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TDR – Test Driven Relationships

TDD (Test Driven Development) seems fairly well known as a software development technique these days – even though uptake and understanding remains “patchy”. TDD purports to improve the quality of code by focusing on the intended behaviour of a piece of code before writing that code.

I believe that relationships – interpersonal relationships, relationships between people – are what really matters in work – and particularly in collaborative knowledge-work. Far more than code quality – although that’s handy, too.

One question which folks ask me regularly is “how might we go about improving the quality of our relationships?” I propose TDR – Test Driven Relationships might offer a way forward.

What is a Quality Relationship?

Psychology and psychotherapy have quite a lot to say about what makes for a quality relationship.

Gregg Henriques offers the “5 Cs” model (Conflicted -> Civil -> Cordial -> Close -> Connected)

Patrick Lencioni has his “5 Dysfunctions” model (Trust -> Positive conflict -> Commitment -> Accountability -> Results)

The Fundamentals of TDR

In improving relationships, it’s often helpful to try things out. For example, if we’re wanting to be more empathetic, it can be useful to try to guess how someone is feeling, and then ask them how close to the mark our guess is.

“In relationship, business, classroom, and parent-child conflicts, we can learn to hear the human being behind the message, regardless of how the message is framed. We can learn to hear the other person’s unmet needs and requests. Ultimately, listening empathetically does not imply doing what the person wants; rather, it implies showing respectful acknowledgment of the individual’s inner world. As we do that, we move from the coercive language we have been taught to the language of the heart.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Taking this principle and extending it, TDR says “define the results you expect – or desire – from an upcoming interaction with someone, plan an approach, have the interaction, and then compare the results against those expected / desired”. If the results don’t match up, refactor you approach to the interaction and try again.

As a reference and comparison, here’s the vanilla TDD four-step red-green-refactor process:

  1. Add a test – the simplest possible
  2. See it fail (red)
  3. Make all tests (to date) pass, using the minimum amount of instructions (green)
  4. Refactor

Why It Works

TDR helps us clarify our intent, and experiment in small increments with the way we relate to others, adjusting as we find things that don’t work so well, aw well as things that work particularly well.

“Every time I mess up is a chance to practice.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

TDR also allows us to better keep the idea of “relationship quality” in our minds, and provides us with a practical means to focus on improving that quality.

For those who object to TDR on the grounds that it’s somehow fake, I offer the following advice:

“Fake it ‘till you make it.”

~ Neil Gaiman

How important is relationship quality to you? And what are you already doing about that, by way of e.g. deliberate practices?

- Bob

Holding The Space

You may have noticed that the title of this blog is “Think Different”. Some kind folks over the years have remarked upon the insightfulness of one or more of my posts. Some have gone so far as to ask me whether and when I might be holding a workshop, conference, or other such event on the topics touched-on in this blog.

Well, the time has come and October 7 is the day. This first one day event is titled “The Think Different Experience”. Maybe it’s even the first in a series. We’ll see how it goes.

From my perspective, I feel happy to share in exploring what thinking different means, how to go about it – deliberately and intentionally – and the value it offers to individuals and organisations both.

Busy Busy

I work with many folks, and often I get the impression that everyone’s so busy, busy thinking inside their own little boxes that they rarely have any opportunity or, indeed, inclination to spend some time on reflection, introspection and thinking outside their regular tramlines.

I’ve created the Think Different Experience event to afford some time (a day) and some space (Nutfield Priory hotel) for some interested folks (max 10) to come together and explore what Thinking Differently might mean for us.

Ba

With this event, I see my role first and foremost being to “hold a space” which – in itself – has some value for the folks participating. This is not too far from the the idea which inspired Falling Blossoms some fifteen years ago:

*One day, in a mood of sublime emptiness, Subhuti was resting underneath a tree when flowers began to fall about him.

“We are praising you for your discourse on emptiness,” the gods whispered to Subhuti.
“But I have not spoken of emptiness,” replied Subhuti.
“You have not spoken of emptiness, we have not heard emptiness,” responded the gods.
“This is the true emptiness.”
The blossoms showered upon Subhuti as rain.

