ups. The answer isn't as simple as "be nice" or "be blunt", you need to be able to read the situation and act accordingly but not everyone can do that. But for those who lacks social skills I strongly prefer those who are blunt, otherwise you will get situations where you get fired for low performance even though everyone said that it was fine up until the last day.
I'd certainly want to provide advice more nuanced than "be nice". Don't change or omit the message in an effort to show empathy and kindness. Always keep in mind what you're trying to convey.
Yeah. And asking "what did we learn" is also on the more productive path I think.
You should find it and include it in your post or not post about it.
This kind of thorniness doesn't improve the discussion, even if that's the intention. Please don't post like this.
I quit working at shoprite and now I make $35h - $80h...how? I'm working online! My work didn't exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn't be happier. Heres what I do, •••••••••>http://cutt.us/7N2sG
>Therefore, they require indirect language and those VPs have to dynamically adjust the communication to that personality.
I disagree. If you treat people like they are weak, then you will breed weakness.
I have seen first hand what this eggshell walking leads to: projects that should have been shot down as stupid ideas instead wasting million of dollars and hundreds of man years.
If you can't be direct with kindness, you should not be in a position of leadership.
Being blunt, direct, even agressieve only works in the examples you give: gates, jobs, Linus... Those are all about incredibly talented and brilliant people and they can get away with it.
Usually the people being this direct and unkind to others ... Not brilliant nor genius.
>, an atmosphere of blunt criticism hurts team cohesiveness and morale; there’s time and energy lost to hurt feelings, to damage control, to trust lost between team members - not to mention the fact that people are working in a fundamentally less humane environment. It may seem faster and easier to be direct, but as a strategy it’s penny wise and pound foolish.
This is one of those statements that I think we want to be true but we have no evidence that it's true. Many contradictory examples exist in the real world:
You can yell at your team and insult them and be successful. (Famous examples are Steve Jobs and Bill Gates' "that's the stupidest idea I've ever heard!")
You can be soft-spoken and be successful. (Warren Buffet would be an example. He doesn't yell at the people in his Omaha office or his presidents/CEOs at Berkshire subsidiary companies.)
Likewise, you can be blunt & harsh and fail. You can also be diplomatic & nice and fail.
Same in other endeavors. You can yell at the football team and win the Super Bowl (Mike Ditka - Chicago Bears). Or, you can be soft-spoken and win the championship (Tony Dungy - Indy Colts). Likewise, you can do either style and still be the worst team in the league.
Doesn't seem to be much correlation either way.
My conclusion based on life experiences is that companies can have both the blunt and the diplomatic approaches. The blunt communication works well in upper management. (E.g. one VP tells another VP that "it's a stupid idea.")
Everybody is a Type A personality and has a thick skin.
However, the reality is that many employees (especially lower-level positions) feel demeaned by direct language. (As the endless debates about Linus' style attests.) Therefore, they require indirect language and those VPs have to dynamically adjust the communication to that personality.
Personally, I don't like the style of indirect communication the author uses in examples of Daniel, David, and Allen but I fully understand it's necessary in the real world for certain people.
> ...to make a truly lasting change you need to convince people it's a good idea. I've yet to see this happen without kindness and diplomacy.
I'm sympathetic, but I bear bad news. You can also just run off, silence, or marginalize anyone that gets in the way. I've seen this happen in corporate politics quite a bit.
> how little time people in tech devote to diplomacy.
It's a skill, most in tech don't have it
This is true, not sure why the downvotes. Social awareness, diplomacy and frankly empathy are seen by many as soft skills that bog down developers from their actual work. In the end, it's actually in many ways more valuable than the code they write. Finding a decent coder for a web CRUD app is easy. Finding one that can communicate well while doing it is much harder.
I don't know if one needs to be diplomatic all the time - simply being polite (genuinely polite, not fake polite) would go a long way.
If a person in tech wanted to be more diplomatic, where would you suggest I start learning about it? Books, websites, etc are very much welcome (I already read how to win friends and influence people).
I can only speak for myself, but it really came from getting out of the tech bubble (not the economic one, but the cultural one). I was helped along quite a lot just by being consistently around people very unlike me where I was both not of the dominant core culture (and so the usual tactics of blasting through and "winning" on bombast and good argumentation) and where the people who were leading were consciously respectful of my own weird bits and let me come along at my own pace. It was an example thing, and it became much easier to pay it forward.
(I am certainly no worse at technical pursuits for it, either, and it's one of my deepest criticisms of the way that our culture is expressed is that idea that kindness and understanding somehow make us worse at delivering.)
I liked Crucial Conversations (https://www.amazon.com/Crucial-Conversations-Talking-Stakes-...) a lot.
