How to Communicate Your Needs At Work

When people come to understand the disadvantages of ordering others about, some can over-compensate by avoiding all forms of telling. This can lead to frustration, inaction and disconnection. One of the things these awakening folks can struggle with is communicating their needs to others. Because they shy away from conflict, and don’t want to trouble or inconvenience or coerce others, they might favour avoiding expressing their own needs in case it might become a “burden”, or lead others to feel obligated or compelled to do something. So these folks find it difficult to share their personal goals and desires. Instead, they might opt for a reliance on “mind-reading,” believing their colleagues and peers should intuitively know what they need without them having to say anything.

Relying on mind-reading to get your needs fulfilled creates feelings of frustration, maybe even anger and contempt towards colleagues, feelings which will almost invariably lead to the atrophy, even deterioration, of your working relationships. To keep working relationships positive and flourishing, it’s up to you to make your needs clearly known. Nobody is in a better position to understand your needs than you are:

“You have a right to ask for the things you need in a relationship. In fact, you have a responsibility to yourself and your co-workers to be clear about your needs. You are the expert on yourself. No one else, not even your best friends, can read your mind and know what you need in the way of support, connection, time alone, order, independence, play, joy, financial security, and so on.”

So if articulating your needs isn’t something you’ve felt comfortable doing, how do you start going about it? And how do you do it in a way that doesn’t create obligations, defensiveness or anger, and offers the best chance of your colleagues being willing to listen and fulfill that need?

Script

Here’s a sample “needs script” to follow when initiating this kind of conversation. Obviously, it’s not a word-for-word script – what you say will vary greatly according to your relationships and personal situation. Instead, it offers a very simple template for communicating your needs in a healthy and productive way. However, if expressing your needs is something you really struggle with, you may actually find it helpful to write out your “script” beforehand. You don’t need to read it to your colleagues, but putting down your thoughts on paper can help you prepare. That way, in the heat of the moment, you don’t fall into old traps of passiveness or aggressiveness and can instead navigate the healthy middle path of assertiveness and clarity.

The Needs Script

Situation (specific, objective description of facts). Start off the conversation by offering a straightforward description of the situation you want to address. Leave out analysis, interpretation, and inflammatory or accusatory language – try to make it as specific, impersonal, and objective as possible.

  • Our relationship has really sucked lately. We’ve been disagreeing a lot more than usual these last few weeks.
  • Our office looks like a bomb went off. There’s a lot of stuff lying about.
  • Your spending is out of control. We’re $3000 over our budget this month.
  • I’m going crazy in at the lack of progress here. We haven’t accomplished much in two months.
  • I’m always stuck in the office and never get to meet customers or partners. I’s loosing what little touch I had with our customers’ needs.

Feelings (non-blaming “I” statements). When you tell your colleagues what you’re feeling, you need to be careful to not vent or explode in a vague, accusatory way (“I’m angry/stressed/upset and you’re to blame!”) which may feel cathartic, but isn’t actually productive. In order to keep the conversation as a problem-solving discussion rather than a heated argument, you want to accurately convey the nature, intensity, and cause of your feelings. So before you begin the conversation, you’ll want to have honed in as much as possible to the specifics of what you’ve been feeling. Once you’ve identified the broad feeling that first comes to mind (angry, upset, hurt, etc.), You might like to use a Feelings Inventory to help narrowing down its nature and focus, or use these these modifiers:

  1. Definition. First, make your broad feeling more specific by adding some synonyms. When you say angry, do you mean angry and stressed, or angry and irritated? Or are you really more confused or disappointed than mad? When you say you’re upset, are you upset and disappointed, or upset and depressed? The more specific descriptors you can use to describe how you’re feeling, the better.
  2. Intensity. Add modifiers that accurately convey the intensity of your feelings. Have you been feeling a little resentful or a lot? Slightly discouraged or majorly depressed? Be honest here.
  3. Duration. How long have you been feeling this way? Have you been stressed since your latest vacation, since your role changed, or ever since you started working here? Have you felt irritated for months, for weeks or for days?
  4. Cause and Context. You want to avoid naming your colleagues as the cause of your feelings, no matter how tempting, and even if their actions really have been the catalyst. Blame begets defensiveness, not communication. What will result is a fight that doesn’t end up addressing the real problem whatsoever. Instead, try to communicate the cause of your feelings in the form of their impersonal context, and describe your own feelings rather than those of the other person. You can accomplish this by using “I” statements rather than “you” accusations.

