Category Archives: SoftSkill

Asking Questions and Getting in Sync

The principles that sparked this post

My favorite episode of the podcast Worklife by Adam Grant is still episode 1 in season 1, “How to Love Critisism” where one of the main guests is Ray Dalio. Now, I have yet to read Ray’s book “Principles” so I rely on LinkedIn and Twitter where he shares a lot of them. In the last weeks a lot of the principles have had the theme of “get in sync”. I have agreed to many of them, it is important to get in sync in order to be on the same path, to push together for something greater. And then it occured to me, what does getting in sync actually mean to Ray Dalio? Is it the same as I have been thinking about it? So I asked.

The Reply

The question asked and the response from Ray Dalio on LinkedIn

I didn’t really expect to get any response. But one day a reply came, you can see it blow, and especially two things came to mind.

  1. I am glad I asked, because what I was thinking was indeed not the same as he was. In my head getting in sync was about what to do, and how to do it.
  2. His view on getting in sync is a lot harder, and a lot more interesting!

How should we be with each other? What are we, you and me? And then we can get in sync of what is true, and what to do. So how do we get in sync as people, not as people having to do tasks.

These are hard questions, and for me the start of it is to ask more questions about how people reached a decision. How can I get better at understanding how they think, and not necessarily what they think. To me that is the basis for bein able to dive into the other questions. We can say the same about how we want to be around each other, but if the reasoning behind the conclusion is not the same we are still not in sync.

The Third Thing

There is a third thing that’s come to mind as I’ve written this, and that is the importance of actually asking when you are uncertain if you and others have the same definition of things. I have this as a point in many of my presentations around the use data, and speaking the same language. One of the first questions I ask in an interview if someone has the title “Data Scientist” on the resume is what their definition is of that term. No to test them if they have the correct definition, simply to know that if they use the term I know what it means to them so we can understand eachother better.

Now What?

I think it takes time to “get in sync” in Ray Dalio’s definition. Finding out how we should be with each other, and actually agreeing on it takes time. And it demands that we actually spend time talking about these sort of things and pushing back on talking about the next things to de done on our backlog. I will take this input, this principle, with me and keep asking more questions about how people landed on a conclusion or reached a decision. And then I hope to get more people around me to agree that spending time talking about what we are as a group and how we are together also is a high priority in all group situations!

I’ve worked so hard to minimize the use of the word “but” in my vocabulary and it’s becoming a problem…

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote this article on LinkedIn on why we shouldn’t use the word “but” in feedback situation. I’ve later come to realize that we use this small word WAY to much, and this lead me down a path where I’ve tried to remove it from my vocabulary, or at least minimize it to the extreme. After all sometimes “but” is a useful word.

I agree with you, but…

The main issue I have with the word “but” is that I believe we use it too much and I believe we use it wrong. You know in a meeting when someone says “I agree with you, but…” and then lists five reason that they doesn’t agree with you? Well in that case the “I agree with you” part is just a simple lie.

Sometimes they actually do agree, still says but and instead says things they’d like to add on to the statement they agree with. Such as things we need to keep in mind when we move forward, and in that case what they really should say is “I agree with you, AND…” insert this and this and this.

And then sometimes people will say “I agree with you, but…” and then start talking about something completely different. Do you agree with someone? Good, let them know, take a pause, and start a completely new sentence with your next topic. Saying but in this case removes your point of letting people know you agree with them.

Why has it become a problem

The first step of trying to remove something you do is to realize when and how often you do it. I quickly realized I used “but” A LOT. In the beginning I also think people could sense when I was about to say it because I had to stop and think about what I could say instead of but. I am still in a sense of mind where I am extremely aware of when I am about to say “but”, and (see what I did there?) now I am a lot quicker at exchanging the word with something else, or pause and start a new sentence.

The problem is that now that I’ve come past the point of noticing it in myself I am realizing how much this little word is used around me. And it is a lot! Coworkers, with friends and family, in stuff I read. I tried to let my wife know when she used it in a way I think is wrong for the purpose of the word, and lets just say hat was when I realized this has become a problem, because I don’t want to become the guy that goes around and corrects everyones use of a simple word. I have never enjoyed hanging around people that is so quick to correct other peoples grammar that I refuse to become that person myself when it comes to the word but.

So then what…

I would highly advice you to try and think of how often you say the word “but”. Pick a meeting and think about how often you use it, or the other people in the meeting uses it. You might get surprised about it. And think about what you are actually trying to get across. Do you really mean to use but? Are you trying to add something to the discussion? Use and! Are you actually going to start talking about something else? Pause and start a new sentence. It will make it easier for everyone to understand the point you are actually trying to get across, and not get confused by you saying an extremely long sentence divided by the very small, and very much used word, “but”.