I did as well. I also like "Daring Greatly", and to a lesser extent "Influencer".
I hadn't heard of "Radical Candor" before its mention elsewhere in this thread, but a quick look at it turned up promising results, especially the fact that it distinguishes between empathy and directness, and discusses the failure modes of having either without the other.
Go do sales for a bit
Getting to Yes
> you need to convince people it's a good idea
Not when it really is a good idea
And you realize it somewhere else when they can look up numbers and say: hey this is better than what we had, good for us we didn't assume but we measured.
> > you need to convince people it's a good idea
> Not when it really is a good idea
If you do IT at a company that isn't a tech company, you're usually going to be stuck in a situation where you have to convince a non-tech-head to make a technical decision that seems right to you. Since you don't have four years to teach them everything that got you to that point, you're going to need to give them high-level details.
>Not when it really is a good idea
Getting someone to do ANYTHING that they aren't currently doing requires some level of convincing, regardless of whether its "a good idea" since if the person believed it was the best idea they'd already be doing it.
This is so horribly naive that I worry about your ability to survive in life ...
Most people resist change. Ferociously. Even if it's a superb idea. Even if resisting might get them fired.
> This is so horribly naive that I worry about your ability to survive in life ...
Don't worry for me, I'm probably way older than you and I survived just by not fighting lost battles
They resist and then they die
I'm from Italy, I know very well what resistance to change is
Everyone around me does just that and they are literally starving with no jobs, while I'm enjoying (almost) valley level salaries, while also enjoying Italian life style.
> Even if it's a superb idea. Even if resisting might get them fired.
So you prefer to be like them and waste time convincing suicidal maniacs that you're right?
What's the point?
I found this on the front page just now
Employees Who Stay in Companies Longer Than Two Years Get Paid 50% Less
Long story short: if you need to convince someone at you job that your idea is good, unless you're trying to convince them that flying machines are the future and it's 1865, you're better off leaving.
Middle management, toxin or cancer?
Also, the adage that we all know and has been around since the dawn of time is just as true now as it was at the dawn of man.
You get further with a carrot then a stick. With reasonable people of course.
Im making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do...
Being in middle management in a workplace of 7000 it often surprises me how little time people in tech devote to diplomacy.
You can certainly get a point across by being direct, but to make a truly lasting change you need to convince people it's a good idea. I've yet to see this happen without kindness and diplomacy.
So while the IT security officer can certainly get a strict password policy implemented, without also making sure people understand and agree that security is a good idea the end result becomes a lot of written down passwords hiding on postits under keyboards.
I wish that Bezos would be a bit kinder to his warehouse and delivery workers:
Sounds somewhat like the default culture here in germany: direct and blunt. Many foreigners are very uncomfortable with this attitude, but I think this is not "cold" but highly efficient and benefits everyone everyday AFAIK.
True. As a German this often leads me to distrust angelo-american people, because I can't judge if they mean it or just don't want to hurt me.
> Part of working effectively with a group is learning to take blunt non-personal critcism in stride.
I agree. If conversation involved two people, both speakers and listeners should make efforts to improve how criticism works. Listeners can help by not taking everything personally.
Coming up with a failed design doesn't mean you're a failed human being. It doesn't even mean you're bad at your job. Learn something, improve, and you'll design something even better next time.
Part of working effectively with a group is learning to take blunt non-personal critcism in stride. In English 110 freshman year we were required to get into groups and review each other's work (essays, papers, assignments for class) for this very purpose. All of the criticism was blunt if non-personal (you have a run-on sentence here, this is phrased weirdly, etc...), and it was obviously the first time receiving such criticism for some of the students. All of our writing improved as a result, though, and because it was non-personal even the most insecure people in the class eventually adapted to it.
I'll submit that personal remarks like "only a fucking idiot would..." and such are bad not because they hurt feelings but because they are worthless and distracting. They make the conversation about a person instead of what people are supposed to be talking about, if only for a fraction of a second, and can disrupt conversation.
If someone is doing something that harms the objective, you tell them what they're doing, why they need to stop and possibly how they can fix/improve things going forward. That's effective blunt criticism, and there's no need for personal insults anywhere in the chain.
Exactly. It's good to discretely tell a friend about his body odor. But it's certainly not nice.
What about telling another poster on the internet about their typo? (discreet, not discrete)
I think it's funny, at least in this case :D.
Telling someone about their body odor continuously certainly doesn't sound good.
Ha! Fair enough.
There is a big difference between being NICE and being GOOD.
To paraphrase Charles Murray: "nice" is a moment-to-moment tactic for avoiding conflict, not a guiding principle for living your life. We should default to being nice amicable people, but being good often requires otherwise.
Unfortunately, niceness has been raised to the highest virtue in recent years. This is a mistake with civilizational consequences.
