Then and now

A few years ago, after a long stretch of not feeling heard in my job, I resolved to change that, starting with getting a different kind of job. Then I started attending conferences, making Agile in 3 Minutes, and appearing on Agile for Humans and other podcasts. Finally, I found myself at many of the same conferences as a speaker, sometimes even by invitation.

This took a nonzero amount of luck and a lot of effort. I put in the effort because, as a human being, I needed to feel heard at work. If you’re reading this, odds are you’re a human being with the same need.

Today I expect that I can mostly get myself listened to, and am surprised (and indirectly, gratified) on the rare occasions when I can’t. Compared to myself a few years ago, I feel relieved, empowered, and a little scared. Scared? Yeah, sometimes. When folks are apparently much more inclined to try as I suggest, it becomes much more important that I suggest wisely.

Them and me

My path here was, and is, smoother than others’. One way I’ve come to understand this: when I go to conferences, the worst I ever feel (or expect to feel) is introvert-overwhelmed. It happens. I have to strategize what to do when I notice my tank is running low, or when I’ve failed to notice for too long. Either way, it can usually be as simple as going back to my hotel room.

Another way I’ve come to understand this: when I go back to my room, I’ve never been followed there, or been creeped on or harassed in any number of other ways. So I’ve neither had to deal with those things as they’re happening, nor had to decide whether I’m going to sign myself up to strategize how I’ll deal with those things happening again.

Finally, and most clearly, I’ve come to understand this by hearing from people who are no longer willing to attend a conference unless it has a Code of Conduct. I haven’t experienced what they have, so I’m still willing to go, I think (it’s been a while since I had to choose). The thought that I’m able to feel comfortable in a place where others might not be makes me wonder: when I’m there, what I can do about it?

I’ve started doing a small thing.

Me and you

If you’re in a position like mine — where you’re listened to and heard — you have currency. I’d like to suggest a small investment you can make with it.

When you’re presenting at a conference, spend three of your minutes giving a quick overview of the Code of Conduct that’s in effect:

  • Where to find it
  • What it can and can’t do
  • Key examples of language to look for
  • Some ramifications for the audience and the conference as a whole

If the conference doesn’t have a Code of Conduct, say that out loud, along with this one weird ramification: some of the people we could have learned the most from aren’t here.

If the conferences where you’re speaking are technical and/or Agile, you can relate all of this to TDD and/or BDD, and encourage folks to pair afterward on example scenarios for shared understanding.

Invest wisely

Why do I suggest this? Because in my limited experience of not being listened to, followed by being frighteningly well listened to, I can begin to guess what it’s like to be frightened of worse things and then of not being listened to about them. And I can begin to guess, when humans want to add to our communities and we don’t take small chances to try to include them, how much the rest of us lose.

If you have currency, consider making a small investment. The returns may surprise us all.

Steal freely

Here’s the text of the slides I’ve been using for my last several presentations (example). The content is licensed CC-BY-4.0 or in the public domain, whichever you prefer.

Copy, modify, and present as you wish. Please share what you learn!