On empathizing & understanding
This past Friday Twitter became an…interesting place. I got a taste of a side of Twitter that, in 10 years, I’d largely managed to steer clear of.
The day prior I’d made a seemingly innocuous tweet, no more/less offensive than really anything else I’ve posted as an observation/thought/learning over the years of building a business. (At least not from the perspective of what was bouncing around in my head.)
I’m accustomed to people disagreeing with me. That’s fine. There are an infinite number of ways to build a business and the fact is every single person is winging it and making it up as they go.
So, I wasn’t terribly surprised when a few people didn’t like the idea that job-hopping was something that was a cause for concern for me when it comes to hiring. However, it quickly went past the point of civil disagreement. A handful of hot takes and retweets later from people I have no connection to, I found myself completely inundated with opinions.
As in “we’ll measure this influx in Tweets-per-second” inundated. All said, it was many thousands of tweets, comments, retweets, subtweets, quoted tweets, DM’s and emails. #growthhacking AMIRITE?!?!? 😉
At first I got defensive. The things people were responding with weren’t constructive or really even remote attempts at civil discourse. They felt like direct jabs at my character, implying I was a misogynist, racist, sexist, privileged white bigot (a number of those words directly used many times in tweets, emails and DMs). A number of people just calling me an outright liar when I tried to explain anything at all.
Don’t hear me complaining. I’m a big boy. I can handle name calling. What I had the most trouble reconciling was where on earth all the hate was coming from. Because in my mind, what I said was really pretty mild. Talk to anyone who actually owns a small business and they’ll talk your ear off about all the pains around hiring.
But, I didn’t want to be completely stubborn about this. I’m not so dense that I can’t admit when I’m wrong. In fact I’d venture to say I’m wrong, on some level, about most things.
So I started listening to what people were saying to figure out where the breakdown was.
The chief complaint was that I was oppressing women, people of color, minorities and anyone struggling financially by potentially giving them less opportunity for employment due to their job history (which many times they have no control over).
So when someone in that situation reads my singular tweet, it further oppressed them by implying they should stay in jobs they hate or find abusive because I, as an employer, said frequently changing jobs is a red flag.
Marco Rogers actually responded with a pretty amazing thread on that specific, important issue.
To that point, I can see the perspective. If you take the statement on its own, apply it to your situation with no other dialogue, it could very easily be taken out of the context I intended. Fair enough.
For that, I’m sorry. Genuinely. That angle wasn’t even remotely my intent and I fully understand the perspective of those who felt it was what I meant.
Where I was coming from
I want to provide some perspective on where I was coming from to maybe provide a bit more context. All of the prior week I’d been combing through the 300+ job applications we’d received. I’d been reading through, exchanging countless emails and having back-to-back video chats with candidates and with many of them it was abundantly clear there was no interest in the job itself or even their craft.
They had been hopping from one funded startup to the next trying to jump on a rocket ship until it fizzled out.
That’s where my tweet came from. A point of internal frustration.
The fact is, as the owner of a small business, hiring is hard. I don’t know what it’s like to be a “hiring manager” or to hire hundreds or thousands of people. I hire maybe 2–3 people per year.
I know what it’s like to hire for a small team where turnover is extremely expensive both economically and emotionally (i.e. team morale).
I know what it’s like to build a remote team firmly outside of Silicon Valley where we aren’t optimizing for career advancement, but instead for quality of life and realistic work/life balance.
And no that’s not a euphemism for “low pay”…we attempt to pay at or above market as much as is financially possible (we’re profitable and trying our damndest to not get sucked back in to the VC-funded cycle) and are constantly looking for ways to optimize/increase pay to be as fair and unbiased as possible.
If you want to hop from job to job gaining different experiences, potentially increased pay and taking different chances on what those companies are doing…by all means do that.
But that’s just not the type of team we’re trying to build a company around.
If you’re stuck at a place that doesn’t value you, doesn’t make any attempts to help you grow, doesn’t pay you what you’re worth or worse, actively abuses or takes advantage of you, please don’t stay there. Seriously. Message me and I’ll do everything in my power to help you get out and find a new job. You can absolutely find a company that values you.
Again, my tweet was really referencing a very small subset of what most would say are the “privileged” for whom it is an option for them to constantly hop from job to job trying to catch the next rocket ship to the top and who don’t actually care about the work they’re doing.
The intent of my tweet was not to say I wholesale disqualify candidates because of their work history. I don’t screen, disqualify or demerit anyone based solely on their work history. I have not ever done that nor will I do that. It’s absolutely a point of discussion for an interview, though.
What I’ve learned
So, what have I learned from this?
- There are a lot of people for whom employment is a massive struggle, not through any fault of their own, but due to a system that really does oppress and make it nearly impossible to improve their situation. Again, Marco Rogers laid out a lot of extremely productive and actionable ways to help those underserved and underrepresented, especially in tech.
- Clarity in communication is crucial (sorry, that feels really corporate…so many C’s). My tweet was an off-the-cuff reaction to a minor frustration combing through a huge number of applications (for which I’m grateful to have) and not well thought out by any stretch.
- Seek to understand and not to be understood. I got defensive far too quickly and tried to fight on my hill when I should have more readily sought to understand where people were coming from.
How I can improve
I made a mistake. Here are some ways I’m looking to improve.
- Default to the positive. I went negative with my original tweet. Instead of laying out ways that we’re working to make our company a great place you want to stay at or fostering discussion on ways I and others can make that happen, I just vented and negative venting doesn’t really help anyone. As Faruk Ateş mentioned to me, “…I think it would be much more beneficial to everyone to act through love, first”.
- Reframe the question. One woman (Charlotte!) emailed a fantastic suggestion of instead of asking for an explanation around multiple short jobs, to instead ask “I see several short jobs on here, so I assume you’re still looking for the right fit. What would you need to see in a workplace to be comfortable staying in one job for more than a couple of years?”
- Look for ways to actively help those underserved and underrepresented find positive employment. I (and most founders) have an extensive network of other founders they can tap into to help others find jobs. In that vein, please contact me if you’re out of work or stuck in a job that’s taking advantage of you.
- Give more thought to how a given statement could be perceived and what the motiviations are behind the statement to begin with.
- Surround myself with more people not like me so I can more readily see the perspectives of others.
So…that’s what I’ve got. Would love your feedback and, sweet goodness, if you made it this far through the article, I owe you a high five.