Hostile attitudes

Paul Wilson blogs:

In fact, several have went out of there way to tell me how much the hostile attitudes of Frans and Thomas had turned them off!

This is new to me: do I have a hostile attitude towards people? Before you stand up and cry from the top of your lungs: "Yes!", let me explain something.

I'm Dutch, I'm not a native English speaker. We, Dutch, have different constructs for describing politeness in a sentence. Of course we learn at school the difference between:"Give me the book", "Can you give me the book?", "Can you please give me the book?", "Would you be so kind to give me the book, please?" and probably other variants (I might even have made a syntactical error here, but I'm not sure). When to use which variant? I honestly don't know, as in Dutch we don't have these kind of constructions. So when I say "You're wrong", that's a normal construction when you translate the Dutch sentence over to English. However it sounds rude in English, I'm told. But what's the proper sentence in English so it sounds polite enough? I honestly don't know, so I obviously make mistakes. I can of course stay on the safe side and use the most polite construction I know, but that might sound creamy and like sweet-talk, which is not what I want. I'm a true beta, I'm already very happy I can write an English text others can vaguely understand :) so it's truly hard for me to find the right wordings to formulate what I want to say. As I can't and don't want to speak for Thomas here, he too is in this situation by being a non-English speaker (German).

That aside, I can be and often am very direct. I'm not the kind of person who tells you "Good job!" and at the same time thinks "Gawd, what a mess". However as I've learned through the years, you can't always be outspoken about what's on your mind. In the past couple of years I really payed attention to what I said / typed and if it can be interpreted as a rude thing to say: I still tend to be outspoken but now add disclaimers, factors which make it less rude etc.

Sometimes the truth hurts though. Sometimes people fail to accept reality. If a person A, with all his bluntness for whatever reason, tells some other person B how reality really works and looks like, is that person A having a hostile attitude? Personally I don't think so, although A can and should think twice about B's feelings, however that doesn't make the truth less true.

What I'd like to know is (and you can react via email if you'd like): who did I torture with a hostile attitude and when / where did I do that? Not that I want to openly debate all these situations, but perhaps I can elaborate the situation a bit plus understand how others, native English speakers, interpret texts I wrote thus what the difference is between what I meant to say and what was interpreted as what I've said. Thanks.


  • This is really great! I'm dutch too and as you I don't speak/write English that well. I can understand most English movies without subtitles but when people use not often used words or technical stuff, I get confused. And I never use those 'difficult' words myself, because I just never think of them.

    Anyway, I just think people can't handle the truth. I always hear on projects that we're all professionals and that we should be able to take criticism. But believe me, not many people can. For me, I like it. Sometimes I too feel offended, but then think about what I gain when I take the advice of the other person.

    Ofcourse, sometimes people can be a little rude. I don't think you are. At least not on a level where people should feel offended! :)

  • Perhaps you should add, Gavin, that you didn't nor don't leave any oppertunity pass by to promote your tool as god's gift to mankind. We had our discussions in the past, I haven't forgotten them.

    The comment you link to I make a 1 sentence remark about your tool and I still think it's a correct remark. The rest of the comment discusses the 'n-tier' term which should be seen as a general term instead of be seen as a tight set of rules (i.o.w.: if I think n-tier means something else than you think it means, I can)

    If you can't stand me being honest about my opinion about the code your tool produces, Gavin, I'm sorry, but I'm not shutting up because you can't stand criticism. Perhaps you've improved it in the period passed, after all the comment is rather old and the version I tested was even older.

    If you're one of these persons telling others how rude I am, I'd like to ask you to tell me first in the future instead of talking to others about me.

  • <goldmember>I'm Dutch! Isn't that wieeerd?!?</goldmember>

  • Dutch here as well, i completely understand what you mean

    One side effect of this is: when a native-english person WANTS to be hostile towards you we could interpret it as normal... :p

  • Frans,

    The problem is not only language, there are also large cultural differences between English speaking countries.

    The British are more able to give/receive criticism and less able to be complimentary and pat each other on the back than the Americans, so both perceive praise and criticism levels differently.

  • Frans said - "If you're one of these persons telling others how rude I am, I'd like to ask you to tell me first in the future instead of talking to others about me."

    I came across your blog entry today, and left a comment. No more, no less.

    Frans said - "Perhaps you should add, Gavin, that you didn't nor don't leave any oppertunity pass by to promote your tool as god's gift to mankind."

    Emm, I don't really know what to say. I have never held these beliefs.

