Our Mutual Friends
Yesterday Tony DaSilva (@Bulldozer0) provided me with a wake-up call in the form of a tweet illustrating how a lack of mutuality commonly pervades relationships in our workplaces. A wake-up call, because I had forgotten just how strange the idea of mutuality must be for many folks, especially in the context of work.
When we talk about attending to folks’ needs, we’re talking about everyone attending to each others’ needs (although not to the complete exclusion of each attending to their own needs). You may not yourself have experienced the joy that comes from seeing other folks getting their needs met. It makes me sad to think just how many people may be in this situation. And I’m feeling thankful, even blessed, that I have experienced it myself, albeit rarely but at least occasionally.
When Rosenberg writes about this feeling, I can immediately and profoundly relate:
“… we have such power to make [everyone’s] life wonderful, and that there is nothing we like better than to do just that.”
“How basic is this need to give to one another? I think the need to enrich life is one of the most basic and powerful needs we all have.”
~ Marshall Rosenberg
Aside: When I’m thinking about mutuality – it’s generally in the sense of “common to or shared by both or all of two or more parties”.
So, how does Tony’s tweet fit here? As an example of the typical dynamic in so many organisations, and so many relationships:
- Unilateralism rather than mutuality.
- “What’s in it for me?” Rather than “What can I do to make someone else’s life more wonderful?”
- Selfishly attending to our own needs and ignoring that others have needs too.
- Missing out on the joy of serving others’ needs.
So how *could* this kind of dialogue have gone differently, had the participants been attending to each others’ needs?
Employee: “I feel depressed and frustrated because I work best and most creatively when what I’m doing feels like play. Would you be willing to let me play with this and see what emerges?”
Boss: “I feel uneasy when you mention play because I imagine my job’s on the line if this doesn’t get done soon. Would you be willing to tackle it urgently?”
Employee: “No problem. I feel energised when I have some purpose to my play, and joy when I imagine I’m making folks life more wonderful. Would you like me to keep you posted?”
A little futher down the line, time-wise, when these folks have had the opportunity both to practice, and to experience the joy that comes from seeing other folks’ needs being met, we might imagine a similar situation unfolding thusly:
Employee: “I’m guessing you’re feeling like your job’s on the line if this doesn’t get done soon?”
Boss: “Yes. I’m feeling reassured that you’ve picked up on that, because I need to keep this job at the moment, and I like to think of myself as being capable of doing a good job, generally.”
Boss: “I’m guessing you’d be happier if you could just play around with it some?”
Employee: “Yes. I feel happy and focussed because I work best and most creatively when what I’m doing feels like play.”
Boss: “Would you be willing to make it your priority?”
Employee: “Happy to. I feel energised when I have some purpose to my play, and joy when I imagine I’m doing what’s most important for others. I’m guessing you’d be happier if I kept you posted?”
Here we see empathy as the starting point for a dialogue in which each is attending more to the other’s needs than to their own. Of course, if the whole organisation has adopted this new frame, then the dynamics and context of such conversations might be somewhat – and fundamentally – different.
Absence of Judgment
We can also see, in both examples, an absence of judgment. Neither person is tied up with forming a moralistic judgment of the other person’s needs – e.g. whether they are “reasonable”, “valid”, “acceptable”, “outrageous” or whatever. Nor do they judge their own needs. Each simply takes the needs as “givens”.
Aside: In situations where folks are having difficulties in identifying or articulating their needs, it may take some mutual assistance and exploration to arrive at clarity. This is not the same as e.g. watering-down or otherwise negotiating on needs. And remembering:
“We can’t really know what we need until we get it. Only then will we know whether we need it or not.”
~ Marshall Rosenberg
Jon has posted a comment requesting a version of the example dialogue where only the employee is conscious of attending to folks’ needs. One of the many reasons I’m particularly fond of the Antimatter Principle is that it can start small, with just one person. However, it can take some patience to start with building the empathy necessary for the other person – in this case, the boss – to take the time to listen.
Here’s one way I guess such a dialogue might unfold:
Employee: “I’m guessing you’re feeling like all our jobs are on the line if we don’t get this done soonest?”
Boss: “Can you just get on with it, asap?”
Employee: “So I’m sensing that it’s important to you that the team’s in a focussed and creative frame of mind for this piece of work? That we’re able to fully give of our best?”
Boss: “Damn straight!”
Employee: “I also guessing you’re worried we won’t be able to meet the deadline, and we’ll all end up looking hopeless again?”
[It may take some time, like ten or twenty minutes maybe, continuing in this vein, with the employee reflecting back the feelings coming at them from the boss, until there's - maybe - a 'shift'. A shift wherein the Boss just may begin to consider the needs of the employee.]
Boss: “Yes. I guess how the team feels about this is going to impact its ability to meet the deadline…”
When writing these kinds of posts, I often feel uncertain and unfulfilled because I rarely know whether I’ve met anyone’s needs by writing them. Would you be willing to provide feedback in the form of e.g. a comment, below, about the extent to which this post has met – or failed to meet – your needs?
Nonviolent Communication in Action – The REAL Center