“Oh wow, he’s actually a really nice guy.”

The though flitted across my mind as I was chatting to him for the first time.  I had heard things about this team and the way they worked.  The teams I work with have their challenges and struggles, but from all accounts this team was even more dysfunctional.

As the thought went through my head, the stark harshness of it made me realize that I had been equating poor development practices and approaches with poor intelligence and even poor character. But as I talked to this guy, I realized that here was a highly intelligent, pleasant, likable person.  Why had I assumed that he would be unpleasant or annoying?  Simply because I couldn’t imagine how someone ‘like me’ could use the approaches his team was using.  I couldn’t imagine that a ‘nice guy’ could think that a process I saw as fundamentally flawed was a good and healthy process. I just couldn’t imagine that ‘wrongness’ (in my mind) and ‘niceness’ could go together.

And don’t we all do that in so many areas of life?  Aren’t we so quick to demonize those that have different viewpoints and beliefs than us?  Whether it is in the religious, political or social realms, or even if it is just in talking about different schools of testing, we are very quick to starting demonizing those on the other side.  It is incredibly hard to hold to the truths that someone can be both wrong and a good human being at the same time. Holding those two things in tension makes us uncomfortable.  It is much easier to just dismiss out of hand those that are of a different stripe than us, but the reality is we can learn things from those that are different than us. We will also deal very differently with those we see as fully human, rather than some distorted one-sided image we have in our head.  For healthy change to happen we need to be dealing with ‘real’ people and no caricatures we have invented.

So who are you demonizing?  Who on your team or in your company or elsewhere, are you making out in your mind to be a horrible person not worth dealing with simply because they believe different things than you?  Reach out to them.  You might just be surprised at how nice they are.

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