    I just wanted to point out that your comments were on an early beta version of my tool, the version at the time was v1.3.

    I think your reply to my comments have validated that fact that you have a Hostile Attitude.

  • It's not just the cultural difference, it's a person's attitude and background. You are mostly very outspoken about things, and that's your right to be. But when opinions are presented like that's the only truth, and there can be no other thruth, you reveal you beta-background. As a result, your statements can be considered bold, not hostile per se, in any language. My alfa-background tells me that my view on reality is only my view, and I appreciate and investigate other views as well. At least I try to...

    Oh, I'm Dutch also as you may know.

  • Gavin, you point to 1 comment I wrote in june 2003. That's then your proof I have a hostile attitude, because that's what you said in your first reply in this blog.

    I don't know what to answer to that, other than to recall some of the discussions we had in the past, which weren't friendly I admit. I can only conclude that you added that single line I wrote to the old discussions and made that the basis for your conclusion: Hostile Attitude.

    You then take my reply here and use that too for your conclusion. I can only say: that's your opinion. You say you just left a reply, no more no less, but I doubt that, as you can't deny what happened in the past.

    "I just wanted to point out that your comments were on an early beta version of my tool, the version at the time was v1.3."

    No, you didn't point that out, you linked to 1 line of text which said something bad about your tool to show that what I say is a result of a hostile attitude. Btw, I didn't test the 'early beta' I tested the 1.1 version if I'm not mistaken

  • Frans said - "Btw, I didn't test the 'early beta' I tested the 1.1 version if I'm not mistaken"

    You are mistaken. You original comment stated -

    "My comment on the nTiergen code was more towards that it seems very 'hacked together' (at least to me). I've betatested it, and it fell apart a lot, however some ideas were good. "

    You tested a beta.

    Frans said - "I can only say: that's your opinion [that you have a hostile attitude]"

    Yes, this is my opinion. Thank you.

  • Gavin, do you have a problem with the conclusion I wrote down or do you have a problem with my attitude? Do I have to dig up the stuff you said about LLBLGen?

    If you have a problem with a conclusion I wrote down, you can write me, my email address is well known and I believe you even have it. I then can take the time to elaborate it, ask it to be withdrawn, give an appology etc. However you never did that. You simply read it, and drew conclusions which seem to be valid till today, and which are based on a few blog replies apparently.

  • I've personally learned a lot from both you Frans and Thomas, so I very much thank you for the debates. I appreciate boldness, although sometimes all of us bold guys don't leave much room for a different view. Note that I didn't say you were hostile -- I said others have said that, although maybe I shouldn't have repeated it in those words. I think of your debate with Rob as a great example where most readers never had a clue that you were talking about O/R mappers -- it just appeared that you were taking on Rob to many. I learned once again from that discussion, but you failed to get the simple message across -- which you should appreciate since you also came from the stored procedure side of the fence. Anyhow, I do very much appreciate your bold words, even those about the simpleness of my tool since that is very true -- what's not true (which you didn't say) is that I'm ignorant just because I made different design decisions. One last thing, I do tend to forget that you and Thomas and others are not native English speakers, which must be very difficult, so I'll try to be more understanding, but just keep in mind that you have many readers that also never consider this aspect.

  • Paul: I think the debate with Rob was for some a reason to think I'm an arrogant prick. However Rob was wrong in a lot of things he said and admitted that later on. I could have written the texts smoother, not that bold, but I think that enough has been said about a lot of topics, like how stored procedures are supposed to be great or other 'holy war' material :) and I think it's time to put an end to a lot of myths out there in our field. Writing a bold, outspoken article can then indeed be a reason for others to believe that the writer has a hostile attitude. Thanks for reminding me of that discussion, I think some people's conclusions can be traced back to that discussion I think.

  • Paul rubs me the wrong way at times too, so I wouldn't sweat it. He frequently comes off intolerant of noobs, but it's something I try to overlook because he generally has some good things to say.

  • It's often hard for people to deal with someone who points out obvious mistakes, people tend to take it very personally.

    I myself haven't had much problems with Frans' direct approach (maybe because I'm Dutch too :) )

    Thomas on the other hand can be quite rude, even to potential new customers (which made me decide not to buy his tool...), so I agree 50% with Pauls remarks.

  • I find that Frans's very direct approach is one of the few things on these blogs that will really start up dialog.

    I love stored procedures and yet I really appreciated everything that came out of that (nearly flame war) discussion about SPs and dynamic SQL.

