Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Conference Calls

With meeting space typically at a premium around here, the technical groups end up doing a lot of work through conference calls.
It makes communication a little more difficult since it is impossible to judge the effect your words are having without the feedback provided by facial expression and body language.
That, and the fact that some people (let's not name names here) tend to think of the other participants of a conference call as "not real people".
This is kind of like the assumption I prefer to make about everyone on the internets: They aren't real people.
I know, we all interact with people online pretty regularly through Facebook or World of Warcraft or message boards, but this interaction is eased by the knowledge that no other online avatar represents a living human.
I realize my theory still needs some substantiation, but I'm going with it until someone can prove to me that they exist.
Anyway, while I try to believe that the other participants of my conference calls are not real, sometimes they still provoke anger in me.
During a recent security call, there was a question about how a certain set of servers would be remediated in anticipation of an upcoming audit.
The person responsible for the activity in question launched into an explanation which reminded me of the old Mouse Trap board game.
"Person A, if unable to access the system, will send an email and call Person D, who keeps the contact information for Group N which controls access but not patching for these servers. If they are unavailable, a call to Group B, with escalation to Groups C and F, will be made. If the outage is about to end, physical access will be requested for manual patching," or some crap like that.
None of the people referenced are me, and none actually work with me. Further, the servers aren't my responsibility either.
It didn't matter, though. The process was dumb and overly complicated and prone to error.
I felt compelled to speak.
"I don't care what process you use. No one cares. If you think your group can follow these steps every single time these servers need a patch (and these are Windows servers, so you can expect once a month at minimum) then write this up into a procedure document and send it up for review and approval. As long as you do this exact thing every single time, you are fine, but explaining this as a one-off process does not make it official and it wastes our time. This isn't the venue for procedure discussion, the moderator just asked for a completion date."
I realized I was probably harsh. It had been a long day, though, and I sensed the little productivity these calls provide being leeched away into a discussion of work-arounds for work-arounds.
There was no response anyway.
Just a silence.
A stunned silence.
It lasted long enough that I checked the display on my phone thinking I'd been disconnected.
The problem with silences is that I see them as something which needs to be filled. The problem with filling this silence was that I'd just thrown out a bunch of words and using a bunch more would be awkward and, likely, rambling.
But the silence stretched on. Since I had no body language or facial expressions to go by, I had to assume everyone was offended.
In the end I filled the silence with a casual sounding,"Yo, I'm just throwing that shit out there, dog."
Oddly, this seemed to make everything better as the rest of the call (following quite a bit of laughter from everyone involved) was less tense.
It did not, however, make the call productive.
I recommend the phrase, but it isn't magic.

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