Speaker Adaora Onyia, Susan Bowen
Time 2008-01-29 14:30
Conference LCA2008


maximise success of project

how you communicate is as important as what you say

working across time zones, cultures and gender differences

90% communication is non-verbal

FOSS communication is over large distances, and no face-to-face communication

eye contact? tone of voice? sad? happy? loud? gentle? soft? body language? posture? accent? speech variations? speak with confidence? dressed formally, or informally? body scent: good? somebody you want to avoid? standing to close? standing to far away? hand gestures?


if nick name used, others can’t tell if you are male female, culture, age, etc.

Unique challenges:

Shared common goal, conflicting specific goals.

Newbies to Linux. Do some research before asking questions.


Bad questions

  • “Why is code broken It does not compile”
  • “The Internet is broken”
  • “My Linux doesn’t work”
  • “This doesn’t work, and I hate you all”
  • “You broke the Internet!”

Good question

  • “I used * to compile * code and read the FAQ but it does not have the information on the VX problem I am seeing. Attached is a transcript of my compilation attempt.”

What is the relevant information?

  • What are you trying to do?
  • What are you doing?
  • What do you expect to happen?
  • What is actually happening?

Never assume user who asks bad question is not very experienced and very enthusiastic?

User feels frustrated already.

“I just want you to die” … “Just kidding”

Tell users “You have to ask questions”, make users comfortable asking questions, etc. New users don’t want to ask questions, because the answer might be overly complicated.

Formulating the question can often help work out what the problem is without getting any assistance.

Refrain from analysing problem when reporting bug report, it may complicate the issue if you are wrong.

Social skills required. Many males don’t have these skills, and are being left behind academically in schools as a result.

Language barriers

Language of project may not be the language of the participants.

“Don’t get bent out of shape” –> “Don’t get upset”

“Do you know where the case is?” –> “Do you know where the bathroom is?”

Bathroom - American & British (toilet considered impolite);
Toilet - Australian.

Acronyms: Can mean different things.


  • Monochronic vs Polychronic.
    • Monochronic, one thing at a time. Orderliness and a sense of being an appropriate time and place for everything. For example, German.
    • Polychronic: Cultures that like to do multiple things at the same time. For example, French and American.
  • Symbols can mean different things
  • Humour - something considered funny in one culture can be insulting in another culture.


May not be online at the same time.

Different cultures have different definition of time.

  • time is money
    • time limited cultures
    • don’t have time to develop trust and create mechanisms to replace trust.
    • strong rule-by-law
  • time is unlimited
    • time plentiful cultures
    • rely on trust to do business

Have to have a working relationship, and trust the other person will do work while you are asleep.

People are unique

  • People who avoid conflict
  • People who welcome
  • People who build relationships
  • People who are impatient
  • People who pay attention to detail
  • People who pay attention to big picture
  • Gender differences
  • etc

geographic region, sexual orientation, occupation, religion, age, culture, and personality.


  • Feminine
  • Masculine
  • Not the same as sexual orientation
  • Most people are a combination of both.


  • No apologies
  • No asking for directions
  • No loosing face


  • vent anxiety
  • show empathy
  • being emotional
  • humble about accomplishments

Both styles will clash.


Manager, somebody reports to manager that needs more work,

“This report needs more work” vs “This report is very good and needs more work in this area”.

Masculine person only hears the praise, and not the criticism.

When document comes back, and manager says it needs to be rewritten, person gets upset, because they didn’t know anything was wrong previously.

Feminine, will come up stating problem. Masculine will assume solution is required. Help required may simply be empathy and somebody to listen.

Feminine will offer unsolicited help. Masculine will take help as an offense.

You don’t have to agree with the way the person thinks in order to empathise with. You may disagree with what the person did, but still can empathise with them over what a bad day they had.


More effort is required to communicate electronically.

Be conscious of communicating style of other person.

Western style - masculine style is dominant.

State just facts, avoid elaboration.

Don’t apologise

Don’t complain

Don’t help unless asked.

Don’t say “I love my job” unless you are happy with the pay.

Problem with apology:

“Sorry I didn’t complete the work”
“Sorry it broke”
“Sorry it is raining”

Don’t apologise unless you did something wrong.

People communicate so differently.

Work environment can be completely different to home environment. eg. teacher might be extrovert at work, introvert at home.

Conflict may be caused by the way the idea is presented.

Toss up: mark good ones, or mark the bad ones. Either way some people didn’t get the full message, and will only “hear” the positive or negative part of the feedback.