Me? I am going to slowly advice people around me to remove the word themselves. I will point it out here and there, BUT I am going to be extremely cautious of how often I say it to the same person!

The Importance of Time

Looking back at projects I have been a part of in my work life there are some that have been successful right away, some that have needed more time to be successful, and some projects, well they haven’t really been all that successful looking back at them. Thinking about why some are successes right away and some never get there I believe that one of the main reasons that separates these projects is time. Not necessarily time to do actual development, but an actual time commitment from the business side of an organization, time to plan and time to actually think, reflect and make changes as the projects where moving along.

Tech Is Easy, People Are Not

I am of the believe that tech is easy, while people are hard. It is a lot faster to change an application or some code, than to change the behavior of an actual human being. And this is why I believe time is one of the most important things to early on in a project make into a priority. If we want to be successful the project needs time from actual business users. They need to be a part of making the specifications, and they need to help test, iterate, use and dream about what a solution can be and grow into. And they need time to adapt to whatever is being made as change can be scary and without enough time people might resist it. This may sound easy, but if someone from the business does not get a percentage of their time allocated specifically to use on a project they very quickly become “busy” and down prioritize helping out on a solution that is actually being created to help them in their job moving forward.

Reflection Is Under Appreciated

My favorite part of doing scrum is the retrospective. It is made so the scrum team can have time to sit down and reflect on what went well, what can be improved and look for things that they perhaps isn’t doing at all. I believe we all need to spend more time reflecting, but we need time to do it. In a stressful work day we too rarely sit down and think about how the last meeting we organized went. Did everyone understand why they where there? Was I clear enough in my communication? Did we all really agree on what to do when the meeting was over? If we reflect more on things I believe we also see behavior/patterns throughout our day that can be discussed the next time you reflect, either alone or together with others. We see the world in a wider view than just our own, hectic life one meeting, or task, at a time. Reflecting is all about having time to see where we can further improve.

Failing Is Necessary

We need time to fail. Failures can be though, both for an individual, a team and an organization, and it might feel like a disappointment and a waste of time if things doesn’t work out. But if you never fail, have you really pushed yourself to your limits? Have you really learned absolutely everything you could from an experience? If you fail, what can you learn from it? Do a mini retrospective and see what you and others think about it. Failing is hard, but we need time to do it in order to not be afraid of experimenting and see how far we can go.

Everyone Needs to Be Able to Talk to Everyone Involved

Communication takes a lot of time. Making sure all stakeholders are updated about the progress. Making sure everyone on the team knows about changes to the end product. Making sure a problem can be solved quickly by running a question through the correct person who knows the answer. The more people involved in a communication chain the longer it will take to get a message across, or an answer to a question. It can also turn into a game of whispers where the original question/answer gets lost in the chain. By allowing everyone to talk to everyone you basically get more time since you can cut directly to the source of an answer. Not every decision needs to be taken in a scheduled meeting. Five minutes by the coffee machine with the correct person might be all another person needs to keep working, but if we always have to scheduled a meeting two weeks in advance things will take time. And there is probably better stuff to use that time for.

Time is important. Both at work and in our private lives. And time management is really hard! My experience is that if you want to succeed make sure both you, and others involved, have enough dedicated time to use on what you are working on. If dedicated time is not given it is to easy to say that you are “too busy” to help out when others ask. So make time to plan, reflect and fail. Plan to have time to reflect and fail, and reflect and fail in order to further improve!

Why we should stop using the word “but” in feedback situations

Have you ever been in a situation where you just know the next word to come out of a person’s mouth is the word “but”? In a meeting where someone says “I totally agree with you, but…” and then end up in a rant that shows they don’t agree with you at all? In a feedback situation where your manager starts out with “You’re doing a great job, but…”. This small word is often misused and we end up feeling confused about what the message of the person in front of us actually was. It is time to be more aware of when we use it, and to completely stop using it in feedback situations.

Cambridge Dictionary defines “but” as a word “used to introduce an added statement, usually something that is different from what you have said before”. “But” can be compared to a mental eraser that simply removes whatever you said before. What happens in a feedback situation, or a meeting, is that when we use the word “but” people start to build up their defenses so that they stop paying attention to what you are saying and might miss the most important points.

When I studied I also did improvisational theater, and after each show we had a feedback round. In these session we had some basic rules:

  1. Everyone can give everyone feedback.
  2. If you hear something for the first time forget about it, if it is the second or third time you hear you might want to concider doing something with it.
  3. You are not allowed to seperate two sentences by the word but. Stop the first sentence, then start the second as a new one.