Request (for behavior change). Ask for a change in behavior only. This is a very important rule. Don’t expect your colleagues to change their values, attitudes, desires, motivations, or feelings. These characteristics are very hard to change. It’s like asking someone to be taller or more intelligent. People feel personally threatened if you ask them to change intangibles that are seen as part of their very nature and beyond their conscious control. For example, what does it mean to ask someone to be ‘more loving’ or ‘less critical’ or ‘neater’? These kinds of requests are heard as attacks, and little real change is likely to result.

Instead of going after someone’s “core” attributes, and having them react defensively, stick with making a request that they modify a specific, observable behavior.

  • I need a neater environment around me. Would you be willing to keep some of this stuff in the drawers and shelves?
  • I want you to be less critical of me. I would appreciate it if you didn’t make jokes about me in front of the management.
  • I need to see more action. It would mean a lot to me if we could work together on how to make things happen more quickly round here.

When you make your request, only tackle one situation and 1 or 2 observable behavior changes at a time. You don’t want to overwhelm your colleagues – they’ll likely just shut down. Pick small changes that might make them feel like, “Okay, that’s reasonable. I can do that.” See if your colleagues follow through on your requests. If they do, then bring up something else to work on down the line.

 

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Keep your tone as calm and level as possible. Don’t let anger or annoyance creep into your voice – using even a slightly heated, annoyed, accusatory, or patronizing tone can escalate things into an unproductive argument.

Pick a time when your colleagues can give you their full attention. Don’t start the conversation in the middle of a meeting or when they’re in the middle of something important. You don’t want their annoyance about the circumstances to color how they receive your request. Select a time when they’re in a good mood and ready to listen.

Start out by expressing a small need, rather than a large, contentious one, especially if your relationship has been struggling. Once you start meeting each other’s needs successfully, you’ll be in a better position to tackle more polarizing problems.

Sometimes, empathising with them and their situation may be necessary to “earn” their trust and the right to bring up your needs.

Don’t feel like having to ask for something makes it less valuable. It’s easy to fall into the trap of waiting for your colleagues to come to you and should know what you need without you having to say anything – that if they really cared about you and knew you, or weren’t so busy or engrossed, they would just naturally do it. You might then feel that a change in their behaviour is somehow less “real” or valuable because you had to ask for it. “You’re just doing it because I told you I needed it, not because you really want to.”

But people, even those in the closest of relationships, think and see the world differently. Something may seem obvious to you, but simply not occur to them – not because of some character defect or lack of interest — but because they are simply a different person with a different brain – and heart – than you. Instead of seeing their inability to anticipate your needs on their own as a flaw, accept your differences. And instead of seeing behaviour changes you directly asked for as less valuable, appreciate the way they’re willing to meet that need, even if it doesn’t come naturally. It’s just as worthy as a gesture of interest and commitment, if not more so.

Communicating needs is not a one-way street. Hopefully this is obvious, but asking someone to meet your needs is not a unilateral process. Encourage your colleagues to make their needs known as well, and do your best to listen to, understand, and try to meet those needs when you can. In a healthy relationships, all parties are eager to try to do what they can to make the other person flourish.

If you’re on the receiving end of a needs request, one of the most important things to do is to try to accept the other person’s “quirks.” You may not understand why they like things done in a certain way, or how something that can seem so trivial to you can be so important to them, but you have quirks, too, that they find equally hard to grasp. The more you can compromise and accommodate everyone’s unique, but not-so-onerous needs, even without necessarily understanding them, the happier you’ll be.

You have a right to ask, but that doesn’t mean your needs will always be met. Your colleagues have needs too, and their needs may conflict with yours. Making your needs known is not about issuing an ultimatum, but about open communication, compromise, and cooperation. Even if you don’t achieve the exact solution you had hoped for, being open about your needs will make you a happier, less angry colleague, co-worker or employee.