I agree that kindness is important.
I don't think the examples given are examples of kindness.
Concretely, they're insufficiently direct.
If you think someone is doing something that isn't well thought out, and you think you understand the problem well enough to say that they haven't thought through it fully (which is a scenario that arises in workplaces), don't say that you're "confused". It's a variant on false shock. Just say " I don't think this change considers the following scenario:". You can soften that with a disclaimer of "perhaps I'm missing something", but saying "I'm confused" when you think the other person is consumed is mildly passive aggressive.
Likewise, if you think someone should do something, don't say "it'd be nice if we could". Make the request directly. You can still add "let me know if there's something I'm not considering that prevents that". It's frustrating otherwise, because it is unclear what is a request or nice-tp-have and what is an instruction that approval is contingent upon. In the long term, lacking that clarity becomes annoying, especially for non-native speakers or people from different cultures who expect different lvels of directness.
There is a position between aggressive "don't do that, it's stupid" and the indirect formulations in this post, and that's where you should aim. Polite and kind, but still clear and direct.
Honestly, if you just state the problems with the approach clearly and avoid words like "stupid" or "dumb", you're 90% of the way there.
In a similar vein, one of the articles that has more influenced my interactions has been The Minimally-nice OSS Maintainer . It doesn't produce an instant slipstream where all your collaboration is suddenly super-fluid, but niceness does help reduce those abrasive moments which, in my experience, can slow a community down a lot more than working well speeds it up. It goes hand-in-hand with good community curation - so long as you're trimming out bad actors, you have to be able to acknowledge bad behaviour in yourself.
I struggle with this a ton. 1 thing I can't really get past with this, is: People themselves often take "ideas" as "personal criticism" in practice.
As much as I like the ideas this post advocates, I feel like some of this is on a case by case basis.
It should always be a goal to keep criticism professional, not personal.
One other thing that should be kept in mind here of is culture.
I live in japan where you really can't even say "no" let alone "wrong". There's are extremes like: Linus and the other being many asian cultures.
Like any advice like this, try to look at the intent and the points that work for your situation not "Silicon valley startup only".
The article ends by discussing trust, and perhaps that is more fundamentally important than kindness -- kindness is one vehicle that allows trust to evolve, but probably not the only one.
An environment of trust (and safety) allows open technical discussions and lets you come to decisions in a way that helps everyone learn and evolve without "losing face" and without breeding an undercurrent of anger and resentment. Knowing that each person is willing to listen to the other respectfully and that each person is prepared to say they are wrong, can improve the discussion rather than making it more wishy-washy.
You need to have this if you're going to be working day after day, maybe for years with the same people. Lose trust and the feeling that it is safe to make potentially "stupid" statements, and people will just blindly follow the loudest most belligerent person because it's not worth the emotional cost of trying to engage in "debate".
So maybe "Trust is Underrated" would be a better title for the original article.
You can be direct and still be kind. You can speak clearly and unambiguously and still be kind. You just need to treat the person you're speaking to as human, and consider the reaction they'll have to the way you present the information.
I'd certainly agree that you shouldn't "string people along". That's not kindness. And sometimes you have to deliver news that people will find upsetting. That's a more critical time to apply empathy, not less.
Important point here: kind and nice are not synonymous. It's easy to conflate kindness with niceness, and the OP (from what I can infer) is advocating the latter, not the former. Kind is not the same as nice.
There are several ways to do necessary, un-nice things in a very kind manner. It is a skill, and for some people requires coaching on how to express themselves professionally and kindly most of the time.
(Qualifying this, because there are occasions that warrant a good moderate yell or two. E.g., the 3rd (rejected) and random PR submitted by a Jr. developer that changes all of the spaces to tabs in the repository, or all of the modules/functions to classes/methods.)
By the way, a lot of the "yells" can be replaced by pre-commit hooks, auto-configure scripts and other things putting pressure on the system instead of a person.
I think you underestimate the industriousness of someone who really intends on committing tabs.
Experience has taught me there is a serious difference between being nice and being kind.
Often, we are nice because we are afraid of hurting people's feelings. As a result, though, we sometimes end up stringing people along and the ultimately make them lose more time and energy than if we had breached their comfort zone early, and communicated our expectations when they weren't yet super-invested. And after all is said and done, if we string them along, they end up blaming us more as well.
This was a hard life lesson to learn, but sometimes, to be kind, one must risk not being nice.
My advice would be: before communicating a tough expectation, do your homework (research how it's done) and be diplomatic. Different cultures have different linguistic paradigms that help grease the wheels towards agreement. Use them. And at the end, be firm but offer support for the transition. If they want it, they will take it. In any case it's likely you will be respected and won't burn bridges that way.