    I'm sure that everyone who followed those threads learned something.

    ps Frans , I don't think your english is bad at all.

  • Good suggestion, Mike. Thanks :)

  • ::Funny, I always thought Thomas was from


    German. As german as a german can be.

    ::An assumption I made based on the contact

    ::info for the company hosting EntityBroker.

    Europe: you select the legislation for your company not based on what country you live in :-)

  • I just asked my girlfriend to read this because I was fascinated to know how it would come across to someone who's never had any kind of contact with you before.

    You might be interested to know that she thought your (Frans) response to Gavin's first comment was extremely hostile...

    (Incidentally, she worked for a long time for an internet community which was English language based but which had sizeable Dutch and German communities. She says that most of these people didn't come across as hostile, even in very heated discussions. So evidently it's not something she feels about all Dutch people.)

    As for me, I'm not so sure it has that much to do with language, but I'd like to test something. You gave the example of "You're wrong". Now in English, there's a *world* of difference between that and "I think you are wrong." Does this distinction not exist in Dutch? It would surprise me a great deal if that were the case, because to me this doesn't come across as a simple case of nuance of language. It actually has a very clearly different *meaning*, and that's the main reason that "You're wrong" can be very offensive when "I think you're wrong" typically isn't.

    The distinction between the two is that by saying "I think you are wrong", you are dealing with opinion. By saying "You are wrong" you have left the realm of opinion and are accusing the person of being somehow at fault.

    By using the phrase "I think you are wrong" the speaker leaves space for the fact that they respect your right to hold the opinion. But to say "You are wrong" does not. In English this is not a matter of nuance, it's simply that the two statements mean different things.

    If this distinction doesn't exist in Dutch, then it might explain why you sometimes come across as hostile.

    Of course if you genuinely feel that other people's opinions are worthless, then go right ahead - you're using the right language.

  • Ian: Gavin and I had a long 'war of words' in the past, I'm not surprised he's not that friendly towards me and I'm sure he's not surprised about my reactions towards him.

    We have a different word for 'you' if you're not on first-name terms with that person you mean by 'you'. So we have 2 different sentences for "You're wrong". Of course we can say "I think you're wrong", however in the following situation no dutchman would say that:

    person A: 1+1=3

    person B: You're wrong.

    I asked my wife about this, she's a writer and a language-geek ;), and she said that men more tend to say "You're wrong" (in dutch) than "I think you're wrong". To me, if someone says to me: "I think you're wrong", I think.. you don't know it for sure? :)

    So, the rules for showing respect / politeness are different, at least that's how I see it, even between english speaking countries as it seems.

    But a wise lesson for me has been: "Add 'I think'", even though I definitely know I'm right. (which is hard for me to do, but I'll try :)) and I have made a mistake in the "can you give me the book" example, I should have said "Could" :)

    It's perhaps also a bit about how you look at things. If I read a book about programming for example, I don't expect "I think" sentences, I expect that the writer thinks he's right and that every sentence in that book contains truth. Is that different with an article I write here? I don't see that difference, but apparently (the sproc thingy with Rob showed that) other people think differently: a blog/article is more of a written down opinion and can't be seen as a chapter from a book.

  • Frans

    You are correct, if you are making a statement of fact, for example in a book, then saying "I think" would be incorrect but if you are correcting someone's statement then "I think" is the polite way of saying it regardless of how sure you are that you are right. It is also not polite to just say something is categorically wrong without providing evidence.

    Person A : "1+1=3"

    Person B : "I think you will find you are wrong, as surely 1+1=2 does it not ?"

    You could read this and say Person B appears to doubt whether 1+1=2 but he is just being polite, even though Person B knows 100% that he is correct, saying only "You are wrong." is not only impolite it could be seen as arrogance.

  • Frans I've encountered the exact same thing while working with a US/Canadian team. I think it's partly a cultural thing. Hence there's even a big difference between 'Brabanders' and the folks living across 'de rivieren'.

  • Leave it to Frans to stir up the pot ! In my opinion people like to have things said with more sugar coating than either the Dutch or the Germans typically do.

  • Frans I have been following all your recent posts and your posts to other peoples sites recently. They are always interesting and usually enlightening. But with my Fragile Ego I hesitate before posting a comment on the topic of O/R mapping because I will probably be discredited instantly.

    I am convinced that 99% of the time you are right, since it is obvious you have already forgotten more about O/R Mapping than most people will ever know (in case you don't know this is a New Zealand style compliment). I believe the key point is this: even if you are right 100% of the time, whenever you disagree you are hurting someones ego 100% of the time too!

