Forced to mingle

There was a recent company event. It was organised for the IT departments. It’s usually referred to as a dinner-and-dance or D & D (not to be confused with Dungeons and Dragons). We usually just do the first D (the dinner, not the dungeons). Everyone seems too tired at the end to do the second D.

My colleagues in my department are close-knit. There aren’t many of us anyway. So we assumed we’d be put together in the same table.

When we arrived at the event, we found that we’d been separated. 2 of us in that table, 3 of us in this table, and another 3 in another table. We were a bit miffed of course.

It’s not so much that we were separated. It’s that we were seated with people we don’t know. We were forced to mingle with people from other departments and teams. There’s nothing wrong with mingling. We just weren’t prepared to mingle.

So we went into the event room, sat down at our respective tables and started making small talk with the people at our own tables. Well, at least I made small talk with the person next to me.

Then something happened. People started changing seats. People found out where their friends were seated and a mass migration happened swiftly and quietly. It was kind of fun. So together with the 2 “known” colleagues from my table, we changed tables. The “new” table has *shock* everyone from our known clique!

I don’t know what the organisers had in mind when they rearranged everyone’s seating plans at the last minute. From what I knew, we were in the same table originally. It just shows how humans can behave when forced along some rule or restriction. Given a chance, we will find a way to rectify the situation.

So here’s a question for you to think about. When you design and write an application, do you force your users to be in an uncomfortable situation? Maybe a button that doesn’t make sense, but they have to click on it anyway. Maybe the flow of entering information doesn’t make sense, but they follow your flow because they have no choice.

  1. Aaron

    Granted being put at a table where you don’t know anyone is uncomfortable but it’s good for you. At least I think so.

    It’s good to be taken out of your comfort zone every now and then, you never know who you might meet!

  2. Ben Barden

    At my last job our Christmas parties often resulted in people being mixed up. It never bothered me, in fact I quite liked it.

    There was time to chat before the dinner, and time to chat afterwards, so it’s not like we had to sit with the same people for the whole night. Table-switching didn’t usually occur until the dinner was over, and by then it didn’t really matter as a lot of people were already at the bar.

    As for uncomfortable situations with software, I try to adopt a “no nonsense” approach to create programs that are easy to use. This can be tricky with the software I build during the day as I build it for customers – I don’t use it myself. On the other hand, I find it a lot easier to work on my CMS, because I use it too.

  3. Vincent Tan

    Aaron – I think it’s a Singaporean thing; we’re just shy with new people unless we know about it beforehand. I’m fine with talking to new people though. Been working on my social skills… 🙂

    Ben – There’s a term used for using your own software. I believe it’s “eating your own dog food”. Sometimes, we programmers get caught up in the beauty of our code, that our user interface suffers. We forgot that the software is used by non-programmers. Like you said, tricky tricky…

  4. Catherine

    As a tech writer, I’m constantly finding software that doesn’t flow properly, that forces its users to jump through too many hoops. Too many software development departments don’t take useability into account at all, unfortunately – fortunately some places allow feedback from support, testers, tech writers and other in-house ‘users’ which can feed into improvements!
    For software that I use a lot though, I’ve realised that I don’t always question why something works a certain way, even when there’s room for improvement – I think we get stuck in a rut, and that’s something that developers who use their own software can be guilty of, as you said.

    Conversely: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being made to move out of your comfort zone at social events, particularly if they’re for your company and the idea might be to force you to get to know other colleagues outside your own little group! But it’s true that many technical people would rather just hang out with their usual crowd, in the comfort zone…

  5. Vincent Tan

    “I’m constantly finding software that doesn’t flow properly”
    Hi Catherine, I hope you do find software that works fine…

    I agree that we get stuck in a rut sometimes, and that’s really what happened with my colleagues. We weren’t prepared to socialise that evening. I guess sometimes we tech people just aren’t the mingling sort…

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