I disagree. My favorite career and life moments have been in cultures that are direct and assertive, but also respectful and caring. I draw a distinction between confrontation and combative.
Confrontation is critical when you have important information or perspective that can change the current course or result in a different decision. It's your duty to be assertive (when it's important, not for trivial things).
Being direct doesn't mean being a jerk or being rude. There's no excuse for combativeness. The point isn't to pick a fight or attack a person, it's to attack an idea and to do the right thing. Combativeness is a sign of immaturity or inability to deal with high stress.
It can take practice. It's liberating once you get in the habit of it.
This saying: "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with," sums up the the importance of work culture (same with choosing a partner and friends too).
I don't consider kindness and directness to be at odds, and I've found that it comes rather naturally if you take as a premise that the person you're speaking to should be treated decently.
> Especially when it seems like no manager qualifies as "kind." So if you want to advance, what do you do?
Stand out by being kind, watch as the people you work with are shocked by the contrast, and try not to get whiplash at the speed at which you're propelled upwards by a large crowd of enthusiastic supporters.
Or, if the culture of not caring about other people seems too pervasive, find a company where kindness is valued, rather than derided. People who value kindness will select for it. And the resulting teams work very well together.
In a technical leadership positions, communication is by far the most critical skill. The job isn't solely to "get your point across". Kindness makes a great impression on people, and builds a reputation. A lack of kindness (or a lack of empathy, or toxic behavior, or any number of other descriptions) makes an impression as well, and also builds a reputation.
All of this. I'm still digging out from twenty-odd years of my life where I did not prioritize kindness. That approach does has its advantages even when I'm trying to be decent about things; I can, today, go pretty hard at people who are used to getting their way through abusing people because it doesn't affect me (I know the game). But the legacy of it is more guarded relationships and ones that could be better, both personal and professional, if I just hadn't been so damned brusque beforehand.
I don't really think it requires more work to get your point across while being kind, I really don't. At least, not when all other things are equal, and one of those things is "have I exercised the parts of my brain that lead to acting kind sufficiently?". Once you've gotten into the habit, it's pretty reflexive. And it's more effective, too, not just because of the good feelings engendered but because when the shit really hits the fan and you drop it because somebody needs to do X right now, the tonal shift and the urgency will leverage your social credit to get it done--and that can really matter in an emergency.
As someone who tried to be kind for years while trying to get my work done, it's not. Would not recommend.
Kind doesn't mean let everyone walk all over you. It's possible to kindly tell someone to fuck off. I've even seen people use those exact words and still appear kind.
Edit: Mildly interesting. 50 minutes after this comment, I was searching for how to calculate the intersection points of collinear line segments which brought me to Stackoverflow ; where someone linked to this sketch  about drawing red lines with green ink, all perpendicular; which then brought me to this sketch  involving politely telling someone to fuck off.
I still don't know how to calculate the intersection points of collinear line segments.
This was not possible in the environment I was operating in.
This guy delivers the goods
It takes a lot more work to get your point across while being kind. Sometimes I'm not sure it's worth it. Especially when it seems like no manager qualifies as "kind." So if you want to advance, what do you do?
It's still annoying that becoming a manager is correlated with advancement, but that's life.
I get it's possible to qualify statements, de-personalize, and obfuscate blame but I'm not convinced this is the ideal environment. It's diplomatic, but it's slower and less clear. It can work but I've also seen it fail where someone takes a comment as a suggestion when it wasn't. It's basically 'level 0' or the default mode of communication.
A good workplace culture is, essentially, leveling up from this. It's agreeing while diplomatic language is more comfortable and it's how we might communicate outside work, we're agreeing to suspend it to better achieve our shared goals. If someone challenges your idea, you need dispassionately and genuinely consider their objections and either defend your idea or acquiesce to the better idea. Some people just can't do this. Ideas are personal things and arguing about them feels uncomfortable and they don't like to feel uncomfortable. And, maybe getting a little carried away, but I think there is general societal issue where we think if you're uncomfortable something must be wrong. Good decisions are born out of argument not trust. Saying "I'm confused" or "Help me understand" when you already understand and just disagree is level 0 language. It kinda works but it's slow and inefficient and as engineers - this isn't good enough.
>but I can totally understand that he got fed up with being nice and getting ignored.
Not sure why "being nice" and "getting ignored" seem like they need to be paired. Linus failed at being nice and not being ignored. He wasn't ignored because he was nice.
Again, I think it's a culture thing. He gets little to no automatic respect for being the maintainer. So either he has to engage in another endless discussion on the merits of the subject matter, or he has to shut the discussion down. He chooses the second option.
>So either he has to engage in another endless discussion on the merits of the subject matter, or he has to shut the discussion down.