The Outcome Is In Your Hands

The event will stand or fall on the quality of your participation. Do you feel happy about that, and about the opportunity to contribute to the joy and well-being of not only yourself but your fellow participants?

Don’t Come Along If

There are some aspects to the event which may cause some folks a bit of grief. So, in the spirit of fair warning, don’t come if:

  • You want to be spoon-fed ideas
    I’d describe my hopes regarding facilitating this event as “pull-driven”. That is to say, folks will be invited to pull ideas, feelings, and – ultimately – value from myself and the other folks present. Don’t expect – or hope for – others to “push” ideas at you (although that may happen, inadvertently, now and again).
  • You want to sit back and let others create your meaning for you
    I have some hopes that the folks attending will want to participate actively in exploring and creating their own meaning, and in creating shared meaning too. We’ll see how that goes.
  • You have fixed ideas and assumptions which serve you well enough that you have no wish to examine them, or consider possible alternatives
    I suspect some awkward questions might get asked,. and some tricky subjects – undiscussable to some, at least in their regular workplaces – might come up.
  • All your needs – in work and in life – are presently being well-met
    According to the precepts of e.g. Nonviolent Communication, every human being has needs, needs which each person is trying to get met the best way they know how. Sadly, many folks have chosen means to getting their need met which, by their own terms of reference, carry some pernicious or negative side-effects. Or even, sometimes, have chosen means which actively work against getting those needs met – even though they feel like the best or only means available to the person employing them.

Do Come Along If

  • You want to experience a different kind of event.
  • You’re curious about the value of play, therapy, Bohm dialogue – and similar principles underpinning the event.
  • You’re keen to spend time in the company of like-minded people (I can’t guarantee just how like-minded folks are going to be, though <wry smile>).

What you might come away with

It’s my hope that we all come away from the event with some of our respective needs having been met. This might include:

  • Meaningful connections – with self and with each other a.k.a. “fellowship”.
  • Play – “Do nothing that isn’t play”.
  • Ideas and pointers for getting one’s needs better met (i.e. alternative strategies / means).
  • An appreciation of the bigger picture – whatever that is.
  • An opportunity to be more human – however you may define that.

For what it’s worth, I share Marshall Rosenberg’s definition of “being more human”:

“Connecting with what’s alive in others and ourselves.”

Would you like to be part of that?

Some places still available.

- Bob

 

A Faster Workstation

MacPro

Like many things, the Antimatter Principle appears easy to understand, and, to me, even easier to misunderstand.

What could be easier as a coherent and comprehensive set of guiding principles than “attend to folks’ needs”, right?

And as a starting point, seeing folks actively engaged in attending to folks’ needs, any needs, makes my happy.

Digging Deeper

One of my needs is to help folks realise more and more of their innate potential – to use the old cliche “to become all that they can be”. And so I’m happy when seeing folks getting progressively more and more out of the Antimatter Principle.

As an example, consider this scenario:

Scenario 1a

A developer says “I need a faster workstation”. Sounds very straightforward. In many cases this might trigger defensiveness and/or analysis on behalf of the person who has to write and/or sign the purchase order. Setting aside this can of worms for the moment, let’s suppose we can get past this and the developer gets their new, faster workstation. Joy! Of a sort.

Let’s run through this scenario again. But this time we’ll take just a little more time and effort in the hope of maybe uncovering some deeper needs.

Scenario 1b

A developer says “I need a faster workstation”. Someone hearing this – at least, someone who is tuned-in to attending to folks’ needs – might respond with a question like “I guess you’re feeling stressed about not getting stuff done?” (NB Empathising).

Let’s follow a possible evolution of this dialogue:

“Sure am”.

“How’s your workstation for speed at the moment?”

“Well, I’m working on a Clojure module and the REPL startup times are interrupting my train of thought.” (Observation)

“I could get much more done if my workstation was faster.”

“So, how do you feel about that?”

“Quite frustrated, actually. I know folks are waiting on this module, and I feel like I’m letting them down.” (Feelings)

“Sounds like you have a need that’s not getting met?

