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Buck Woody

Carpe Datum!

It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice

I’ve been a little “preachy” lately, telling you that you should let people finish their sentences, and always check a problem out before you tell a user that their issue is “impossible”. Well, I’ll round that out with one more tip today. Keep in mind that all of these things are actions I’ve been guilty of, hopefully in the past. I’m kind of a “work in progress”. And yes, I know these tips are coming from someone who picks on people in presentations, but that is of course done in fun, and (hopefully) with the audience’s knowledge.


(No, this isn’t aimed at any one person or event in particular – I just see it happen a lot)


I’ve seen, unfortunately over and over, someone in authority react badly to someone who is incorrect, or at least perceived to be incorrect. This might manifest itself in a comment, post, question or whatever, but the point is that I’ve seen really intelligent people literally attack someone they view as getting something wrong. Don’t misunderstand me; if someone posts that you should always drop a production database in the middle of the day I think you should certainly speak up and mention that this might be a bad idea!  No, I’m talking about generalizations or even incorrect statements done in good faith. Let me explain with an example.


Suppose someone makes the statement: “If you don’t have enough space on your system, you can just use a DBCC command to shrink the database”. Let’s take two responses to this statement.


Response One: “That’s insane. Everyone knows that shrinking a database is a stupid idea, you’re just going to fragment your indexes all over the place.”

Response Two: “That’s an interesting take – in my experience and from what I’ve read here ( I think this might not be a universal best practice.”


Of course, both responses let the person making the statement and those reading it know that you don’t agree, and that it’s probably wrong. But the person you responded to and the general audience hearing you (or reading your response) might form two different opinions of you.


The first response says to me “this person really needs to be right, and takes arguments personally. They aren’t thinking of the other person at all, or the folks reading or hearing the exchange. They turned an incorrect technical statement into a personal attack. They haven’t left the other party any room to ‘save face’, and they have potentially turned what could be a positive learning experience for everyone into a negative. Also, they sound more than just a little arrogant.”


The second response says to me “this person has left room for everyone to save face, has presented evidence to the contrary and is thinking about moving the ball forward and getting it right rather than attacking someone for getting it wrong.” It’s the idea of questioning a statement rather than attacking a person.


Perhaps you have a different take. Maybe you think the “direct” approach is best – and maybe that’s worked for you. Something to consider is what you’ve really accomplished while using that first method. Sure, the info you provide is correct, and perhaps someone out there won’t shrink a database because of your response – but perhaps you’ve turned a lot more people off, and now they won’t listen to your other valuable information. You’ll be an expert, but another one of the nameless, arrogant jerks in technology. And I don’t think anyone likes to be thought of that way.


OK, I’ll get down off of the high-horse now. And I’ll keep the title of this entry (said to me by my grandmother when I was a little kid) in mind when I dismount.

Published Wednesday, June 16, 2010 6:16 AM by BuckWoody
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AaronBertrand said:

In a lot of cases I agree, but in some cases the "nice" approach just lands you in never-ending circles of frustration - e.g. arguing with Celko about IDENTITY columns, or arguing with you about Apple.  :-)

June 16, 2010 10:08 AM

Michael K. Campbell said:

Buck, I couldn't agree more.

Even when someone is wrong, there's never any need to be condescending or self-important.

As I wrote in my 'Community is Great' article for SQL Mag [1], that's one thing I hate about other communities - where RTM Noob! seems to be the modus operandi other than trying to help people.

And I think the way you've called it out here is perfect. Kudos.


June 16, 2010 10:29 AM

BuckWoody said:

Aaron - you're correct. I normally start with the "I want to give you an out" approach, but some folks aren't taking the bait. They just attack you back - and at that point I think you can (and should) defend yourself.

And as far as Apple goes, I think that 142-chars isn't enough to explain my sentiment - I certainly didn't mean to offend. I love Apple products!  I've owned several, and I'm still (to this day) a registered Apple developer. My only point was that they seem to get a "bye" from the media whenever they do something that we have also done. And of course, that's just my opinion - worth about as much as it should be!

The bigger deal is that I think whatever tool is "right" for the job, you should use it. I'd buy an Apple product in a heartbeat if I needed it. I use Linux, Oracle, all kinds of competitor's products, and as anyone in building 35 will tell you, I'm certainly not a fanboy.

With one exception: I'm a fanboy of Aaron Bertrand. If someone as intelligent as you is using our products, that says a lot to me. I see the stuff you write and the way you help out in the community, and I'm proud to know you.

See you soon my friend - hopefully at PASS.

June 16, 2010 10:41 AM

AaronBertrand said:

Thanks for the kind words Buck.  But I just want to clarify, as I think there are a couple of factors here that are being glossed over:

(1) The specific argument we had was actually about something AT&T had done, not Apple; you just blamed Apple.

(2) I am not sure what your channels are for "media" but I certainly see a lot of moaning and groaning about things that Apple does.  I think perhaps we are just paying attention to very different forums.

(3) With Microsoft still the operating system on, what, 90% of the world's desktops, wouldn't you *expect* to hear a much larger outcry when they do something wrong, compared to any other tech company (Apple or otherwise)?  Heck, these days I hear more complaints about twitter, a *FREE* service, than I do about Microsoft and Apple combined.

