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Gil Zilberfeld has been in software since childhood, writing BASIC programs on his trusty Sinclair ZX81. With more than twenty years of developing commercial software, he has vast experience in software methodology and practices. Gil is an agile consultant, applying agile principles over the last decade. From automated testing to exploratory testing, design practices to team collaboration, scrum to kanban, and lean startup methods – he’s done it all. He is still learning from his successes and failures. Gil speaks frequently in international conferences about unit testing, TDD, agile practices and communication. He is the author of "Everyday Unit Testing", blogs at and in his spare time he shoots zombies, for fun. Gil is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 77 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Just Shut Up

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I have a big mouth. The kind that doesn’t shut up, especially when it needs to.

I thought this was a development in my adult life. Alas, no. Recently I went to my first school reunion, and the people confirmed I had this situation back then too.

Usually it’s not a problem, and if it is, it’s a problem for me. My mouth is big enough for at least my two feet.

It seemed like an advantage. Early in my career I was the answer man. I had all the answers (mostly the right ones, you’ll be surprised). As I’ve become a team lead and a manager, I’ve continued the tradition. My team came to me, and I’ve given them the answers. I’d tell them what to do and how to do it, and that looked the effective and efficient way to manage.

Then I’ve discovered that silence has its rewards. It can lead to more creative solutions, independence among the team and productivity. The benefits outweigh saying anything.

Asking the team “How do you think we can solve this?” (even if I know the “right” answer), can lead to other people offering suggestions I didn’t think of. They might bring up reasons why my solution is wrong, without me even saying it. The discussion does not only raise ideas, but since people own their suggestions, they also back them up with commitments.

And there’s more. I’m referring to the “Ask, don’t tell” idea, discussed in a recent Manager-Tool podcast. The podcast discussed asking team members to do tasks, even saying please (gasp!), rather then telling them to do the tasks.

I’ve caught myself doing that too. It’s part of the big mouth thing.

We think of self-organizing teams as a democracy, where everyone’s equal. This is not so. Even in self-organizing teams, there are more dominant people. We recognize them by them making decisions, sometimes for other people. They seem to know more than other people (note the word “seem”). They influence the team more than other team members. And just there, there’s a place for improvement.

If you’re like me (and you probably already know) the next time a question is raised, wait. Bite your tongue (it hurts, I know).

Ask questions instead of answering.

You’ll be surprised. You might discover that you’ll get more by saying less.

Published at DZone with permission of Gil Zilberfeld, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Rentius Engelbrecht replied on Tue, 2013/01/29 - 3:28am

I have a different scenario but sort of the same. I like helping people and in return they ask me allot of questions and come to me if they need help with something (does not mean I have the answers). But I do not tell them how I think they should do it rather we sit and weigh the pro's and con's and patterns for the current situation. The problem is that in the end we have a 2 hour discussing because it is now a debate. So for me there must be a balance.

Philopator Ptolemy replied on Tue, 2013/01/29 - 10:14am

I had a very similar experience (including the long time big-mouth). When i noticed that people tend to go with my suggestion and just adopt it without considering alternatives, i now always start by asking people to propose a solution. Only after everybody expressed their opinions and debated, i say what i think. I also make an effort NOT to put emphasis on my solution, and ideally present it as derivative of what people have already proposed. 

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