“Yes. I guess I have a need to be seen as reliable and diligent and competent, and sharing in the customer-focus values of my team.” (Needs)

“So, needs for appreciation and belonging?”

“Yes. Sounds plausible.”

“I’ll go and ask Leslie about getting a new workstation and see what’s possible.” (Refusable request)

Let’s assume the basic outcome remains the same – our developer gets their new, faster workstation.

In this case, they’re still likely to find joy in being able to work faster, or more productively, or whatever. But it’s also possible that they might find much more joy in the situation, realising via the earlier dialogue that their needs for appreciation and belonging are what’s really better in their life. Not to mention the joy accruing to the person who helped them through the dialogue.

How do you feel about this? Does the explanation meet any of your needs?

- Bob

Further Reading

Words That Work In Business ~ Ike K. Lasater

Principles WTF

rock
“Hey. Why don’t we write down some principles?”
“Why?”
“Why not. It might help.”
“Help who? With what?”
 
I regularly see folks, in what I assume is their eagerness to help and communicate, invest what can amount to considerable time and effort in discussing and, moreover, writing down sets of principles, manifestos, and the like.
 
This all without asking:
“Who needs us to write down some principles?”
“What do they need them for?”
“How will they actually get used?”
“How will we know if they’ve been of any use in e.g. meeting folks’ needs?”
“Could we spend the time and effort on doing something else more useful?”
 
- Bob

Tea Lady

Tea lady

 

 

 

“We give advice, but we cannot give the wisdom to profit by it.”

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld

 

I generally “bump” into topics for this blog. Or they bump into me. Either way, I’m happy to follow the path that serendipity chooses for me.

Today I’ve bumped into some thoughts about experts and expertise.

For some reason, folks seem drawn to the expert, and compelled to seek their wisdom. I observe many folks regularly seeking advice in the earnest belief that they will act on and benefit from such advice. Which, of course, almost never happens.

“Hakuin used to tell his pupils about an old woman who had a teashop, and praising her understanding of Zen. The pupils refused to believe what he told them and would go to the teashop to find out for themselves.

Whenever the woman saw them coming she could tell at once whether they had come for tea or to look into her grasp of Zen. In the former case, she would server them graciously. In the latter, she would beckon to the pupils to come behind her screen. The instant they obeyed, she would strike them with a fire-poker.

Nine out of ten of them could not escape her beating.”

~ A Zen Koan

I often find myself being seen by clients as some kind of expert. This generally bothers me greatly. For one thing I’ve seen the harm that can come from folks delegating their thinking to so-called experts. Yes, it can be comforting to have someone else do your thinking for you – God knows, thinking is hard. And there’s the added comfort of having someone lined-up to take the blame if, later, that thinking turns out to be flawed.

And then there’s the additional energy I find myself putting into guarding against my natural inclination towards trying to help through giving advice – even when in my heart I believe that any giving of advice is not in my clients’ best interests. I find it particularly difficult when folks ask directly for advice. Then, it can seem so churlish to demur, so patronising to launch into some more or less convoluted semi-dialogue about the perils of advice-giving. And so dissonant to advise on the perils of advice-seeking.

“The ONLY learning which significantly influences behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.”

~ Carl Rogers

Feeding the ego troll also bothers me. I find it flattering when folks look up to me in some way – for my knowledge or experience or insights or whatever. Flattering, and rewarding, in that it meets my need to feel that I’m helping, making a positive difference for them. Bothersome, then, to feel each time it happens, that this is an illusion. For even slight reflection leads me to sense that by being recognised as an expert, I’m helping less, and making less of a difference, than could otherwise be the case. Approbation tastes sooooo sweet, yet simultaneously feels so bitter.

I’m hoping some current and future clients might get to read this. If for no other reason than it might provide an insight into just one of the many struggles that their therapist is also going through. And thus, perhaps, offer some opportunity for fellow-feeling, even empathy.

We’re all human after all.

“This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.”

~ Ian MacLaren

I’d love to hear about your feelings on the subject.