My question is now:
Why does it have to be an endless discussion on the merits, vs shutting the discussion down?
You can have a firm discussion on the merits without shutting it down.
I think Linus is extreme, but I can totally understand that he got fed up with being nice and getting ignored. I don't agree with his conclusion that people don't get him reprimanding them, though. I think they mostly get it, but think they can get a way with ignoring him. And that is an attitude problem we have in our industry. A lot of people seem to think that they are the shit and are really bad listeners.
This article makes it sound like kindness is just expending extra time for the same message, and it's magically "nice".
That explanation of kindness doesn't make sense. Some people try to be nice and, by mistake, end up being rude. And business people make deals quickly all of the time, using jargon and cutting out pleasantries while still being kind.
No, kindness is a skill of words and actions that must be developed over time. It's about navigating complex ideas and decisions effectively.
For instance, "no" is generally rude, not because it's too short, but because it doesn't provide good feedback on a complex idea. What is the proposer trying to accomplish? What existing alternatives exist, or what others might be explored?
If you don't have the time to give good reasons, then point them toward others that you trust to give good advice. E.g: "This proposal is unacceptable. Discuss with group XYZ and explore alternatives." Or even: "This proposal is unacceptable -- the proposed use case is not important enough to justify what you are trying to do."
> This article in fact had what looks like a prime example of that. The comment mentioning a PR might "break a limit" but "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" was touted as an example of how to give guidance. I'd argue that code quality slipped right there as a direct result of social pressure to accept a subpar commit.
In the absence of the broader context, I would tend to guess that that comment was trying to avoid overengineering. We've certainly had more than enough discussions on HN about "move fast and break things". This is the kind of review comment that goes along with doing that intentionally rather than accidentally.
That technical decision might be right, or might be wrong, but either way it can be presented with empathy; empathy doesn't need to change the message. You can say "I think this might cause problem X, but that won't be an issue for a while, so let's deal with it later", or you can say "I think this might cause problem X, you need to fix that before this can go in", and either way you can be professional and kind while getting your point across.
I think we do need to have empathy in our dealings with people online, and in general it's in our own best interests to do so. Many open source projects' lifeblood are their communities, and other things being equal, you'll get more contributions if you're not a complete jerk.
The flip-side is that high quality maintainable code is the product of top-notch commits, and rejecting commits is sometimes necessary to keep the standard of quality high. A good maintainer shouldn't cave to pressure of accepting a flawed commit just to avoid hurting someone's feelings.
This article in fact had what looks like a prime example of that. The comment mentioning a PR might "break a limit" but "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" was touted as an example of how to give guidance. I'd argue that code quality slipped right there as a direct result of social pressure to accept a subpar commit.
It's not easy by any measure, but I think it pays to be not only clever and kind, but also consistent and firm when it comes to reviewing people's work.
I don't think that's a fair comparison. Linux is a much larger OSS project than Devuan and has been running for much longer as well.
Better to let Devuan reach the scale of Linux before attempting to use Denis “Jaromil” Roio niceness as a counterexample to Linus Torvalds.
Even nice people have breaking points. They are perfectly capable of snapping back at you, if you push them hard enough.
Linus' story is that early on in the history of Linux he was not direct enough in his criticism of a kernel dev's code to make it clear he wouldn't accept it into the kernel. So the kernel dev kept working on the code in the hopes of it being accepted, and then when Linus finally made it clear it wouldn't be accepted the dev became-- according to reports Linus heard-- suicidal.
Consequently Linus says he decided to go in the direction of communicating in the manner that he is now known for. (Which makes me wonder-- if he had a personal encounter early on with his sarcasm causing the same bad outcome, would he have decided as confidently to go in the other direction?)
Regardless, I think jaromil who maintains Devuan is a great counterexample. He's quite nice and non-sarcastic, approachable to newcomers, and he seems to be able to herd cats just as well.
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Previous conversation: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7733939
I disagree that these three things are the same: “that sucks!”, “you’re doing it wrong!”, “only an idiot would…”. Sometimes you really are doing things wrong, and I'd regard being told so as a kindness. The situation where I've seen it most commonly is when someone is learning to speak a language. If you don't correct them, they'll continue making mistakes. When someone corrects me I give serious thought to what they're saying.
In my last job I had lots of hour-long arguments with coworkers on different topics, many of which I ended up conceding the point. I'm incredibly appreciative of them having taken the effort to help me understand the their views, and convince me otherwise.
I think there's a lot of stigma on disagreeing with people. But I don't see why that should be the case. If you have an argument with someone and you both end up leaving with a better understanding of the problem, why is that a bad a thing? I've had plenty of discussions where I fundamentally disagreed with someone, only to go and later drink a few beers them. Just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean you hate or dislike them, and there's no reason to take it personally. It's fine for someone to hold different views than you own.