If your colleagues are unwilling to compromise or cooperate with you in any way, you have a choice in how to proceed. You can:

  • Try to put this one refusal in perspective with all the good things they do offer and bring to the table. Is the issue such a big deal in the big picture? If not, you express your disappointment and work to understand why you can’t meet on this issue, but ultimately accept their position. Ask if you can re-open the discussion at another time.
  • Utilise a self-care alternative. You might choose to have “self-care alternative” in mind (a Plan B) when possible in case your colleagues can’t or won’t meet your needs. While it doesn’t hurt to ask, in the end, it’s not other people who are ultimately responsible for meeting your needs.
  • If an issue is too important to you to simply accept a “No,” and/or if this refusal to meet your needs is a consistent pattern, in which you’re always being walked over while giving a lot in return, you may need to remove yourself from the situation permanently, or even end the relationship.

– Bob

The Heart of Organisational Psychotherapy

My organisational psychotherapy practice draws inspiration from a number of individual psychotherapy schools and traditions. But none more so than Carl Rogers and Client Centred Therapy – more recently also known as Person Centred Therapy.

At the heart of my approach, drawing on Rogers, is seeing the focus of Organisational Therapy as creating a facilitative, empathic environment wherein the client organisation, collectively, can discover its answers for itself.

Answers

Actually, “answers” is just a bit misleading, given that clients may not be seeking answers, per se. Recent experiences in my current assignment lead me to choose a slightly different perspective. My current focus is on creating, or more accurately contributing to, an environment wherein the client organisation can come to know itself better.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

~ Lao Tzu

Self-knowledge

The title of Tom Shadyac’s movie “I Am” is drawn from the rhetorical question “What’s wrong with this world we live in?” (And what can we do to make it better?) He concludes that the best thing we can do to make the world a better place is to know ourselves better (and thereby each make ourself a better person).

”We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”

~ Carl Rogers

I believe this sentiment holds as true for organisations and their collective psyche, as for Rogers’ individual clients.

– Bob

Further Reading

A Therapists’s Guide to Heart Centred Therapy ~ William P Ryan PhD (video)

Nonjudgmental Feedback

People are not dogs

People are not like dogs. How often have you seen someone recommending the giving of praise as a way of raising morale, increasing engagement, making folks happier, and so on? The thing is, giving praise has a significant downside.

Eschew Praise and Compliments

“Compliments are often judgements – however positive – of others.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Rosenberg regards compliment and expressions of appreciation and praise as life-alienating communication. I share that viewpoint. Instead, he suggests we include three components in the expression of appreciation:

  • The actions that have contributed to our well-being
  • The particular needs of ours that have been fulfilled
  • The pleasureful feelings (joy, delight, togetherness, w.h.y) engendered by the fulfilment of those needs

In other words, providing nonjudgmental feedback (in the positive case) consists of sharing:

  • This is what you did
  • This is how I feel about it
  • This is the need of mine that was met

And in the negative case, sharing:

  • This is what you did
  • This is how I feel about it
  • This is the need of mine that was NOT met
  • (Optional) a refusable request seeking to get the unmet need met.

Judgment

I’ve written previously about What’s Wrong With Judgment. This applies just as much to the judgments implicit in praise, and in other forms of judgmental feedback.

“the most salient feature of a positive judgment [e.g. praise] is not that it’s positive but that it’s a judgment; it’s more about controlling than encouraging. Moreover, praise communicates that our acceptance…comes with strings attached: Our approval is conditional.”

~ Alfie Kohn

Even warm and fulsome praise is likely to be received, albeit subliminally, as controlling and conditional. More useful then, might be non-evaluative (i.e. nonjudgmental) feedback. Researchers have found that just such a response – information about how someone has done, without any judgment attached – is preferable to any sort of praise.

– Bob

Further Reading

Punished By Rewards ~ Alfie Kohn
Feedback Without Criticism ~ Miki Kashtan (Online article)
NVC Feedback – The Executive Advisory
Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
The Core Protocols ~ Jim and Michele McCarthy

The Future Of Software-Intensive Product Development

A little while ago I wrote a post posing some questions about what ways of working we might look to, After Agile. Fewer folks engaged with this post compared to some others I have written. So I’m assuming that few are thinking about what we might see as the natural – or even unnatural – successor to Agile.

It is, however, a topic that occupies me regularly. Not least because of the intrinsic flaws in the whole Agile idea. We can, and eventually must, do much better.

Recently, some folks have been asking me about what I see as the future for software- and software-intensive product development (SIPD). Of course, I’ve been answering this question, on and off, for at least the past few years.

In a Nutshell

To sum up my take: In a nutshell, the issues that plague SIPD seem obvious. They’re mostly the same issues that plague all forms of collaborative knowledge work. Issues compounded by the gulf between conventional or traditional work and the new world of work (i.e. the world of collaborative knowledge work) – a new world distinctly unfamiliar to most in the world of work today.