- Bob

If At First…

A sunny path under a blue sky

Since first naming the Antimatter Principle back in October 2013, it has featured in quite a few posts of mine. Even whilst composing that first post I suspected that I would have trouble adequately explaining such an “out there” idea.

And so, it seems, it has proven.

I say “it seems” because I have had very few folks engage with me on the topic. Reactions, one way or the other, have been sparse.

I reflect that “change”, as John Seddon is wont to observe, “is a normative process”. Folks have to experience a thing, first hand, to really begin to grasp that thing.

And, God knows, there’s precious few folks in precious few organisations consciously practicing “attending to folks’ needs” – or, indeed, anything even remotely like that.

“You only understand something relative to something you already understand.”

~ Richard Saul Wurman

For the vast majority of folks involved in “technical” work, where decades of collective wisdom has focussed on “process”, or leadership/management, I can appreciate that breaking out of those frames and exploring a very different, and alien, new frame may feel…discomforting?

Dogfooding

So, by way of eating my own dogfood, I ask “To what – and to whose – needs am I attending with the Antimatter Principle?”

My own, certainly:
A need for joyful connection with others.
A need for dialogue and exchange of perspectives.
A need for fellowship in the mutual exploration of the mysteries of the Universe – and more specifically, the mysteries of software development.

And for others? I see folks everywhere trying to figure out “this software thing”. I.E. Looking for answers to questions about productivity, quality, mastery, job satisfaction, and other such matters. I offer the Antimatter Principle as one possibility for a path to pursue in seeking such answers.

Having signposted this particular path – what I call the people path – I feel it best to leave folks free to choose which path they may wish to follow, if any.

“The most essential prerequisite to understanding is to be able to admit when you don’t understand something”

~ Richard Saul Wurman

So why rake over these old coals? Am I flogging (sic) a dead horse? Is it time yet to dismount?

Would you be willing to suggest something, by way of explanation, that might help you grasp the concept – sufficiently at least to consider it’s implications and ramifications?

And would you be willing to share some of your needs in this regard?

- Bob

Further Reading

Interview: Richard Saul Wurman; In Search of the God of Understanding ~ Nadine Epstein

The Words We Use

Violence is so endemic in our society and workplaces that we rarely notice it. Nor notice its effects.

Why does it matter? Well, we humans generally feel less happy when victims of violence – however minor or unremarked. But setting aside that general point, anything that negatively impacts our state of mind has similarly negative implications for knowledge workers’ productivity and the quality of that work.

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

~ Peter Drucker

And one wildly underreported source of such difficulty is the unwitting violence that happens every day in our relationships at work.

To illustrate how unaware we can be about the violence we do to ourselves and others, you might like to consider some examples. Examples of some commonly used words which not only seem innocuous, but even carry imagined positive connotations. Even these oft-lauded words can harbour implicit violence:

Discipline (verb)

Most folks take this to mean e.g. self-discipline = forcing, compelling or otherwise obliging ourselves to do things we feel we should be doing. And disciplining others = forcing them, mainly through fear, obligation guilt, shame (FOGS), or the threat of punishment, to do the things we feel they should be doing.

Professionalism

Many folks take “professionalism” to mean “constrained by expectations about how something should be done”. Here again, if we but reflect a moment, we may see the violence inherent in this idea. For example, the fear of e.g. a sanction such as ridicule or shame, when one’s behaviour does not conform to that expected of a “professional”.

Responsibility

This notion often translates to an expectation of obligation. If we are responsible for something, then we (or others) expect us to act in certain ways. Once more, we may choose to see this as raising issues of self-violence (where we take a responsibility upon ourselves) or violence done to us (where the responsibility is conferred – explicitly or implicitly – by other people, or even by rules, policy, social mores, etc.).

We Can Choose Our Words

There are, of course, hundreds if not thousands of other words, in many languages, which carry an implication of violence. How often are we aware of those implications when choosing words, and of the consequences of such choices?

Would you be willing to share some words which you find violent, in effect?

- Bob

Further Reading

Domination Systems – Duen Hsi Yen

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