June 16, 2010 12:51 PM

BuckWoody said:

Aaron - I owe you a coffee. We can sit down and I can go through all this with you.

June 16, 2010 1:14 PM

Martin Norgrove said:

Agreed Buck,

Often these things are highly contextual... in your example it might be that given a particular set of circumstances DBCC is the "right" choice... we should always take the time to understand the situation a bit better.

Often people react badly to issues they've had in the past that have burnt them or some philosophical crusade like cursors... not that I want to get that one started here but often it's horses for courses. There's upsides and downsides to every solution giving people advice in an plesent way is much more helpful to everyone.

June 16, 2010 5:26 PM

Paul Nielsen said:

Hi Buck, I agree with your premise that it's important to be nice. Unfortuantely, in too many cases nice guys do finish last. If you want to do well while being nice, it's important to also position yourself in the right cases that don't punish niceness, or understand the politics and avoid the fire. -Paul

June 17, 2010 12:35 PM

BuckWoody said:

I have heard a few comments that sometimes you "can't be nice". I don't mean that "nice" = "rollover and play submissive." Even when you disagree, you can be a lady/gentleman about it, and stay professional. External circumstances should not dictate who you are inside.

June 17, 2010 5:24 PM

James Luetkehoelter said:

Nice post Buck!

I think the fundamental problem is that people don't know how to argue at an intellectual level without taking it personally. I love a good argument, I love being convinced I'm wrong. But I know there's a handful of people I can engage in real debate (many on that blog here) and for the most part I have to keep my mouth shut. It's a sad statement on our societies general intellectual capabilities....

June 19, 2010 12:29 AM

Martin Norgrove said:


Thats an interesting take. In fact I'd have to say more often than not you're right. Personally I like to debate an issue, it helps formulate my thinking and work through the potential solutions.

Sadly, often people interpret that as being argumentative or difficult...

June 19, 2010 1:39 AM

Adam Machanic said:

@Martin/James: Quite true. When a debate occurs herd mentality tends to kick in and people back off, thinking it's a fight. Others simply get defensive and feel insulted ("how DARE he question me?").

In my experience most people are incapable of having a rational debate, no matter how nicely things start. I recently attempted to engage the author of a highly regarded technical book in a debate on the merits of one of the smaller topics in the book (a feature in a Microsoft product). The person began yelling at me, telling me that I should talk to the product team and not a book author because book authors aren't the ones who create the features. I guess this person feels that book authors also shouldn't have an opinion on the features they're writing about. Rather sad.

June 19, 2010 7:33 AM

Danette Riviello said:

Buck -

This was a well put and much needed discussion.   I recently read an article that interviewed Emily Post's granddaughter about Etiquette.   Good etiquette is not about rules and protocol as much as about making other people feel comfortable.   If you can convey a message in a way that does not make the other person feel foolish or defensive, they are more likely to hear your message, and you will both feel better for it.  It is win-win if you either leave room for both of you to be correct, or for the other person to learn a valid alternative approach.

June 19, 2010 9:47 PM

Andy Warren said:

Good post and I agree. It takes WORK to learn to politely disagree (when you know YOU are right!). Fair enough to say 'we don't agree' and move on, no need to battle to the death on it.

I think "best practices" spawns a lot of this - all of us can be dogmatic about applying published rules or our own experiences and forgetting in the process that not everyone can afford RAID 10 or a dedicated server or that they have real reasons for letting people have table accesss.

June 20, 2010 10:17 AM

Mark Stacey said:

To be honest, while the first approach is a bit too blunt, your second response is pussy-footing around the issue.

A moderate but firm approach - "That's a bad idea, because that will fragment your indexes. Have you considered.... XXXX" - not leaving the possibility that you're wrong.

I've been on the other end of something like that : we were a consulting team, and we'd chosen a specific approach, and one of the clients developers said "yes, but what about xxx?" And when we queried the details, he said "don't mind me, it was just a thought" - so we disregarded it.

And it backfired in the end.

Should we have listened? Yes, but I struggle to give value to someone else's opinion when they won't back it.

And as for finishing other peoples sentences? I have occasionally paused to let people finish my sentences. Doesn't bug me in the slightest

June 20, 2010 3:32 PM

Mark Stacey said:

Incidentally, the BEST project teams I've been on probably looked like small wars to an outsider. Every person on the team would radically defend their opinion til we came to an agreement. Does NOT work with every team of course.

June 20, 2010 3:34 PM

dd said:

I think perhaps it is better to use 'maybe', 'perhaps' and 'I think' liberally through out your post in the appropriate places as this will go a long way in allowing the other person to save face and come back to agree with you.

June 21, 2010 2:52 AM

ALZDBA said:

100% with you.

There is no title or accomplishments list that allows anyone to be rude, blunt, ...

And .... life is more fun if you can live it without constantly having to brag with your credentials ...

And in forums, everyone deserves a chance to learn .... again and again

June 23, 2010 6:59 AM

Hermes Birkin said:

I really like and appreciate your article.Really looking forward to read more. Really Cool.

August 3, 2012 9:29 PM
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