Go Encourage! Lessons Learnt From Encouraging People

December, 21st 2017Simon Tomes

There was a turning point where I realised I’d inadvertently started a Go Encourage Life Campaign.

Cassandra Leung came up to me at UKSTAR 2017. She thanked me for being so upbeat, positive and encouraging. I was taken aback, physically trembling with a weird sense of pride and awkwardness.

Since then it’s become clear how much of a positive effect encouragement has on people. I discovered this via Twitter and in many social situations such as meet ups, conferences, on a client site and at events like the awesome Software Testing Clinic in London.

Why did this happen? I don’t really know. I’ve always been upbeat and had a desire to shout from the hills if I thought something was cool. 

Prior to #goencourage I was pretty insular. I couldn’t and didn’t make the effort to get out there to encourage others. I was too busy caught up in my own world.

I reflect that a couple of things triggered this change in behaviour. 

It’s easy to think about helping someone you don’t know. And even easier to dismiss the idea cos you think there’s no point in doing so. Surprisingly it’s utterly rewarding to actually take action and do it, even if that’s not the intended outcome.

Back when I had a corporate job I’d encourage people in my team and that's all. My bubble was so damn tiny. I knew nothing about the importance of community and the opportunity to go encourage.

When I started my own thing I jumped head first into a local startup community in South London. This was my first opportunity to encourage others outside of my bubble. I’d big up what the community was doing. An unexpected side effect was this great feeling inside. I learnt a lot about community from the people who lead it. I'll be forever grateful to Nigel Dias and Jonny Rose for those learnings.

The go encourage opportunity grew drastically when I got involved in the global testing community.

I made a conscious decision to live a three part habit:

  1. Help at least one person every day – and that person can be someone I do or do not know
  2. Listen more, speak less
  3. Enjoy each day

I discovered that by encouraging others I could feel happiness and experience happiness in others. And I discovered an important connection with:

  1. Kindness
  2. Empathy
  3. Balance
  4. Enjoyment 

Encourage in a safe and non-confrontational way 

Prior to #goencourage I used to be quite opinionated. I'd often stick to my guns. I’d say things that I probably wouldn’t say anymore. It didn’t really achieve anything. I’d offer my advice to prove a point. But what was the point? I’d say things to justify my position, authority, experience and most of all, my insecurities. My ego lavished the attention.

I noticed others did this. It didn’t feel good having ideas and opinions rammed down my throat. I’d reflect on what it felt like to be on the receiving end of someone who didn't listen. The lack of collaboration sucked and there was a real mismatch between one human interacting with another. I made a decision not to be like that anymore.

I decided to just be helpful. It’s a thing we pride ourselves on at Qeek whilst we develop TestBuddy. Step into the other person’s shoes before sharing. Often I say nothing at all and just listen. Otherwise I ask a question.

I've had many opportunities to use kind and encouraging language. I’ve worked hard on my written language. I have my business partner Rajit Singh to thank for that. I've learnt from him that kind language helps clarify the things we share.

If I'm unsure of something I'll ask, “Am I right in thinking ... ?” or "Would you mind clarifying ... ?". It helps those in the conversation consider each other.

By encouraging others we become grateful. With gratitude we build great relationships. This creates trust. And trust is the foundation for collaboration and genuine progress. #goencourage

I encouraged Gem Hill to have a great time on stage at TestBash Manchester. Turns out she did. She was grateful for my message just before her talk. I felt like a good luck message wasn't enough. So I messaged: “Hey Gem, have an incredible time on stage today! The audience will be super grateful to learn from you. Have fun!".

If someone tells me something I often say, “I love that story. I reckon others would find that really useful! Have you considered sharing it?”.

People now ask for my thoughts and feedback on things they are working on – like an abstract or blog post. It blows my mind when this happens!

If someone makes the effort to put something together others should have the opportunity to consume the output of their effort. Re-share to a whole network and big it up! Take Beren Van Daele's TestSphere. Such an incredible product. Are you familiar with it?

I’ve found that asking a question helps others get involved in the conversation. Share it with someone specific. Invite them to the conversation. Ask the question: “What do you think?”.

When I feel there's something useful to add to a conversation, I'll use "Are you familiar with ... ?". It's inviting and less intrusive than saying, "You gotta check this out!". The recipient may already be familiar with what you've just shared.

There have been times where I’ve been too eager and I’ve messed up.

I got excited listening to someone’s talk at TestBash Belfast. At the end of their talk I asked a question. I asked it in a way that came across as “you didn’t consider this!”. I should've said something like this: “Your idea made me think of this thing. Did you discover anything interesting by using that approach?".

The person who asked the next question rightfully pointed out that the speaker had already touched on my point. I felt very silly. Encouragement gone wrong. Over excited I didn't think about how best to ask my question.

#goencourage is helping people feel good about what they’ve written, shared, drawn, said, built, opened up about, cried at, laughed at, smiled at, appreciated, contributed, asked, created, thought, braved, endured, trusted, chanced, discovered, loved, liked, lived for.

How can you apply encouragement to exploratory testing?

On a recent client site, I was debriefing in person with a developer. As part of my exploration I'd used the PQIP technique.

I shared a summary of my session and then showed him my notes. They were littered with smileys. He couldn’t get enough of all the smileys.

“What are these?” he asked. “These are all the cool things I’ve discovered while exploring this feature!” I replied as his smile grew wider.

This one says: “Cool! I can remove a recently added setting. I like how the notification only displays for about five seconds.”

I’d written a note for every discovery I thought was cool. Some were related to acceptance criteria. Most were changes that clearly this developer had made good effort to implement. Encouragement helped me amplify the developer's effort.

Sharing praise – and not just problems – helps build great relationships with team mates. Praise and encouragement are interchangeable.

#goencourage

I’ve learnt more about the testing craft in the last couple of years through #goencourage than I had in the ten years of not encouraging. It’s pretty profound! There’s much more encouragement to do and tonnes more to learn.

Some days I really struggle to #goencourage and I’m stressed about something. It's in those moments I'm caught up in thoughts and feelings. I don’t have the space to think about anyone else.

During the good days, which are most days, I smile at those thoughts and feelings. I see them for what they are. Once I do, #goencourage becomes easier, natural and an absolute pleasure.

This post was inspired by an Experience Report I shared at BREWT in December 2017. I'm grateful to Beren Van Daele for the invite and opportunity to share my experience. It was an incredible event with excellent learnings captured on Twitter!

Main Photo by Brady Bellini