Career – But I’m doing you a favour

Network engineering can be really frustrating sometimes.  Sometimes the root cause is technology, sometimes it’s broken process or poor systems.  Mostly, the frustrations stem from interaction with humanoids, otherwise known as people.

I’m doing you a favour bud

However, there is a particular point of friction that can cause disproportionate angst.  Favours.  How many times have you done someone a favour, to have it kicked back in your face.  You bust your hump to help out another engineer or manager with zero thanks.   Someone throws you a crappy change request, but you fix it up rather than rejecting it.  Next time, same crap-quality change request.  Arrgh!    How can these people be so inconsiderate?  Don’t they realise I’m doing them a favour? [1]

No. They don’t realise it’s a favour. They think it’s your job. Don’t worry this post is not a rant how about how non-techies or managers don’t understand techies.  That line of thinking is just lazy and, more importantly it is ineffective.

The line between business and favours

Seth Godin wrote a great post about the math of favours that you should read.  I think the quote below is fantastic.

The disconnect happens when one party in the transaction thinks he’s doing the other guy a favor… but the other guy doesn’t act that way in return. In fact, when both sides think they’re doing the other a favor, it’s a meltdown.

This is important.  How do you think that your communications and happiness would change if you took this to heart.   Is is possible that this person thinks that they’re doing me a favour?   Do they think that their request is reasonable and within the expectations of your role?  Are you trying to do them a favour?  Do they know this is a favour?

What can I change?

Favours need to be explicit or they benefit no-one.   When you do someone a solid (from your perspective) you expect thanks.   When no gratitude comes, you get angry.

Don’t sit there stewing angrily, that’s a waste of time and energy.  You need to provide feedback and direction immediately.   “Hey dude, I can see you’re under pressure.  I can help you out this time, but here’s a link to the docs.  If this issue re-occurs you’ll be able to handle it your self.”

What if other people are behaving the same way.  Keep your social antennae activated. What if you start getting bad vibes about a request someone is executing for you.  Often you’ll find that you’re unknowingly steamrolling a process, and burning  up ‘favours’.  Ask them “hey, is there a formal process to follow here?”. Or maybe “am I giving you the right information?”.

The Sherpa Summary

  • When human interactions meltdown, it can have a huge impact on your effectiveness and happiness.
  • ‘Perceived favours’ are at the cause of  a lot of these meltdowns.
  • Make your favours explicit and let people know if you want the interaction to be different next time.
  • Try to suss out if other people think they’re doing a favour, and if anything needs to change.

I hope this helps in some way.   I’d love to hear any ‘favour’ experiences you have in the comments.

[1] Sorry US readers, but  I won’t be adopting American English anytime soon.

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6 thoughts on “Career – But I’m doing you a favour

    • Thanks for the author tips Mrs. Y. There’s nothing quite like personal recommendations. I read emotional intelligence a few years back but I think I need to re-read. I’ll check out Marshall Rosenberg, hadn’t heard of him before.

      I’m a big fan of Seth Godin too, sometimes he’ll write one or two subtle lines, but I think he’s speaking directly to me. Like this one… http://thenetworksherpa.com/be-judged-or-be-ignored/

  1. What irks me is when someone feels that they’re doing me a favor, even though that’s their primary role. I interact with unions all the time and from the security guard printing me a badge at a DR plant to the post office shipping my FedEX package, I have found I have to treat them like they’re doing me a favor. Visits to the plant post office can be grueling.

    • Hey Will. I know how you feel. Having to overload on the ‘please and thank you’ just to complete a basic transaction is a complete pain. I used to work in a pure telco environment, where I was in the design team. I wasn’t allowed to do a show run because the operatations team held the power. Boy was that and uncomfortable relationship. Having to ask for ‘sh ip ospf int br’ shouldn’t be a favour.

  2. I like to point out to people that ‘favours’ include the concept of reciprocity – that is, if I do something for you, you will do something for me. However, if you can’t do anything for me, don’t ask for favour.

    Program and Project managers are the worst at this. When asking to go above & beyond, it’s often called a ‘favour’ as if that makes it more pleasant. Or they will owe you. As such, I don’t do favours any more – the humanity has been crushed out of me.

    • I think that’s wisdom and experience Greg, rather than a lack of humanity. I Love the point about reciprocity. You’ve had your fair share of interactions and you just recognise that it’s not a favour.

      Don’t you just love the moment where you report on your incomplete tasks, citing that you did someone else a favour. Where’s the PM now? In the pub.

      Mostly they’re just chancing their arm. Junior engineers will feel guilted into the ‘favour’ but the wise will simply say no. Easier than it seems.

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