An example of this are hate-speech laws, which I'm thankful that the US doesn't have. Personally, I consider them horrible mistakes, but I respect that others disagree. FWIW, the reason I disagree with hate-speech laws is that I think you should be able to openly speak your mind on any topic, because it means you can have a discussion and learn from it. If you can't have an open discussion about some topic, you might never be presented with the opportunity to rise above whatever might've lead you to some terrible belief.
I've certainly said a lot of stupid things online, and every time I've been called out on them I think I've grown and learned a bit. I have no doubt I'll continue saying stupid stuff, because in many cases I won't know any better, and I fully hope that others will call me out on it.
I think directness can be a form of kindness though. For an intelligent professional, being treated with kid gloves and not receiving direct feedback is often detrimental to everyone involved, and the resentment that can form from leaving a situation lingering can be vastly more damaging than having an argument might have been.
Also, while I've been critical of Linus' approach in the past, I think given that his standards are well known and consistent it's probably not that hurtful if he rips you to shreds over a patch because its well known that thats just what hes like.
We live in societies designed to systematically select for greed and dog-eat-dog individualism, to which kindness is antithetical. Given this, for kindness to survive beyond the private/family sphere requires heroism. Heroism is lovely, but is by definition too much to expect on average.
To promote greed as the primary organising principle of mass societies was a reckless experiment. It failed, to which our world's collapsing ecosystems are primary witnesses.
I expect there are tendencies, but it is very important not to use those tendencies as an excuse not to be kind. I've never met someone who couldn't be kind, but I've met (and been) people who didn't want to.
I'd agree; some people have a more natural sense of empathy, and others have to work at it. It's worth working on, though.
I think that kindness is a gift just like cleverness. You can work to become more educated, work to be more rational, more evidence-minded in your judgements, but you will still be behind someone who works the same amount but has a natural ability. The same is true of kindness. Of course, we should all work to be kind, but it comes easier to some than to others. I know some people who, in a very natural way, are pretty much incapable of being unkind.
Not the author, but being kind doesn't mean that I let people walk over me. You can always still say "no." It's how you say it that matters. I find it easier--by being calm and reasonable and explaining why I'm saying no, I'm more likely to succeed.
It's not easy, but it's powerful.
I've been in technical meetings with senior technical people who were the type to attempt to ram a point through, and blast anyone they see as in the way. If you're going to disagree with them, there are two approaches that can succeed. One is to blast back with greater force, and win by force of personality. (That doesn't leave much information for the bystanders, or the decision-makers, to go on.) And the other is to be right, know you're right, lay out the case and evidence, and generate a stark contrast between the loud yelling person and the person with all the evidence on their side. And all of a sudden the person who was previously accepted as the stereotypical "gruff guru" starts to look a lot less reasonable.
It's absolutely harder. But when you're successful with it, you also start to disarm people like that, and get others to seek you out instead of them.
>How does author solve the problem of being kind, other people mistaking it for weakness and taking advantage of it?
I think you mean attempt to take advantage of it.
I would assume the author would respond with "Kindly correct them."
How does author solve the problem of being kind, other people mistaking it for weakness and taking advantage of it?
Aggressive kindness has opened so many doors and smoothed so many paths for me. It's painless and pays enormous dividends while making you feel great about yourself.
I also get tons of free shit by just being nice to service workers.
The missing link and unspoken driver behind much meanness (in development and otherwise) is contempt.
Contempt is one of the worst regards a person can hold for another--perhaps even worse than hatred. It's a fundamental lack of respect for another's worth, either within a domain or more generally.
One can muster the will to express kindness for someone they dislike. But, it is virtually humanly impossible to be kind towards those one holds in contempt.
Kindness and sincerity have to go together. I see way too many people going through rituals that are supposed to make them look kind but they are not sincere.
It can be very motivating to see someone get mad at you though. All at once, lots of things become clear: (1) this is important to that person, (2) you need to treat this seriously, and (3) this is really uncomfortable, it would be good to avoid future discomforts (i.e. change behavior more permanently, not just this one time).
Kindness actually triggers the exact opposite of the 3 things above: suddenly everything seems like no big deal and nothing ever changes. Just great: now you’re setting yourself up for several more unpleasant interactions in the future, instead of just fixing something from the beginning.
There are a lot of other considerations too...
For one, the person “yelling” is usually not the only “unkind” person in the interaction, even if that’s the most obvious one. It is unkind, for instance, to be a lazy person who goes into situations utterly unprepared, showing no respect; at that point, YOU aren’t being “nice” so why do you expect niceness in return?
