Red flags

I’ve met decent amount of people during my life. I think I have heuristic that help me determine if relationship (personal or professional) wouldn’t work.

Lack of optimism

This one is no go. There are many problems in the world, in our societies, at our companies, in our relationships and daily lives. But that doesn’t mean that everything sucks. I work as software engineer for over 15 years now and important lesson I learned is this - nothing is perfect, everything has issues, but each issue and problem is optimistic in the nature because it’s an opportunity for improvement.

Actions

This comes from my belief that actions are way more important than the word. It is such a fundamental thing that I keep repeating it over and over again for the past 3 years.

Experience

This one is connected to the previous one. Action allows you to get real life experience. It can be experience working on a technical product, experience communicating with the team, experience building romantic relationship, experience solving interpersonal problems. If the person has no experience but has theoretical knowledge (through reading books and so on) than it’s even worse. Because there is high chance that that person would think that she has all the answers, when in reality those answers will be wrong most of the time.

Winds of fashion & ideology

Lot’s of people are easily impressionable. I have seen it so many times from all the difference demographics. 55 year old women would watch YouTube video on the conspiracy theory and would beg her daughter to watch it too because it is so amazing and everything makes sense. 32 year old man would listen one podcast about communism and would try to convince his friend that it’s an incredible idea that wasn’t tried properly. 36 year man would read a book about running a company and would talk about it and will try to implement it immediately without thinking what makes sense and what doesn’t.

Desire to persuade

People who are easily impressed with ideas somehow tend to preach them to others immediately. Which barely makes sense to me. I don’t have that many ideas that I feel so sure about in my life. Why wouldn’t you question that idea first? Why wouldn’t you spend few months digging into it? Why tell everyone immediately about the ideas you just saw on Twitter or heard on a podcast. How is this different from people who believe and spread conspiracy theories?

Absolutism

I wrote before about my belief how I don’t trust when people make absolute statements. This also applies to arguments. When someone uses exaggerated arguments often - it’s a red flag. It’s hard to have constructive conversation. Look out for the phrases “I have never seen anything like this!”, “No one does this”, “It never worked”, “”Everyone does it this other way”. “Never”, “always”, “no one”, “everyone” - those are absolute words. It means that person just wants to win argument but didn’t consider alternatives. Such conversation are not productive.

Opinionation

Everyone has opinions. As I said above we live in the Twitter dominated world. Opinions are just opinions. People have opinions on every topic online. The same happens inside teams. People want to have an opinion on every single things - on writing style, on color scheme, on CSS library, on pricing model. Having opinion is totally fine. What is not fine is believing that your opinion needs to be communicated and as a result listened to. By communicating your opinion you are polluting information broadband. You use both time of another person (expensive) and their cognitive capacity (extremely expensive). Because another person needs to understand you, think about it and then communicate it back. This process is extremely expensive. Think about Elon Musk who famously proposed outrageous “peace plan“ for Ukraine. He destroyed so much productivity in the world using that one tweet. Because it was stupid and it caused many people to respond and distracted them from their actual work. It caused so much emotional distress to other people because the “plan” was outrageously bad on so many levels. Is he entitled having that opinion - yes. Would it be way better if he kept it for himself - 100%. The question is always the same “is your opinion on this topic so important that it should be communicated now?” Will it block your team from achieving strategic goals. If it doesn’t block - try to keep it for yourself. Don’t be like Elon.

Levels of abstraction

I noticed that people tend to lack skills navigating different levels of abstraction. Eg in programming community it happens like this. You work on a complex project for the big system. You ask your peers for the feedback. And all the feedback they have is the use of code style or maybe CSS library for styling your components. And then discussion goes into this absolutely not important detail and you cannot get feedback of the whole project on the bigger level. Another one common issue that many discussions evolve into meta discussions. Here again, you might cherry pick some aspect that you want to discuss(usually unimportant) and you would build complex straw man argument to make your point. You would even quote few philosophers and some studies from MIT. Those things in my experience happen because of the several issues:
  • boredom. People find it entertaining to have discussion that they perceive deep one.
  • Ego plays. When you make good argument you sound smart. And it rubs your ego. So it feels good to do that.
  • Inability to see bigger picture and understand priorities.
  • Familiarity. People recognize this conversations from the past, they look familiar and they try to recreate them time and time again.
Solution to that is not have those discussions. If you have some nit picking meta discussion that you want to make - go on Twitter or Reddit and do it here. Don’t bring those things into the lives of other people unless they specifically want to play the same “game”.

Self-labeling

The more labels you assign to yourself - the more red flags there are. You can have few if you want to keep some identity and place yourself somewhere in the society. But when you add one label after another - it’s just adding layers of fake ness. You are a person. You have your name. Be yourself. Don’t be an “empath” or “programmer”, “spiritual” person or a “founder”. Another related flag is preference for nouns (read labels or just words) versus “verbs”. Verbs are about actions and doing something, while nouns are about identity and ego. Eg there is huge difference between saying “I am a founder” vs “I am working on a project”. Or “I am programer/musician” vs “I am making this library/I am writing this song”. People who talk about what they are tend to be way more interesting. People who talk about who they are(in a self-assessed, probably wrong way) have higher change to be a sociopath or a narcissist.

Learning first

There is one exception to acting fast. Two best managers I ever had in my life joined the company I worked for, learned everything about processed for 3-6 months. They were bosses, but they didn’t make any big changes to the processes, but first tried to learn what the processes are, how people work now, what do they care about and what are the problems they have. Only after this period of learning they would gradually start making/suggesting changes. I have deep respect for this. Too often I’ve seen people who would join team and would start to make changes that are familiar to them. Instead of trying to understand how the team operates. Adaptability in this sense is important. Can you work how other people work? There is a saying - don’t come to someone else monastery with your own set of rules.

Unclear motivations

Some people don’t know what they want or why they do some thing. You talk to them and you might give your one answer and they will change it during the conversation and then in few weeks it will revert again. When you are not sure why person is doing something and what drives them in their life - avoid them. Either they don’t know themselves - which is a waste of your time, or they have some weird motivations.

Prior relationships

This one is related to the “Experience” section. Listen how people describe their previous jobs and personal relationships. If all of them had major problems - this is red flag.

Flying in the sky

Some people fly in the sky too often. Is it optimistic - yes. But does it enable them to work and perform actions - no. That is why balancer here is important. You can think about future that you would like to see in 5 years. But do it for 2 hours and then go and spent 3 month working hard. And then repeat. No need to comeback to abstract dreams every day or every week. The should try to root our thoughts (and therefore actions) into reality.

Blame & responsibility

This is a big one. If something doesn’t work does person assign blame to someone or takes responsibility? If someone plays the victim - avoid them.

Asking for help and emotional manipulation

If person is in the trouble can they explicitly ask for help or would they construct an argument to try to “evoke” some feeling in you. Eg if person ask you to feel “empathy” towards them - this is red flag. Proper way of communication is to tell your story and ask for help. But never ask people for some specific feelings and emotions. You cannot ask someone to feel “love” for you. Ok, you can, but it’s completely backwards.

Playfulness

Playfulness is great. Taking yourself and your job too seriously is a red flag. It is connected with my points on optimism and labels. It’s possible to have fun. Once you have fun, anxiety is gone and you will automatically focus on day to day thing instead of worrying about things in the future. “Flow” and all those modern buzzwords are overrated. Try not be anxious, have fun doing what you are doing. Playful people are the most fun to be around. They would poke you. They would lift the spirit, they would help remove extra stress and tension. People who are too serious or too anxious do the opposite. #redflag #people #work