Day 11 of 30. Chances are, unless you've discovered some 10-dimensional lifehack, there are things you feel pulled to do, and things you have to push yourself to do. It doesn't take a lot, for instance, to convince myself to take 30-45 minutes each day to write what has become, for this month, a sort of rambling quasi-diary of small reflections and thoughts.

I like writing here. I like the cadence, the deliberate practice aspect. I like exploring thoughts in written language. I like writing into the void, not caring if anyone listens. It's for me, this daily activity, and if someone else out there finds it useful or interesting that's a nice bonus, but hardly essential to the enjoyment.

On the other hand: try as I might, I can achieve at best a wary motivational standoff with most routine chores - laundry, dishes, sweeping, cleaning, etc. There's that advice to live in the future, then build what's missing - and my future would, perhaps, involve actually smart homes that can more or less maintain themselves, as opposed to our present of smart homes that beep constantly and misinterpret spoken commands and spy on our neighbours (and us).

I was thinking about this topic - pushing and pulling, extrinsic and intrinsic motivations - and happened to come across an article called How to Boss Without Being Bossy. Now, you could dispute how that article ranks phrasings of the same demand with respect to harshness / clarity! Here in Denmark, the average tone of workplace conversations can seem harsh, if you're from a more indirect culture: Danes love direct communication in the workplace, whereas Canadians or Brits might, on average, prefer a good waffly “Could we take out the trash?”

(I highly recommend The Culture Map as a good overview of the major dimensions on which various cultures differ when it comes to communication.)

But the article itself gets to that:

Watch how other leaders use phrases like these and what effect they have. Try out new ways of issuing commands, see how they feel to you, see how people respond. The key is to find a way of directing people that suits your personality, your team, and your organization’s culture.

Fair enough. As with so many things, the answer is it depends: you need to experiment. Every individual is different. Every team is different, and every new combination of individuals is a new team.

And to experiment effectively, you need a good emotional dynamic range (see: photography, audio). That is: you need to be capable of direct, forceful even, soft yet clear, gentle reminder, honest inquiry, understanding but firm, and many points in between.

In 15 years in the industry - and as a student before that, and in life more generally - I've come across people who lack dynamic range. They only know one way to ask, one way to check in with others.

A common example: the Pusher. This person has, at some point, been rewarded for pushing others until they got what they wanted. Maybe it was necessary to navigate an environment with low morale, or complicated politics, or some other organisational dysfunction. Maybe they have internalised it as a virtue: persistence, follow-through, grit. Whatever the reason, they've concluded something along the lines of "I have to push others or nothing will get done". This is their one way to ask.

Of course, most people don't enjoy being pushed, least of all intelligent, self-motivated people. They might acquiesce eventually, if only to get the Pusher off their back, but usually with at least some passive-aggressive resistance. The Pusher senses this resistance, and concludes that they were right all along: see, people have to be pushed, and now that I pushed this person, something got done!

So the Pusher will have the illusion of success, all while systematically making it harder to get anything done, because everyone they encounter will resist being pushed. And most smart people, having been burned by a Pusher here or there, will decline to give them feedback. Why bother? They lack the emotional dynamic range to use the feedback, anyways.

This can go the other way, of course. Maybe you've had a manager who's nice, but ineffective. They're pleasant to talk to, they never demand or raise their voice. You're never quite sure if they're even asking you to do anything. Great person to have a beer or coffee with. And it seems like the ideal environment, until you go months or years without useful feedback, or conflicts between teammates simmer without clear resolution, or your team is disbanded because no one defended its value to upper management. Hmmm. Maybe not so ideal.

As with everything, you can't fix a low emotional dynamic range without a) noticing the problem and b) doing a lot of deliberate practice to improve. Being direct didn't come naturally to me when I first moved to Denmark: I remember sitting in a meeting, fearing that I might be about to witness a full-on brawl - "No, that's completely wrong, what about X and Y and Z" - "X and Y don't matter, because W! We shouldn't waste our time on..." - and then, after 45 minutes of what sounded like a pitched argument to my Canadian ears, everyone agreed on a course of action, laughed, and us engineers went to discuss technical details over coffee.

Even after accepting that it was OK to be direct, I still had to find a way of doing it that felt natural. So I experimented. Probably I came across too harsh a couple of times - that's fine; I apologised, which does come naturally to me as a Canadian, explained that I was working on being more direct, everyone laughed, some offered feedback, and we moved on.

But there isn't an easy path. You need to experiment, which means you need to be willing to fail - and if that doesn't come naturally, well, you should fix that first.