    As an experienced and I think skilled programmer/architect I have this exact problem everyday with my large programming team, I can try the 'You're wrong' approach all day long and get nowhere, but once I start leading the discussion with 'Have you thought about...' or 'Interesting idea how do you handle...' I immediately get better results.

    People don't learn until they are ready, you can't force someone to agree with you. If by sharing your opinions you are aiming to share your knowledge (which I think you are) then 'I think' your aim should be to convince not to tell.

    So I suggest you try to teach by directing attention to what is not understood, without saying what is not understand.

    This creates an opportunity for win/win, i.e. your reader can feel smart when they see the what you want them to see, because they understood it all by themselves, and you can feel smart because you got someone to see your point of view without hurting someones feelings.

    What do you think?

  • Good points, Alex!

    I'd like to add though that the 'You're wrong' approach does work in The Netherlands, because we're use to that kind of speak. (I'm generalizing of course, but most of the time, it's not going to result in angry faces).

  • Hi, Frans: After reading your posts today about Microsoft support, it occurred to me that I can't recall ever having seen you express a positive opinion. Your writings tend to be negative and critical, which may contribute to your coming across as "hostile."

  • Microsoft has a big marketing department for the positive side of things, Phil :)

    I did write positive things though, however people tend to see a different POV as being negative. I don't see it that way, I just want to point out something. If that's then seen as something negative, that's too bad, but not a sign to me I shouldn't blog about it.

    The blogs today (6-feb-2004) are negative towards microsoft, but that's embedded in the subject: it's critizism on Microsoft's behaviour. I don't see that as a bad thing, after all, if no-one talks about it, they will never know how bad their support really is.

  • I'm not talking about an isolated incident, I'm talking about a pattern: "That person is wrong"; "This product sucks"; "Microsoft's support is terrible." See the pattern?

    You are, of course, free to blog anything you wish. But if you wonder why some people see you as "hostile," this may be why.

  • Phil: What's wrong with telling the 'other side' of the story? If no-one does it, all we will hear is hail and praise about everything Microsoft.

    If some people think critizism with arguments (I always enlist arguments) is negative and hostile, so be it. C'est la vie.

  • "What's wrong with telling the 'other side' of the story?"


    If you were to read a blog that constantly said things like "Product A is great", " Company B is amazing", "Bob knows his stuff". blah blah blah , then after a time you'd begin to wonder if the writer was perhaps being paid to say these things and if they then said "I think you should go out buy Product Z" would you trust their opinion ?

    The same applies for constant negative posts (i'm not suggesting you do, i read too many blogs to remember) now you add to this whole situation the fact that you and the other key names mentioned are all pushing a product and you have a recipe for debate to turn hostile.

    Also on the subject of cultural differences , you will find that criticizing your competition is common in US , but frowned upon in the UK. It is always better to point out whats good in your own product than whats bad in your competitors.

  • Daren, I see your point but let me elaborate a bit :)

    I'm not implying that being solely positive or solely negative is good 'as is'. You always have to produce arguments which are the foundation of the opinion ventilated, at least that's my opinion. If someone brags about a product as being fantastic because a WriteLine() method writes a line, I think the person is not worth listening to. If a person gripes on and on about a product just because he doesn't like the color of a button, I draw the same conclusion.

    If both persons come with good arguments, I'm all ears.

    However I fail to see why a person with positive things to say with arguments is worth listening to and a person with negative things to say, with arguments, is not worth listening to. I think both persons deserve to be listened to, after all, both have arguments.

    Example: the SP debate. I wrote a long article about the crappyness of the SP concept. In the same article I sad positive things about dynamic sql. However people only see the negative things I said about SP's. Am I then wrong? I don't think so.

    I understand the issue with criticizing the competitor without good arguments, I too believe it's better to point out good things in your own product. (That's why I don't understand Linux advocates crying foul about MS software. If Linux is so good, tell me what's so good about it). However in a lot of area's I'm not a competitor of MS, I'm a silly customer. And as a customer, believe it or not, I have all right to complain if what I bought was not of the quality I thought it was :).

    I'm also not blogging here just because, I want to tell people something. I know that to be heard you have to have an appealing story. What's appealing is debatable though, however stories which are more raw and not full of 'suck-up texts' are often better understood than the ones where you have to read between the lines to find the real story.

  • hehe 'sad' has to be 'said' of course ;)

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