We are faced with various collections of pathogenic beliefs (management, traditional business, Agile, etc.), none of which provide us with a context for EFFECTIVELY tackling the challenges we face in the new world of work – i.e. the world of collaborative knowledge work.

I’m choosing here to list these challenges in terms of needs, and in terms of the strategies – conventional and unconventional – for meeting those needs.

Developers’ Needs

Agile came into being driven by developers attempting to see their needs better met. These include:

  • Less working time “wasted” on mindless bureaucracy and distractions, such as meetings, reports, documentation, etc..
  • More time to focus on making great software, and stuff that delights customers.
  • Improved relationships with co-workers, business folks, customers, and the like.
  • More flexibility to adapt to emerging information, to changing needs, and to things learned along the way.
  • More say in what they work on, the tools they work with, and how they do their work.
  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “technical” tribe)
  • And simply, the leeway to just “do a better job” and make a positive difference in the world.

Bottom line: Many developers need to feel valued, purposeful, that they’re making progress (learning) and are recognised for their abilities.

Business Folks’ Needs

Secondarily, but still important in the Agile approach, is better outcomes for “the business”. Agilists have come to recognise the following needs (even though common forms of Agile do not address them).

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “management” tribe).
  • Empathy (meaningful connection with other human beings).
  • A positive self-image.
  • Stability (folks have families to support).
  • Acclaim/fame (folks have careers to pursue).
  • Warmth (of human relationships) – Most business folks are just normal people, too.
  • Peace (i.e. an absence of distress).
  • Purpose.

Users’ / Customers’ Needs

Businesses ultimately stand or fall on revenues. Revenues which depend on their products and services meeting the needs of their customers. These needs include:

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “brand” or “XYZ customer” tribe).
  • A positive self-image (what being a user or owner of a certain product says about you, in your own mind).
  • Stability (folks don’t like to think too hard, or continually learn new stuff for no good reason).
  • Warmth (of human relationships) – Most customers, being humans, value interactions with other human beings.
  • Low fuss (i.e. being able to get their jobs done with minimal distress).

Shareholders’ Needs

Shareholders also have needs which they seek to get met. These include:

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “investor” tribe).
  • Contribution to society (e.g. ethical investments) and communities.
  • Financial returns (investors have families and/or lifestyles to support).

In a future post I’ll be looking at the strategies that people use to get these needs met, including those strategies implicit in Agile methods – and some alternative strategies that might prove

– Bob

 

What’s The One Question A Scrum Master Must Ask?

When interviewing for a new Scrum Master or similar position, we can often intuit much about the position, the team and the company from those many little clues which offer themselves. But one thing often less obvious, and so, worth asking about is:

“How does the blockers’ pipeline work here?”

The key role of the Scrum Master is to facilitate the escalation (and to some extent, resolution) of blockers a.k.a. impediments – problems noted by the team but not actionable / fixable by them because the root cause lies outside their span of control.

Some organisations will already have a pipeline or process for escalating such “blockers”. Many more will not, not often understand the need for one and the role of non-team people in that process.

The prospective Scrum Master may want to see how the land lies before committing to a position in an organisation that is not ready or able to institute an effective blockers’ pipeline.

– Bob

We’re All In This Together

Creating, sustaining and continually improving effective ways of New Product Development requires the efforts, commitment and active participation of everyone in the organisation. It’s not something that can be delegated, offloaded or left to just one department, function or silo.

In my previous post, I mention a number of constraints which typically prevent an organisation from having an effective product development approach. If you take a look at that post, you may begin to see how these particular constraints are organisation-wide. And how reducing or eliminating them requires the active participation of everyone, from the CEO, through function heads, to the front-line workers:

Whole Products means specialists (sales people, marketeers, finance, operations and customer service specialists, etc.) from across the organisation are needed for each and every new product development.

SBCE means changes to accounting practices, personnel recruitment, allocation and training (HR), as well as the understanding and involvement of senior executives in investment and strategy decisions for the longer term.

Flow means reorganising and smoothing the internal operations (explicit or implicit value streams, customer journeys, etc.) which run through the daily business as usual of the whole organisation.

Transitioning from a projects-based approach to New Product Development to something more effective (such as FlowChain) requires the overhaul and replacement of many policies, procedures and expectations across the organisation.

