Let's Have An Argument, Then

It's been quite a non-technical weekend so far, with only a few odds and ends. Most computer time was spent shuffling pixels around with to test a few new design concepts, catching up on my music and (to my amazement) dozing off in the middle of the afternoon - which I never do, and just goes to show how tired I am these days.

One of my primary time constraints right now is my management course (and wolfing down bibliography at my usual rate of 2-4ppm), and I'm attending Human Resources and Leadership and Motivation classes soon, so it was with interest that I spotted (via Simon) a wonderful piece titled Charles' Rules of Argument. I was enthralled not only by the rules themselves (which, to be fair, are well outlined but might need a bit of rewriting), but by the fact that I've been applying some of them in extremis for a couple of months now.

Having worked in consulting, pre-sales, marketing, IT and engineering (roughly by that order), and, of course, being a user, I am quite used to being a handy target for miscellaneous zealotry and jibing - after all, I never fit in perfectly, since I know far too much about what "the other side" is up to (insert your favorite conspiracy or corporate rift cliché here), etc.

That sort of argument tends not to last, however, since (like Charles), I tend to argue back. Hard. And even though I usually pull a Monty on people and defuse the arguments, there are always those who choose to run the course (either due to some fundamental need to assert themselves or to larger amounts of free time).

So, after a while, things settle down into extremes: Quick mini-arguments that I defuse quickly and behemoth flamewars kept alight by only the most proficient (and stubborn) correspondents, usually feeding off seemingly endless reservoirs of zealotry and bloodymindedness.

Let's take e-mail, for instance. Geeks, in particular, seem prone to setting up an intravenous feed of vitriol and fire it off piecemeal over a number of mail messages, even those not directly related to the argument at hand.

So given my steadily dwindling supply of free time and patience (some would call it the onset of aging and hint at loss of faculties, something I used to disprove with matches), I've started not replying to e-mail. I've also cut down on my mailing-list intake, gave SpamAssassin "license to kill" (on a hair-trigger) towards a few e-mail addresses and moved all arguments (or chances thereof) off-line.

This hasn't stopped the "out-of-band" attacks, though - a technique which has been quite popular in subtle ways recently, with my corporate e-mail address - where I can't use SpamAssassin - experiencing a manifold increase in the amount of spam traffic. But that's people for you.

Sadly, the sort of arguments you need to deal with are rather typical of tech environments. Technical people (who tend to lack the social skills to deal with people at all, let alone people who argue with them) can keep up seemingly endless barrages of pointless arguments through e-mail, but will often cave in if you set up a meeting to discuss the matter.

Of course, if you humiliate them publicly (which, by the way, is one of the stupidest things you can do to people you work with) they will then hold a larger grudge and take up a part-time job sniping at you.

But the fact remains that live, up-close interaction (just talking, mind you) is the best way to sort out most arguments with tech people.

But just to be sure, get a copy of your company's AUP on e-mail and attach it to the meeting request.

It can't hurt.