To this day I really like these simple rules and I try to use them for example when we have a retrospective in a project. It is hard to see yourself from all angles so everyone has to be able to provide feedback for you to grow. If you hear something for the first time it might be a one time mistake so you shouldn’t focus to hard on changing something right away if it won’t happen again. now, Why did we try not to use the word “but”? My main reason is that it often nullifies both sentences seperated by the word “but”. It makes us go from two potentially constructive feedbacks a person can work with, to no feedback they can, or want to, work with. In addition you can end up making yourself less trustwhorty in the future.

I’ve come across articles saying that you can swap swap out the word “but” with “and”. For example “you are good at x, but you’re bad at y” can become “you are good at x, and if you keep working at y, you’ll be even better”. Now in this case I don’t really mind, but they are already rephrasing the second part of the sentence so why can’t we just say part one, take a pause to let the receiver absorb what was said and then say part number two? A direct substitution of “but” with “and” is not recommended as you’ll have to think about how you say it in order to not make it sound like a “but”. Does “you are good at x, and you’re bad at y” really sound any better than if we used “but”?

During the rest of the day, or in your next meeting, think about how often you, or others say something like “yes, but…”. It is surprisingly often and if someone says it as a response to something you said think about what you feel when they say it. Do you feel respected? Understood? Do you feel good or bad? Try to make yourself more aware of when you use this little word and it might make you communcation towards others more clear. Maybe you can even feel an attitude shift in the people around you by just using this small word less.

We should strive to make our communication, and especially feedback, as clear as possible, so don’t let the word “but” hold you back!

Everyone should try improvisation at least once

Improvisation, a word that scares many people, appeals to some and a skill everyone uses without perhaps thinking about it. During my time at university I spent about four years doing improvisation theater. At that point in time it was a way for me to relax and do something completely different than studying, but when I look back at it now there are some many things I learned doing improv that I now use every day in my work life. In my opinion everyone should try to do improv at least once during their life.

When I mention I used to do improvisation many react with “How did you dare to do that? I wouldn’t know what to do!”, but had they thought out how this conversation with me would be before it started? Had they every line thoughtout before it started? Every day everyone improvises, life doesn’t come with a script. It might be in a meeting at work, with your kids, friends or family, you don’t have to be on stage to do it. There are some valuable points that are important in improvisation, but that I also believe everyone would benefit from having training in, and doing improv is just one way of doing this.


When I ask people what they think about improvisation if they have seen it on stage they say it is funny, and improv is fun, but being funny is not the fundamental thing in improvisation. In my opinion the most important thing about improvisation is communication, and listening to the ones you interact with on stage, or off stage. If you don’t listen to what the other persons are saying you will not be able to tell a story that seems cohesive. If one actor tries to force his story through the other actors it will get noticed by the audience and the result is usually worse than if they had reacted to what was happening elsewhere and built upon that.

Now think about a meeting you have been in where some people clearly are not ready to listen to what the other meeting attendants have to say. Others try to come with suggestion, but they just keep forcing their view through. When you leave the meeting you feel like you have not been heard and maybe a feeling that the outcome was not the best it could have been. The communication only went one way and they where simply not open for new input. Which brings me to the next point.


I remember this as one of the hardest things to learn, saying yes, and not block ideas from others. If you say no to a suggestion on stage, called blocking, you have killed the momentum in a story. Saying no is so much easier though, both on stage or in real life. By saying no, you don’t have to continue on what was started, you can start over with your own idea, but real magic happens when people say yes to new ideas and build upon them.

How easy isn’t it to say no to a new idea in a meeting? It is also quite lazy by the people saying no right away, you don’t need to think what this new idea means, what could come from it or how it can affect you, your company or your customers. I try to go into every meeting open minded, listen to what people say and every time a new idea comes up use at least a couple of seconds before I respond. Not all ideas are good, but I believe all ideas, and their creators, deserves to feel like they have been heard, and maybe someone else will be able to spin a new idea out from the original.

Try it out, say yes to more and think about how often your say no to things or ideas. Saying yes is not as easy as it sounds.


Communication and saying yes is what I believe is the two most important things I brought with me from doing improvisation, but iprov is also a great mental exercise and a way of really pushing your imagination and brain in a way it might not have been challenged before. When we had our weekly training we did some training on techniques to use on stage, but also a lot of games to expand our imagination and brain processing speed. ALl of this to be prepared to create magic on stage, but also to get to know everyone in the group and feel safe around them. And again this are things that relates directly to work life. In teams where there is a relaxed and safe environment people will dare to say the ideas they have, and I also think they will have more fun and be more productive. Knowing that your team will back yoo up and help you when you struggle or do a mistake is worth gold.

If you have the opportunity to attend an improvisation course I strongly recommend you try it out even though it might seem scary at first. You might get so much out of it, I know I have.

If you want to read more about improv I can recommend the book Improv by Keith Johnstone as a starter.