Are You Listening, Developer? and Vista Performance

One of the biggest impediments to successful software development is communications, and the biggest part of that, in my opinion, is the ability to listen effectively. I write this not only as an instructional piece, but to remind myself that I too suffer from Listening Dysfunction (LD). I am glad to say that I'm getting better at it all the time, but sometimes I just can't seem to keep it up (the listening, that is). Your doctor generally cannot prescribe some "blue pill" for this, however - you have to fix it yourself.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are conveying a concept or explaining something, and the other person constantly interrupts or "talks over" you? They're not listening. They are involved in some other agenda. Perhaps they hear what you are saying, but the comprehension is not there.

Or, have you ever sent an email to somebody with several points in it, but you get a response that only addresses one point? The respondent didn't "listen" to the whole email.

Or perhaps you were faced with listening to a program manager, team lead or other developer who was attempting to convey some instructions, but they continually wandered from one point to the other, making it much more difficult to get to the main point, and increasing your frustration level. That's the other side of listening - efffective speaking.

Listening versus Hearing

There is a major difference between listening and hearing. Hearing means that you pay attention to what is said. Listening focuses on comprehension. When you listen, you pay complete attention to what is said and try to understand it. This is a critical issue in software development, because it is a big part of what goes into the software. Ineffective listening means you are more likely to get software that does not represent what was requested or required, and the software will need to be corrected and revised, which adds time to the development process.

Good listeners (and speakers):

  • Verbalize raw ideas as they come into your head in a way that you can take notes on
  • Ask questions when you don't understand
  • Focus on someone else's way of thinking to stay engaged in their thought process
  • Move in a methodical way so that you can keep up
  • Compromise on an approach to a solution and agree together on the next steps to take

Listening goes hand in hand with speaking - being able to express yourself concisely and in a methodical, logical, "non-wandering" way. Paper is an important part of this process in development work. Many people do not feel comfortable unless they have a pen and paper at hand. Notes can later be turned into documents or emails and shared as a summary of a verbal meeting that provides a "track to run on".

These are all very basic concepts - but it isn't surprising how often they go overlooked. A quick review of some statistics about listening, compiled by the International Listening Association (http://www.listen.org/), yields some insight into why listening is so hard:

• Most of us are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful about 75% of the time we should be listening.
• We listen at 125-250 words per minute, but think at 1000-3000 words per minute.
• Immediately after we listen to someone, we only recall about 50% of what they said.
• Long-term, we only remember 20% of what we hear.
• Dozens of business studies indicate that listening is a top skill needed for success in business.

Some tips:
1. Listen to understand, not to respond
2. Be quiet
3. Let them finish their thoughts
4. Maintain eye contact
5. Ask questions to ensure that you understand

Vista Performance

I have a love-hate with Windows Vista. I like the new features, but some things just make me mad. Recently I noticed that Windows Explorer started taking a very long time to render the folder tree (e.g., "NOT RESPONDING") and so I started looking around for tweaks and fixes. One place I found that has a very detailed list of fixes is here:


I've done just about every tweak the guy has listed, and it definitely helped. Worth a visit.