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

By  Jun 16, 2010

Topics: SQL Server, Data

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 (someurl.com) 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.

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