Cognitive Function asks us to learn about topics – psychology, neuroscience, sociology, anthropology – with which we may have had little experience before. And to prevent just one group (NPD) getting wildly out of step with the rest of the organisation, most people coming into contact with these new ideas and ways of relating to each other will need to at least understand what’s going on.

A clearly-articulated and jointly-created product development doctrine offers a means to encourage debate, and understanding, across the whole organisation.

Summary

Each of the above changes requires new understandings and new behaviours – including e.g. cooperation, collaboration, trust, and support – from every department in the organisation. Existing incentives, goals and rewards schemes tailored to individual performance and local (function-specific) results will directly oppose these new behaviours, so must be replaced with schemes designed to foster the new behaviours. Old assumptions and power structures, again supporting of traditional ways of doing things, must be overhauled to become more relevant to our new, more effective ways of New Product Development.

Ultimately, we will find ourselves asking the question “Is it worth it? Does an amazing uplift in our organisation’s ability to release new products and product updates with:

  • fewer delays and overruns
  • higher quality
  • lower cost
  • better product-market fit

warrant the root-and-branch changes necessary for success? Are we in business for the long-haul? And do we each want to be proud to have played our part in creating something truly awesome?

– Bob

 

Constraints On Effective Product Development

Bottlenecks

What company wouldn’t love to have its product development efforts be more effective? Be able to release new products and product updates with fewer delays and overruns, with higher quality and at lower cost? And be sure of the product-market fit, too?

Many companies spend inordinate amounts of time, effort and management attention on just this. And yet reap little in the way of benefits from that investment.

Why is this? What are the blockers (constraints) frustrating these ambitions?

I see the same patterns time after time. Patterns that stymie effective practices and lock in ineffective approaches and poor results. Here’s some of the more common ones:

Whole Products

Few companies are able to reap the benefits of a Whole Product approach to New Product Development. The constraint here is the ability of people and teams from different functional areas across the business to come together (literally and figuratively) for the duration of a product’s development. Toyota have long eliminated this constraint through their Obeya concept, and unique matrix structure.

Set-Based Concurrent Engineering

Most companies suffer unpredicted (yet predictable) overruns and delays in the development of many (most) of their products. One key constraint in play here is the lack of options when a particular component or subsystem – on the product’s critical path – proves problematic. SBCE eliminates this constraint by purposely providing options at every stage of the product’s development. At each “integration point” during a development, the most promising (and always 100% viable) option is selected. SBCE as a solution is predicated on the organisation’s ability to save its learning on and investment in the “pruned” options, for future products or upgrades.

Flow

Organising around flow offers a number of benefits, not least reduced costs and delays. Many companies attempt to organise traditionally – around skills and functional silos. The traditional approach chokes flow and reduces the effectiveness of product development.

NoProjects

The almost universal use of projects as the containers for product development work again constrains our efforts to the relatively ineffective end of the spectrum. The many drawbacks of the “projects” concept are well-known. Yet the constraint here is no so much projects themselves, but the way in which an organisation’s policies, procedures and assumptions lock in the idea of projects. Moving to a non-project approach, such as FlowChain, is a political and social challenge of the first order.

Cognitive Function

Many companies understand the issues of engagement and the need for innovation. Fewer understand the nature of collaborative knowledge work, its fundamentally differences from more traditional forms of work, and the need to approach it with a fundamentally different set of assumptions. Assumptions absent which, effective product development – as the archetype of collaborative knowledge work – is impossible. The traditional assumptions at the heart of traditional management of traditional organisations are the key constraint here. These assumptions prevent us realising the high levels of employee engagement, the innovation culture and the high levels of cognitive function so necessary for effective product development.

Doctrine

Few organisations have a clearly articulated and debated doctrine describing their approach to product development. This absence of clarity constrains the whole organisation, with folks constantly wondering what they should be doing, why they’re doing it, and how everyone’s efforts fit together.

Summary

The above are just a few of the key constraints condemning product development efforts in most organisations to the ghetto of high costs, poor quality and interminable delays. None of these constrains are simple or easy to tackle. But identifying them is the first step to dealing with them. What constraints are limiting your product development effectiveness?

– Bob

Further Reading

Product Development for the Lean Enterprise ~ Michael N. Kennedy
It’s Not Luck ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
The Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Donald G. Reinertsen

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