I had a realization some years ago in working with a person at a previous firm. After many interactions, I noticed that my productivity, my happiness, my motivation consistently were diminished after dealing with them.

I found that I came out of these conversations feeling more burdened than I had going in.

I noticed with certain other people, our conversations were the opposite — I came away with fewer problems, or a new perspective, or food for thought, or feeling freshly challenged.

Once I came to notice this pattern, I resolved to be the latter person. This means optimizing conversations for the other person being glad that they dealt with you. This can take many forms, some more tangible than others.

The most tangible form, perhaps, is where you say “I’ll take care of it”, and it’s true, and they leave with a lesser burden. But it takes many other forms.

At Stack, for example, I’ve become a bit of a rubber ducky lately. There are several people — programmers and otherwise — who seek me out when they want to talk through technical or product challenges.

Now, I am very good programmer working at a place where the other programmers are more than very good. It’s unlikely that I’ll tell them what code to write.

But I might help them characterize the problem differently than they are currently doing. Maybe it’s a compression problem, or a caching problem, or a type problem, or a separation of concerns problem, but they haven’t recognized it as such.

More likely, I’ll nod and ask leading questions. Not because I am trying to lead anywhere in particular, and not because I know the answer, but because I want to lead them away from the rut they are in. I am optimizing for the other person articulating their problem, in the hope they might solve it.

But these are just examples. The point is to think creatively and empathetically about why a person started a conversation with you. Make it profitable.