Importance of professional relationships

Subject: Importance of professional relationships
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 9 Apr 2003 10:54:52 -0700 (PDT)

<Kerstin -dot- Molthagen -at- etas -dot- de> wrote ...

> If you have never been at places where getting information is not merely
> challenging but impossible because those having the information won't share
> it, you're lucky. I _have_ seen information withheld, for no other reason
> but the ones having the information disliking the person needing the
> information. Unfortunately, the people higher up in the hierarchy shared
> the dislike. (I never understood why they disliked that person so much...)
> The - inevitable - result was that the person needing the information was
> unable to complete the task.
> I am not so sure that such situations are as rare as some people seem to
> think.

This is why some of us, myself in particular are placing such a great emphasis
on working relationships. How a writer relates to co-workers and superiors has
a profound effect on how easy it is to get access to information.

For example:

In the world of on-line forums, it is recommended that new members (newbies)
lurk for a while, learn the dynamics of the group. Only after becoming versed
in the language of the group, will a newbie be equipped to make contributions
and suggestions. A newbie who does not take the time to learn the group
dynamics, will likely be ignored or in some cases kicked off the list.

Here on TECHWR-L, there is a group dynamic. There is acceptable and
unacceptable behavior. When people lurk and learn those dynamics, they're
better prepared to start posting and offering advice. People who don't pay
attention to the rules, get booted or worse.

This same concept applies to pretty much any work environment. You have to earn
the respect of your peers if you expect them to help you.

This why I have repeatedly cautioned fire-in-the-belly writers to cool their
jets and learn the lay of the land before they start trying to re-engineer the
company. Most environments are not going to react well if a writer starts
trying to change everything. Just because STC told you that you need a style
guide and an internationally recognized single-source system - doesn't mean you
should push for those on your second day of work. Calm down,

Likewise, I caution writers about usurping jobs, like usability, that are not
necessarily within their domain. These actions can annoy others and make
co-workers and bosses dislike you. If they dislike you, they will exclude you.
And if they exclude you - you will not be able to get your job done.

Your relationship with your co-workers is perhaps the most important element of
a successful doc project. You can have a jewel encrusted methodology and every
conceivable tool you ever could want - but if your co-workers hate you, all
those other things may be useless.

Again, this is where priorities become a big issue. I usually rant and rave
about understanding the content. Part of that, is that it will help you
communicate with engineers. When you understand the technologies or scientific
concepts in use, you're better equipped to have meaningful and productive
discussions with co-workers. If you are in a perpetual state of ignorance,
people will notice this and ignore you.

Professional relationships are also just as delicate and volatile as personal
relationships. You cannot expect everybody to respond and behave in the same
manner. And just because there is a rule, a memo, or some methodology doesn't
mean people will (or even should) follow it.

Groups also don't like dead weight. In pretty much every group project I did in
college, there was always one or two people in the group that did nothing. Or
were so annoying that they were excluded from involvement. If you're always
whining about how people don't respect you or give you the tools you need to do
your job, its not surprising then that co-workers and managers would exclude

Engineers are particularly annoyed with people who refuse to learn their
language. Why should an engineer, who has his/her own problems and challenges
wet-nurse a writer who adamantly refuses to learn anything on his/her own. STC
may tell you that you can focus 99% of your professional efforts on style
guides and communication topics, but that won't do you one iota of good when
you need to have a conversation with an engineer. Engineers don't give a rats
butt about some new amazing STC-endorsed maturity model or the exciting style
guide you made. They want to see that you understand the technology. If you
don't, they'll dismiss you as some lowly clerk.

Some people on this list are trying to further or argue that they are helpless
to the whims of management. These same people seem to have a view that
organizations are inflexible and writers are always at odds with management
and/or developers. What amazes me is how these folks keep explaining how
certain tasks "just aren't possible?"

Dancing on the sun is impossible.
Avoiding death is impossible.
Herding cats is impossible.

Getting engineers to give you information is very possible.

I think the reason some people are having such problems with their managers and
co-workers is not so much a factor of some institutional hatred of technical
writers, but the fact that those writers have not sufficiently built the
professional relationships they need to do their job.

Thus, when your manager says "don't bother the programmers" the possible
subtext in that is "you're annoying the hell out of them with stupid questions
you could easily answer if you punched them into Google."

When your manager says "there is no budget for those tools," the possible
subtext is "make do with what you have, produce some kick-ass content, and then
maybe we'll invest more in documentation."

And when your manager says "you cannot have access to required information" the
possible subtext is "we are sick and tired of you, go away."

As I have said before, the single unifying factor in all your failed business
relationships is YOU.

Likewise, how you behave around your co-workers has a lot to with how they
treat you. If you sheepishly wander through your job, then people will probably
step on you and abuse their power. But if you command some authority and
responsibility, people will not be apt to abuse you.

Now, I am going to anticipate a question out of this post - how do I go about
building successful relationships with my co-workers. That is not something I
can explain, easily. I can tell ten things that will piss people off and likely
land you in professional Siberia. This includes:

1. Whining
2. Blaming
3. Shirking
4. Bitching
5. Obsessing over the trivial
6. Nagging
7. Brown-nosing
8. Sniveling
9. Squawking
10. Insisting on being ignorant

In other words, the more you stand around and complain, bitch, and whine about
your job and co-workers the less inclined they will be to do squat for you.

If you really want respect in this profession then you're going to have to
accept some sobering realities that STC and its ilk won't tell you:

1. Build professional relationships based on knowledge not requirements
2. Acquire solid technical and scientific knowledge
3. Reason is more important than process and methodology
4. Take responsibility for your work.
5. Be an authority in your subject area(s)

Naturally, there are others, but you get the idea.

Andrew Plato

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Tax Center - File online, calculators, forms, and more

Purchase RoboHelp X3 in April and receive a $100 mail-in
rebate, plus FREE RoboScreenCapture and WebHelp Merge Module.
Order here:

Help celebrate TECHWR-L's 10th Anniversary starting this month!
Check out the contests at
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday TECHWR-L....

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as:
archive -at- raycomm -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: Re: YOU are responsible, even when YOU are not to blame
Next by Author: Re: YOU are responsible, even when YOU are not to blame
Previous by Thread: RE: Slightly off-topic but, I hope, not unwelcome
Next by Thread: Re: Importance of professional relationships

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads