Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Seeking rapport in testing

I'm very aware that this blog has been a little quiet of late - some of which is intentional, and which I'm going to let you know about.

This year I've had a focus to my study - something I think could well take a few years to really come to fruition.  There are three sources I'm working through - although to me, I'm feeling there is a lot of overlap,
  • I'm doing an online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy course
  • I'm working through an excellent series of audio lectures on critical thinking
  • I'm working through some of Jerry Weinberg's writing on the secrets of consulting
First of all - I do not want to become a therapist on any level.  But here's something I find, and really want to explore.

As a tester, I often find "unhealthy" attitudes towards testing, and I know I'm not alone.  What do I mean by unhealthy?  Well often it can be overly optimistic, not understanding what testing really does and the function it performs (blaming testers for the bugs they find sound familiar?).

This is supported by the exploration of psychology within the "Your Deceptive Mind" audio lectures.  We'd like to think the way we make decisions is we review the evidence, then decide a course of action.  In actual fact, we tend to emotionally decide an outcome in advance, then filter the evidence we encounter to support that outcome (a bit like our flat earther last year).

Likewise the models in our mind are always trying to find simple solutions to complex areas.  We don't like complexity.  Often politicians win at the ballot box because they have a simple (often woefully simple) solution to a problem, and many people feel they can get behind it.  Within testing this often manifests itself as "surely out there is a tool which will simplify all this for us", combined with the salesman patter of "this tool will reduce your need for testers".  It's something our brain wants to believe, and will often get us stung in the process.

In pretty much all this research a common term is coming across as a first line of addressing - rapport.  The word gets bandied about a lot - but what does it really mean?  Well to me it means giving someone room to explore and explain their approach and thought processes in a non-judgmental manner.

This seems to be the core of both counseling and consulting - if someone feels they're being judged, they tend to hold back, and especially be defensive regarding why they do things a certain way.  Our first step as a consultant is to understand the framework and the decisions which are being made.  A good consultant can then build on this, and suggest alternative methods of viewing things, sometimes nudging, sometimes challenging that world view.

Such change is slow, and can be a bit frustrating - but it also has the potential to be permanent.  You are finding ways to experiment and demonstrate factors to your clients to earn their faith and confidence.

It's a lot easier to enforce a new test doctrine or process, and have people adapt or leave.  But unless you've done some groundwork, people will either throw it away as soon as you leave, or (potentially worse) be slavishly devoted to your method without understanding it (and you've just created your very own Cargo Cult).

All this theory of course is wonderful - but as ever, it's the point where it's put into practice that's the true test.  That work - and the methods and approaches which can support this - is ongoing ...

If you have any thoughts or experience in this space, I'd of course love to hear about this in the comments section below.


  1. Interesting. So how does one build rapport... I would think the key is good listening skills? And maybe the ability to ask good questions to help people identify what's in their way and think of ideas on how to cut those obstacles down to size?

    I've always had a tendency to try to "fix" people, which of course doesn't work. One good technique I learned from Jerry et. al. in PSL was divide and conquer: brainstorm some ideas, divide into sub teams and have each sub team flesh out the idea, present the outcomes and decide which one to go with. In practice, I've worked on a team where we did something like this: "bake-offs" where we try two potential solutions in parallel and evaluate which is best for us. But it can be hard to get teams to invest this time - even though it saves time in the long run.

  2. IMO, building rapport is not just listening, but listening with intent. Once I understand the other person's perspective, I have probably built rapport. (Building rapport is one of the first steps to influence.)

    I have found that effective influence requires a willingness to look at both short-term and long-term potential solutions. When you can start considering what ideas will work and won't work, now and later, you can have a great relationship with the other person.

    The other person has to want you have to offer, which means they need to see value in what you offer. Then, you can offer them something and discuss it.

    I'm not sure it's only rapport. The other person has to believe you have some value to offer.

    1. I like that, "listening with intent". I don't do enough of that. And I'm not sure of the cause and effect. If someone listens to my idea, even if they subsequently disagree with it, I feel they valued what I had to say based on my own experience and learning. So I think that builds rapport.

  3. Rapport is related to phronesis, which is a term Aristotele used to describe a quality of the leader/manager:

    "We may grasp the nature of prudence [phronesis] if we consider what sort of people we call prudent. Well, it is thought to be the mark of a prudent man to be able to deliberate rightly about what is good and advantageous …. But nobody deliberates about things that are invariable …. So … prudence cannot be a science or art; not science [episteme] because what can be done is a variable (it may be done in different ways, or not done at all), and not art [techne] because action and production are generically different. For production aims at an end other than itself; but this is impossible in the case of action, because the end is merely doing well. What remains, then, is that it is a true state, reasoned and capable of action with regard to things that are good or bad for man …. We consider that this quality belongs to those who understand the management of households or states.
    (Aristotle, 1976 English translation of Aristotle's text)

    Note that the term art here, is probably what we call a craft. My own experience is that phronesis can be taught, but it has to be through practice and active reflection.

  4. Interestingly, after reading this Qoura answer this morning: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-quickest-way-to-get-people-to-trust-you, I read your posting.

    So, based on what Lisa and Johanna mentioned above, the listening part, and extending the conversation: I would add that using skill in asking thinking questions to the other party seems to do the trick. From my experience it looks like the two works hand-in-hand.... Let me explain

    A deep thinking question, followed by listening, a bit of paraphrasing and followed by more deep thinking questions leads to effective rapport (albeit it may not always be as simple if the person does not trust you yet!!!).

    From my experience of the coaching structure provided by David Rock (See his book called Quiet Leadership), building strong rapport is a skill loosely based on these two principles of asking thinking questions and then "listening with intent" (so aptly put by Johanna).

    Based on experience I had with a very sceptical CIO at a large healthcare group, I found that the above technique worked wonders. He was really old school and did not really believe the value of what testing can do. So not trying to convince him one way or the other, I set out to prove the value of what the testers did by doing instead of talking (or selling it). After about 18 months he told me that "I don't know what you did, and how you did it, but whatever you did, it is bloody amazing". Once I was at that stage, I was able to have excellent rapport across all levels in the organisation.

    The way I approached it, was with the same thinking-question-then-listen technique in as many conversations as I could. It took me a while to get it right, but it is now invaluable in the way I have conversations with people (well, mostly ;) ).

    Yes, I used other tools to make the gaps visible (TPI Next for instance), and also making the solutions to the gaps visible, but it was all based on the simple thing of generating rapport through the mechanism described above.

    I hope that provides an example of one way to possibly build rapport.... I am sure others will also add additional things you can try as well.... (Liked Lisa's bake-off idea...)

  5. Time heals all wounds.

    Before any significant change can be made trust is necessary so there is actually something to listen to. Some people are more open than others but it usually takes time before a meaningful rapport can be built, it looks that we are all aware of that. "Listening with intent" will surely help here.

    What I'd like to add to the mix is that cultural problems or conditioning is likely to prevent people to explain their thought processes, so no listening is possible. If they had negative experiences with being open it'll take a long time (5 times is often banded around to unlearn a bad experience) before a meaningful rapport can be built due to trust issues. If several people in a group have this issue it may indicate a trained problem at that workplace which may not be possible to resolve without getting leeway (time and empowerment to make decisions) from upper management.

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