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2011-01-29 17:10:26

Assuming the Best

(This entry was originally published in the SourceGear company newsletter in early January.)

Last week I went to a nearby CVS drugstore to pick up the usual necessities. You know, ibuprofen, toothpaste, and monster truck magazines (I only read the articles).

When I stepped up to the cash register to pay, the cashier said, "Sorry sir, CVS doesn't support transactions."


Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Actually what happened is all the cashiers were busy, so I got in line. That store has one of those corrals which feeds multiple registers, so everybody waits in the same queue. The corral was empty, so I was next to be served.

Just after I got into the line, a woman stepped up beside the corral, obviously waiting for a register. I wondered why she didn't use the corral like I did, but as the woman was clearly in her eighties, I decided not to fuss.

And then her husband intervened, "No Betsy, we have to get in line over there", and he pointed behind me at the entrance to the corral.

With a vague recollection of my parents once saying something about respecting my elders, I gestured to offer the older couple my place in line. Betsy started to smile, but Husband responded firmly, "No sir, we will get in line."

Betsy scowled as she walked around and stood in the corral just behind me.

About this time, a cashier, who had just finished the tedious process of dealing with some customer from 1985 who insisted on writing a check, called out, "I can help the next person in line."

I began to step toward the register, but I was too slow. With surprising speed and agility for an octegenarian, Betsy stepped around me.

Now I am finally upset. What is this lady's problem? And what happened to that husband who was keeping her in line?

I seethed quietly, trying to remember how silly I would look getting into a public argument with someone who looks old enough to have voted for Lincoln.

As I drove away, my irritation began to change, focusing less on Betsy and aimed more at myself. What was MY problem? Why did I get so annoyed over such a little thing?

I don't know Betsy. I don't know why she behaved oddly that day. Maybe if I did, I would have felt differently. For example, how would I have felt if someone had told me that she had Alzheimers?

Here at SourceGear, we sell tools to help software teams work together better. We put a lot of craftsmanship into our products, and we hope you are finding them to be effective.

But teams need more than tools. Teams are made of people. If I could sell patience and understanding, I would. (Especially if we could structure it as a monthly subscription so we could get a recurring revenue stream.)

All too often, we assume the worst of people.

As we've just wrapped up that time of the year when many people participate in traditions which emphasize goodwill and peace, may I offer you this encouragement? Next time someone on your team does something to irritate you, assume the best of them.