Why is listening with empathy an important skill?

Interview with Candost Dagdeviren, Software Engineering Manager at Jimdo
March 22, 2022
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Candost is an Engineering Manager in Jimdo, where he is leading payment and mobile teams to unleash the power of the self-employed and help them thrive. Candost has a mobile and backend software engineering background, and thinks about how to help software engineers and leaders to grow in their careers. Candost is a writer and podcaster and shares his learnings on his blog and newsletter.

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Why is listening with empathy an important skill for every leader?

As a leader, you must be able to see things on a high level, or with a holistic view, but oftentimes engineers on a team will have a limited view as they only focus on specific tasks to produce high-quality work. This causes them to always try to get results quickly and make assumptions on the way to do so, but assumptions are very dangerous. Assumptions rarely work as we don’t have the ability to read minds and see from others’ perspectives, so without empathy, it is difficult to understand people. Empathy gives us the ability to understand people’s questions, behaviors, and emotions. Building empathy is hard, especially in a professional world where you cannot be professional all the time with people you have to understand, so having empathy is crucial to obtaining trust between team members and reducing any implicit misunderstandings. 

How did you transition to an Engineering Manager role?

The transition wasn’t easy, but once I realized I liked helping people and solving people-oriented problems it became clear to me that I wanted to be an engineering manager. After I decided that I want to pursue this path, I talked with my manager and asked them to guide me through the process, which ended up taking around 2 years. It took that long for a variety of reasons, but the main one is that my manager left, so I had to build relationships with other managers. Once I made the transition, the rest was much smoother.

What's one thing you wish you had known when you got started?

Prioritization is really difficult, especially when you’re an engineer and don’t have a holistic view. It’s difficult to set priorities effectively and you could have a lot of external pressure from teams and projects; there will always be something else to do. It’s difficult to understand the responsibilities of leadership roles without having the experience, and I had to learn things on the job. I wish somebody could have shown me how to prioritize all the different tasks, It could have been nice to take on responsibilities more gradually.

What’s the best way to ask for feedback?

I would never explicitly ask, “do you have feedback for me?” It’s really difficult to give good feedback, especially if the question is too broad. A better way to phrase it is by asking specific questions like “Is there any part that I could have improved?” or “How could I approach it differently?” If you point the question in a certain direction and specify what you’re looking for, the feedback you receive is a lot clearer. 

For example, if an engineer asked me for feedback, I always ask what's your goal? What do you want to learn? In which part do you want to get feedback? 

How can engineers effectively decide what to focus on next?

Prioritization is a difficult challenge, especially for growing engineers. It only becomes more and more important, as you grow into senior roles. I have recently done a podcast on prioritization. You should start by writing all your tasks down, as the visual will help you organize your plan of action and keep you from feeling overwhelmed by the workload. This is useful especially when you have to make technical changes that will impact future adaptations. Many people overlook this process and jump right into their work, but mapping it out is crucial to figuring out your next step and focusing on it one task at a time.

Read more from Candost on his blog.

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