And sometimes niceness gets in the way of well-understood, efficient processes. On a mailing list, say, you’re better off making a direct statement that isn’t wrapped in two extra paragraphs of polite tone for everyone to read through. And heck, when you’re driving, you can create MAJOR traffic problems by being “kind” instead of just following the rules (ironically bubbling back and impacting 50 people for a mile because you wanted to be “kind” to one person; just watch some videos).
Basically, most people walk around with inflamed highly sensitive status buttons that get triggered by any indication of relative power balance out of line with officially designated titles e.g. your interlocutor is pretentiously using large words. Kindness is acting like everyone is equal maximally, regardless of the truth of the matter.
I think opponents of being kind tend to think:
1- you can't be kind without appearing weak and
2- being blunt and being kind are two different things
"I said good day, sir!"
Can't this be simply distilled as being a gentleman/woman? There was that generation.
I'm going to be kind to you, and I'm still going to be honest (watch how easy it is to do both!). You're identifying people as deserving of kindness because of what they do for you. This is wrong. People are deserving of kindness because they are people. The mindset you describe is one that is pissing in the societal pool. It's toxic and it's foul and you should work to be better than what you have expressed here.
"Your worth is what you do for me" is the kind of transactional inhumanity that makes people put guns in their mouths and pull the trigger. Don't make the world a worse place if you can help it. And you can.
> I'm going to be kind to you, and I'm still going to be honest. You're identifying people as deserving of kindness because of what they do for you. This is wrong. People are deserving of kindness because they are people.
I agree completely.
However, to provide another perspective, that might be more convincing to people who have inclinations towards "what can this person do for me":
You'd be amazed at the difference in results you get through kindness and empathy (while still being direct and clear). You don't just get people who do what you say and respect your technical acumen. You get people who enthusiastically support you with others, who communicate your view because they see it as right, not just as a warning to others who might face your ire otherwise. You get people who actively seek you out as a resource and pull you in on projects, rather than people who do any high-risk-high-reward work behind your back because they don't want you to see it until it's beyond all possible reproach. You become a person whose input is enthusiastically valued, rather than grudgingly required. You build up a cadre of technical engineers and other future technical leaders who value and support the same things you do and understand the same considerations you do, which means the next time a similar issue arises, you might not have to be the person to deal with it personally, because you've mentored those around you.
And while this might depend on your personality, personally, I find that it produces a working culture that gives me energy to take part in, rather than one that saps energy.
So, even if your outlook on life is "how should I behave to get the results I want", I still think you'll find that empathy and kindness will produce better results for you. Leaving aside all the reasons of basic human decency.
You have it backwards. Disrespect & unkindness are earned. Common courtesy and respect should be the default with anyone you meet or work with.
If I'm a new developer on your project, I expect to be treated like a valued contributor until my conduct reveals me to be something else.
If you don't like how a team member or contributor is behaving, have that conversation. I totally understand that in the picture you paint, you'd want to be unkind to that person. That makes sense, as they do seem awful, but really that's the manager's fault for: a) hiring them or b) not working to improve their performance or putting them on a PIP, or c) not firing them.
There exist developers that are very congenial and who check in messes for others to clean up. Their words are great but their attitude towards their work product doesn't show respect to the feelings or time of their teammates. In those cases, talking about kindness in our conversation falls short of the actual problem.
I read the parent comment to be a brusquely phrased statement of that idea.
> As a developer, kindness is EARNED, you want people to be kind to you despite of who you are and your mediocre contribution to the code base , unnecessarily refactoring code when you're meant to be working on an important feature ?
So, you want to take a developer who is enthusiastic and lacks trepidation, and who is simply inexperienced, and crush that tendency with unkindness?
It's a mentorship opportunity. You recognize the hazard of refactoring working code (especially e.g. without a strong test suite or when there are higher-priority things to be working on), and they don't. So teach them that, and the reasons for it, and then they'll be a better engineer and a more valuable resource for your team. As well as someone who respects your expertise, rather than someone who resents you for snapping at them.
I'm glad I don't work where you do.
Kindness is a default; beyond ethics or simply being a decent human, it is simply pragmatic to assume good intent on the part of those around you until proven otherwise.
Respect, on the other hand, is earned. Far too many people think they're owed it by virtue of position. To be blunt, fuck that. You can make me fear you that way, but you can't make me respect you.
And a great way to lose my respect is to make everything all about you (are you working on what I think is important?) or demonstrate a lack of empathy. (Which is not to be confused with sympathy.) In fact, showing an inability to empathize might make me pity you - it is a disability - but not want to be around you.
> No sir, I don't think it'll be kindness you will get from or any business manager.
The internet isn't serious business. The vast majority of people don't come close to working on "mission critical software."  At least anecdotally, all of my software managers have been nice and compassionate, if a bit lofty in thinking. If you have a manager that bad, you should leave.
