The Golden Rule



Updated August 7, 2023

Words are powerful, and you can hurt people deeply with just words alone. All it takes is a few select words to ruin professional and personal relationships that you’ve worked for years to build. It may sound a bit silly that “be good to others” is advice that will help you in your career, but when smart people with lots of passion work closely with one another, it’s easy to forget. Difficult decisions get made every day, at both the business and technical levels, and sometimes people come out on the losing end of those decisions. Sometimes your ideas won’t be chosen, or someday you may need to make decisions that affect people’s careers.

Words have consequences, and it’s important to choose the right words and do your best not to hurt someone’s feelings. Words can create harm to other people, and they can create conflict with your coworkers.

One of the most important things to remember is to be aware of your emotional state when communicating with others. You may be pulled into an incident that wasn’t your fault, or you may be participating in a heated discussion about the best design for a new system architecture. Regardless of what it is, you should always act and speak with empathy and professionalism. Keeping your composure when tensions are high is not something many people will notice, but losing your cool under pressure is certainly something that everyone will notice.

It’s not just about staying calm under pressure, either. It’s also about the tone you use in your conversations and that you use with other people, regardless of their seniority or job function. All of these variables affect how you should convey your thoughts if you want to get your point across and position yourself so people will take your ideas seriously. It starts with yourself, and that may be hard for some people to grasp. The sooner in your career that you focus on building rapport with your coworkers, clients, and customers, the easier it will be to gain support for your ideas. And it starts with awareness of who you’re talking to and how you’re talking to them.

Know Your Audience

Understanding the audience you’re communicating with is an important principle to keep in mind for effective communication. Knowing who you’re speaking with and their level of understanding about a topic will often dictate how the conversation will play out. Are you communicating with your boss, another programmer, a nontechnical coworker in another department, or an external client?

Depending on how technical your audience is, you may need to change how you explain certain topics. You might be able to discuss the details about API schemas, HTTP status codes, and how CORS requests should be handled between your backend and frontend applications with your fellow programmers, but a customer success representative or a marketing manager may have no idea what those topics mean. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain technical topics to nontechnical people, but at some point, you’ll find yourself coming up with analogies to explain a complex technical concept to someone who isn’t as technical as you are.

We deal with a lot of abstraction in our day-to-day jobs and deal with things like entities, instances, classes, interfaces, modules, and so many other concepts that are hard to articulate and explain to other people—sometimes even other programmers. Even though these concepts may make sense in your own head, finding the right words to verbalize your thoughts is sometimes difficult.

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