It isn't necessary to be so completely unwilling to give slack on the internet just because it's software development. It's not an elite club. It's just another hobby or another job.
Nobody will die because of a pull request. But people will really feel bad if you slam them for sending it.
> As a developer, kindness is EARNED, you want people to be kind to you despite of who you are and your mediocre contribution to the code base , unnecessarily refactoring code when you're meant to be working on an important feature ? No sir, I don't think it'll be kindness you will get from or any business manager.
Kindness, not contempt, should be the default.
> If however you want well deserved respect and kindness, show that you excel at your job, you are able to deliver for me in a timely fashion and exceeding expectation. You can't handle being criticised ? You have no business being in business, go open a charity bookshop. One has to understand, developers like in any other creative industry can go off on a tangent by themselves if not given direction explicitly, sometimes that means being very much assertive and firm. If that is perceived as being unkind then tough luck.
Heh unless you paid me commensurately to warrant this treatment, I would never work like this. As your direct report, you need to _earn_ respect for me. Respect is a two-way street and management doesn't get it simply for being management or having a higher title.
I don't believe that a basic level of courtesy is "earned."
> One has to understand, developers like in any other creative industry can go off on a tangent by themselves if not given direction explicitly, sometimes that means being very much assertive and firm.
One also has to understand that there ways of achieving this without falling back to command-and-control models of management.
I spent 2.5 years in Pivotal Labs before switching to Cloud R&D. My interpretation of the doctrine I imbibed is that no line of code exists until a test justifies its existence, no test exists unless a story justifies its existence, no story exists unless Product and Design have done some legwork with real users to say yes, this make their lives better.
The system works on trust and empathetic mutual professionalism. And it works very bloody well.
you have to look at it from a different perspective, a business exists to make money, being terse, assertive and direct doesn't make one unkind. the drawn out process of cajoling souls into doing something is the equivalent of burning cash while trying to stuff it back into your purse.
being unkind is also relative, it doesn't necessarily equate to being a jerk or going out of your way to upset someone, no, au contraire, some people perceive unkindness because you dont go around the office shaking people's hand every morning...
i will leave you with one last nugget of wisdom:
Most software nowadays is a non-mission critical where 2-3 average-joe-developer getting paid average salaries will be more than adequate to finish the project. so no , i don't need you to innovate, just need you to execute on a vision as it has been outlined (by a well deserving A player), you do a good job, you become that A player.
I don't "have" to look at it any way you tell me to and the inhumane way you post makes it nearly a certainty that I won't. Have you considered the knock-on effects, like this one, that being inhumane as you are being will cause?
I'll say it again for emphasis: the transactional, inhumane culture you are advocating for hurts people and you should stop pissing in our shared pool.
You are not your KPIs and neither are the people over whom you think you lord.
> i will leave you with one last nugget of wisdom: Most software nowadays is a non-mission critical where 2-3 average-joe-developer getting paid average salaries will be more than adequate to finish the project. so no , i don't need you to innovate, just need you to execute on a vision as it has been outlined (by a well deserving A player), you do a good job, you become that A player.
Do it yourself then. Your "vision" is worth jack-shit without execution, so even the "average-joe" devs you're shitting on should be important to you. :)
Or perhaps you're only the "ideas" person...then there are enough overzealous sociopaths in that sphere without you in it as well.
> just need you to execute on a vision as it has been outlined (by a well deserving A player)
I didn't even notice this nugget of horrible yesterday. You're a "meritocracy" guy, aren't'cha?
Consider this: people who exhibit the attitudes you are exhibiting are very unlikely to actually be "A players" because anyone with options will avoid you for people who don't treat them as machines to bend and break for your personal goals. You can't be an "A player" without the help of the people around you. Why would they help you if you would just consume and discard them?
As a developer, kindness is EARNED, you want people to be kind to you despite of who you are and your mediocre contribution to the code base , unnecessarily refactoring code when you're meant to be working on an important feature ? No sir, I don't think it'll be kindness you will get from or any business manager.
If however you want well deserved respect and kindness, show that you excel at your job, you are able to deliver for me in a timely fashion and exceeding expectation.
You can't handle being criticised ? You have no business being in business, go open a charity bookshop.
One has to understand, developers like in any other creative industry can go off on a tangent by themselves if not given direction explicitly, sometimes that means being very much assertive and firm.
If that is perceived as being unkind then tough luck.
h/t to CircleCI for doing this kind of work in the tech industry.
I came here thinking here is another situation or anecdote and this time about kindness and being screwed over because of it or something. Instead it is about workplace professionalism being called kindness and a recruitment pitch disguised as click bait. (Click baits are increasing in HN) my .02$